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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

29 in 2009 - The Who: "Tommy"

The Who:  Tommy
Originally Released:  May 23, 1969
Genres:  Rock, Rock Opera
Rating:  6 out of 10 Stars

The thing about storytelling is that it has to connect with the audience in some manner.  Otherwise, you're just telling it to yourself.  One of the most difficult aspects of writing stories or making films is getting an audience to relate to the characters in your story.  For me, there is nothing about Tommy Walker, the central character to The Who's seminal storytelling album, that causes me to care about him.  This is the central weakness of Tommy, and the reason why after listening to it for well over a month I am still unable to connect with it or have the desire to listen to it more than I have to.

The story is summed up (in short) as follows:  

Tommy is deaf, dumb, and blind.  
He has a shitty childhood.  
His family tries to fix his deafdumbblindness several different ways.  
They all fail. 
 Tommy is really good at pinball.  
He wins a tournament.  
Tommy's parents discover that his illness is all in his head.  
He snaps out of it. 
 Tommy becomes a cult leader.  
He is harsh on his followers.  
They leave the cult.  
The end.

If it sounds like a half-assed story, that's because it is.  Is it a metaphor for something that only Pete Townshend understands?  Probably.  The point I'm making is that if you're going to tell a story, you better have a damn good reason to tell it.  Unfortunately, nothing about Tommy seems to be of incredible importance.  Nothing seems to be capable of touching the average listener.  Do we feel sorry for Tommy's tough life?  Kind of.  But so little is known about Tommy's inner-workings that it's difficult to connect with the character on anything other than a superficial level.  

In many ways, concept albums are always quite superficial simply because it's tough to tell a deep, meaningful story that connect with the audience within the confines of a record.  Few records have been able to pull it off, and in my opinion, Tommy isn't one of them.  So why the accolades?  Why the praise?  It was the first "rock opera."  That's all I can think of.  Granted, the music on Tommy isn't half bad.  "Pinball Wizard" is a classic for a reason, "Christmas" is all sorts of awesome, and "Sally Simpson" is nothing to scoff at.  But again, there's nothing here to connect with as a listener.  Tommy is essentially pop music disguised as intelligent rock.

Honestly, this was one of the albums I was most looking forward to listening to.  Remember that scene in Almost Famous where Zooey Deschanel's character says to her younger brother, "Listen to Tommy with a candle burning, and you'll see your entire future."  Well, I tried that.  The only thing I saw was a future devoid of me ever listening to this album again.

Fair enough.

Verdict:  Overrated


Anonymous said...

You know what I think is overrated. This website.

Cale said...

Hey-O!! Burn!

JD said...

Boom. Roasted

lost said...

Yeah the movie sucks too, what a bore.

Who's next is actually a pretty good cd. ...but it doesn't sound like it's very likely that you would want to explore much of their catalog.

and I don't know about lighting a candle... maybe a bong? I think combining this cd with bong-related activites may help you see the future ;)