Thursday, May 29, 2014


It's been 45 years, and finally Pete Townshend can adequately explain his most famous creation, Tommy. The epic rock opera has always sounded great, no question, its story was pretty much understandable, thanks in part to the movie of the same name, but what did it all mean? In this 90-minute documentary, Townshend, Roger Daltry, and many of the key players and pals of the production explain their parts, and give a go at what was behind Townshend's thinking.

Key to it all is the composer himself, seemingly and finally happy with it all. It turns out many key moments simply fell into place, good timing for good ideas. Playing the nearly-finished piece to a friendly reporter who was a pinball fan led to the idea that Tommy could be a savant at the game, and of course spawned the most famous number from the album. Keith Moon suggested that Tommy's followers should go to a vacation spot where he would lead them, which became Tommy's Holiday Camp. Even though there was a great big idea in Townshend's brain, it was too big and complicated, and we even get to see his lengthy original prose piece describing it all. What needed to happen was a focusing, his artistic and philosophical notions needed to become a clear story. That complicated process is explained here in a way that should clarify the whole thing once and for all.

There's a second thread as well, the story line of how the album took the band from near-collapse to the top of the rock world. The arty singles band finally had a full, classic album, plus a performance piece that made them the toast of the stage. The Tommy performance at Woodstock was the key, and they are still a huge draw thanks largely to that moment. Roger Daltry gets his due as well, as the singer took over the Tommy role on stage, blossoming into a rock god with fringed vests and long curls. Despite the complications, everything went perfectly for the band.

Also included in the bonus section is a wonderful 1969 German TV program, Beat Club, fully dedicated to the group and Tommy for that episode. The black and white show had the group performing many of the cuts, with tons of special effects and sets, all of them hokey by today's standards but quite imaginative for the time. The group is miming, which is too bad, but there's no way it could have included live music without hours more work and a lot more money, so its understandable. It's a great bonus, topping off an excellent documentary.

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