I’m not backing down from this. Explain to me all you want about the merits of Michael Jackson’s Thriller or The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers or even make a strong case for Abbey Road (which for me, comes in second) but I will always, always, always think that Tommy is the most fantastic piece of music written this side of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.
What’s prompting this? Well, today at The Spectrum we were putting together our “Music Issue” and I overheard the boys of Arts Desk talking about the best albums of 2009 (The Fame by Lady Gaga got my vote, but I think it actually came out in August 2008) and it got me thinking about my favorite albums of not only 2009, but of all time…and no matter where I let my mind wander…no matter what artist or genre, Tommy always popped up as being better than all the rest.
This is the album that sparked my love of music when I was a mere 14 year old with big dreams…*sigh*
This 24-track rock opera is what music should be. It’s meaningful, it’s self-expressive, it’s relatable, it’s wonderful. It’s everything I’ve been trying to find in music since I first heard it. I’ve been searching and searching for another Tommy but I just haven’t found one. (Lady Gaga comes close, especially now with The Fame Monster completing the tale in The Fame.)
Tommy takes the self-expression of the Emo kids, the story-telling of Arlo Guthrie, the melodies of The Beatles, the guitar of Led Zeppelin and crafts it into a musical entity that I really can only describe as “mind blowing.”
Seriously. If you’ve never listened to Tommy all the way through you’re missing out. It’s an out of body experience if you just lay there, eyes closed, focusing on nothing but the music. It becomes an opera staged entirely in your head. It’s amazing–especially if you take the advice from the film Almost Famous: “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning. You’ll see your entire future.”
You kind of do…
Tommy, simply, is about a boy growing up and the music allows you to see yourself in him and grow with him.
Pete Townshend called it “a metaphorical story of different states of consciousness” when it was released in 1969–and it is–states of consciousness that we experience as we grow up and grow old.
Tommy grows up without a father. He was reported missing in World War I and believed to be dead. Tommy’s mother finds a new lover, but Tommy’s father comes back and is so angry he kills the other man (WHERE DO YOU THINK THE NEW MOVIE Brothers GOT IT FROM!??) Tommy is told by his parents that he never saw a thing–this leaves such an impact on his subconscious that he begins to hallucinate from guilt and secrecy–he is also bullied by his cousin.
Tommy’s parents begin to worry and send him to the “Acid Queen,” a prostitute who aims to “cure” Tommy with sex and LSD. Tommy is then abused by his pedophile uncle, gains self-confidence from his domination at pinball (he’s the “Pinball Wizard” after all), and finally taken to a REAL doctor who tells his parents that his symptoms are psychosomatic (DUH). Tommy ignores his worried mother who gets so irritated that she throws a mirror at him. This “cures” him–leaving him cause for public intrigue and granting him a “guru” status and a cult of followers who want to attain his level of self-revelation. Tommy gets cocky and takes on this new “priestly” role wholeheartedly, giving sermons to his “followers.” He builds a cult-like camp and says that the path to enlightenment is paved in silence and pinball games.
It sounds silly, and it is, but what it’s really about is being yourself. Growing up on your own terms and not with society. It’s about embracing what makes you unique and not conforming to any religion, idea or societal norm that makes you uncomfortable. Tommy wants us all to be ourselves and Pete Townshend wants us to see ourselves in Tommy–this is enlightenment according to the book of The Who.
And THAT, my friends, is why Tommy is the greatest album of all time. It was American Idiot before the members of Green Day were even in the womb. It was Dashboard Confessional before crying at concerts was the result of something other than a bathroom brawl.
It’s amazing. That’s it.
Now, go listen to Tommy and have an experience, young grasshoppers.