Peter Townshend

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Alfred G. Aronowitz

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

The Who is a group that was nurtured on gimmickery. I remember five years ago Brian Jones calling me up on the trans-Atlantic to play me the Who's first record from London. "That's not atmospheric interference you hear," he said. "That's the guitar player banging his guitar on the amp."

How far has the Who progressed since then? Their latest achievement has been to become the first rock group ever to play on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, an event which turned to be as transparent as all the fancy, tie-dyed silken see-throughs it attracted.

To see through one see-through is not to see through them all. Tommy is no more an opera than Albert Goldman is Renata Tebaldi, and to place the Who at the Met was less a contribution to music than to showmanship. In the end, it's the music that must stand on its own feet. The booking at the Met was just another gimmick….

Tommy is the story of a boy who became deaf, dumb, blind and mute after witnessing the murder of his mother's lover by his natural father, who has just returned from among the missing at the close of World War I…. We learn [the plot] from the program. Otherwise, the whole thing may as well be sung in Italian. Not that Tommy doesn't have its moments.

"See me … feel me … touch me … heal me," Roger Daltrey sings in one of the few intelligible and truly moving episodes. But then how can you take Daltrey seriously when he persists in fulfilling some 16-year-old's image of what a pop star should look like….

When the Who first came on the scene, with Townshend smashing his guitar to bits while the rest of the group blew off smoke bombs and committed other acts of destruction, the Underground hype machine extolled this practice as some sort of symbolic revolutionary act. It was alright with Townshend, who later admitted he didn't really want to have to do it every night, but guitars were cheap enough.

All right, so now he's a star….

As John Mayall says, "The more power you get, the more important things you have to say. That's the obligation and, more important, that's the opportunity of being a rock star…. When you have that much power, then you want to make damn sure that what you're saying is worthwhile."

Townshend may be an expert with pirouettes, entrechats and other dazzling leaps in his jump suit, but is that his music standing on its own feet? The Who is going to need more than Tommy to vindicate itself.

Alfred G. Aronowitz, "'Tommy' Does Not Vindicate Them," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1970; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 62, July 9, 1970, p. 18.

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