Peter Townshend David Walley - Essay

David Walley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Seeing the Who live, one is] overpowered by the sheer musicianship and raw power of the group. The more I think of the Who as a group, the more I feel that they make their biggest impact as a visual experience…. Seeing Tommy performed knocked me out up front, but hearing Tommy, with the libretto in my lap, is another and vastly different matter.

Before I proceed further, one thing I must clarify. Tommy is NOT an opera. A real opera is acted as well as sung; it has well-defined parts and recitative and many other characteristics. Tommy is a rock cantata: in other words, a piece of music which is primarily vocal—a sung piece. Yeah, the St. Matthew Passion is also a cantata, but that's not copping Townshend's vibes, nor making any real comparisons, although Tommy could be easily called a "Passion" in the traditional sense. In many senses, Tommy's journey to realization is very like Christ's, and his eventual desensification (Tommy, at the end, is "crucified" by the angry crowd and returns to his deaf, dumb and blind state). One can go overboard, however, with such an analogy and it would be foolish indeed to do a step-by-step comparison. Tommy is far better treated as the unique entity it is.

There have been rock masses before …, and a rock cantata is only the logical next step. In brief, Tommy is the story, on many levels, of a boy who becomes deaf,...

(The entire section is 461 words.)