Pete Townsend Says 'Tommy' Saved The Who As A Live Band
Pete Townshend maintains that the Who's 1969 rock opera Tommy not only redefined the band -- but it saved its live act. With a "Super Deluxe" edition of Tommy set for release this fall, and a revival of the musical version running through October 19th at Canada's Stratford Festival, Townshend took a look back at the making of the classic double album.
Townshend recalled the state of the Who as she started writing the songs for Tommy in 1968, telling The Globe And The Mail, "What had actually happened to the Who is that we'd kind of lost our mojo in a sense. We were a singles band. We were colorful. We were interesting. We were a lovely foil to the more serious blues bands of the time like Cream and Jimi Hendrix as well. We were lighter-hearted. And certainly with the acid generation, the coming of the hippies, the activism against the Vietnam War, some of the lightheartedness around the Who seemed to make us appear vapid. We were going to lose our audience as a live band, which was when we were most effective."
Townshend talked about utilizing the Who's sense of comedy, drama, and musicality to realize Tommy during the album's sessions: "As I brought it into the studio, and presented it to the Who and various critics and to Kit Lambert, who was my producer and my mentor during the writing of it, it became clear that we needed to make it colorful, we needed parts of it to be funny or audacious, impudent, controversial, dangerous -- all the things that rock n' roll had been for us up to that point. And so I started to introduce these much more clear-cut, kind of cartoonish, but much more vivid, iconic images of this young boy who witnesses a murder in the uneasy postwar atmosphere of the U.K."
Pete Townshend told us that the Who's music was created in part as an answer to his parents' generation's secretiveness and silence about the horrors of World War II: "The function of the Who's music was to demand something to fill the gap that that lack of information about the past. It was to keep screaming, y'know, 'What is the answer to this? What is this about? What don't we know that we should have known? How can we avoid making the same mistakes you guys made if we don't know how these mistakes came about?'"
Keith Moon's longtime assistant and confidante Dougal Butler stopped working for Moon to help out on The Kids Are Alright and told us that all of the Who shared an infectious and brilliant sense of humor: "They had a rapport between them and I wish I had a movie camera around them. Around Pete Townshend and Keith -- and also John (Entwistle), 'cause John had a very dark humor as well. And to see them three together was better than Monty Python. It was just funny. A very quick witted thing, y'know that you think 'Jesus! Where do they think of that from?' And it was just -- they would have the whole road crew and everyone around them at the time in just fits of laughter. And they were great, great days."
Photo Courtesy of Ross Halfin