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07 February 2012

Why Tommy?

Why Tommy?
Released by The Who in 1969, the concept album Tommy was an important landmark of popular culture. After a couple of theatrical presentations in the early 1970s and the daft and delirious Ken Russell film of 1975, Tommy took a stage hiatus.  Then, in 1993, Pete Townshend teamed with theatrical director Des McAnuff to make Tommy into a Broadway musical. 
The seeds for the Tommy concept album lie in a stream-of-consciousness poem that Townshend wrote in 1967, inspired by his discovery of Indian mystic Meher Baba.  Drawing heavily on the writings and life of Meher Baba, the Tommy story was interwoven with allusions to Christianity, Eastern philosophy and twentieth century popular culture.

But, at its heart, Tommy is musical parable about false prophets and the human inability to see what’s good in the midst of what’s not.

What is a false prophet?  Deuteronomy 18:18-22 gives us one of many Biblical instructions on how to detect one; if his or her prophecies don’t come true, he or she is not a prophet.  Seems obvious, but it’s still good advice; we should always carefully inspect both the message and the messenger before investing our future in a forecast. 

Sometimes, however, our irrational high hopes, paired with our sense of helplessness, create “accidental prophets.” We hunger for answers - for someone to lead us out of the darkness - but often the people we follow are just as lost as we are.  And we follow them anyway.  Tommy is one such accidental prophet; the prophet who is false because he never meant to be a prophet in the first place.

“Why would you want to be more like me?” Tommy asks Sally near the end of the show.  “For fifteen years I was waiting for what you've already got.  In my dreams I was seeing it, hearing it, feeling it. Those are the true miracles and you have them already.”

In a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, Townshend is quoted as saying, "Tommy's life represents the whole nature of humanity - we all have this self-imposed deaf, dumb and blindness.”   It is part of human nature to close our ears, our eyes and our minds; to shut out the parts of the world we cannot deal with.  And too often, in doing so, we fail to acknowledge the good that surrounds us, because we’re so busy blocking out the bad. 

There is a Jewish tradition that encourages a person to recite a hundred blessings each day. That’s a lot of blessings; to get them all in, one would almost have to go straight from one blessing to another, putting one in a constant state of counting blessings each day.   

And that’s probably the point.  Counting our blessings, all of our blessings, inspires us to exist in a continual flow of gratitude; gratitude directed toward the things we see, hear and feel.  

And what could be better than that?

Krista Lang Blackwood
Director of Cultural Arts
Jewish Community Center of Kansas City