September 26, 2020

1993-04-10 – The Journal News

1993 04 10 The_Journal_News_Sat__Apr_10__1993_

tntenamment 5

Saturday. April 10. 1993 C3

Townshend and his music mature

Rock’s first
opera heads
for Broadway

By Mary Campbell
The Associated Press

New York —— Guitarist Pete
Townshend says that working in
music theater “has made me real-
ize there is an equal, parallel craft
in rock.”

The music theater he’s working
on is “Tommy,” the rock opera he
composed in 1969 for the English
rock group the Who. It’s now in
previews on Broadway, at the St.
James Theater, with a cast of 28

and 14 musicians. It opens April
22.

Townshend, 46, says, “What my
generation of rock has suffered
from is, we didn’t develop a craft.
We developed a lifestyle and an
attitude. We felt it would be pre-
tentious to try to develop a craft
around something which was
evolving unformed. We were con-
vinced that it was destined to

destroy itself. Nevertheless, there
is a craft there.

“We rock artists who are ag-
ing, instead of becoming objects of
ridicule, need to start to refine our
craft rather than let it blunder on
like a lumbering machine until it
crumbles to dust."

Townshend had time recently
to work on a theatrical production
of “Tommy” because of a Friday
the 13th bike accident in 1991. He,
singer Roger Daltrey and bassist
John Entwistle did a Who 25th
anniversary tour in 1989. Who
drummer Keith Moon died in 1978.

After the tour, Townshend
started making a solo album. It
was due Sept. 30, 1991. Then he
fell off a bicycle Sept. 13, 1991,
and smashed his right am. He
says, “I was sailing. I stopped at
the Scilly Isles and rented a bike. I
hit a hole, went over the handle-
bars, landed on my right shoulder
and the bike hit my hand. A heli-
c0pter took me to the mainland.

The Assomted Press

GROWING OLDER: Pete Townshend at a rehearsaljbr ‘Tommy. ' the
rock opera he wrote in [’10 1960s that [5 being produced for Broadway.

Somebody else sailed my boat
back. I was in and out of hospital
six weeks, then had a long period
of physiotherapy.

“There are metal plates in my
arm. I can’t flex my wrist or twist
my arm at all. I can't do my Pete
Townshend thing on the guitar. It
sounds like somebody else.

“Virgin Records encouraged
me to go on with the album. Some
was recorded before the accident
and some afterwards." Atlantic
Records will release “Psychodere-
hot" on June 15 in America.

While he was recuperating,

Pace Theatrical Group. which had
been trying to get the rights to
tour “Tommy,” tried again.

Townshend says, “They put me
together with Des McAnuff, artis-
tic director of the La Jolla Play-
house, who directed ‘Big River’ on
Broadway. I liked him immediate-
ly. We had long brainstorming
sessions. When I was happy with
the material. they did a workshop
production in La Jolla, last year.”

When Townshend was compos-
ing “Tommy,” which became the
most famous of a new musical
genre, rock opera, he was thinking

about saving the Who.

“We were a singles band facing
ignominy. We’d had a hit, ‘I Can
See for Miles,’ in America. It
wasn’t an international hit.

“I sat down to write to save
not just the Who but the process
that the Who had begun. Every
band thought they had a cause. We
believed rock ‘n‘ roll was an ideol-
ogy rather than a lifestyle."

The Who was saved. It record-
ed “Tommy” and toured perform-
ing it. sometimes in opera houses.
The group got a further boost
when Ken Russell made “Tommy"
into a movie in 1975.

Townshend liked the film,
which had Roger Daltrey as Tom-
my, Ann-Margret as his mother,
Tina Turner as the “Acid Queen“
gypsy and Jack Nicholson as the
doctor. Townshend. who worked
on the music, says, “The style
turned each scene into kind of an

MTV video, revolutionary at the
time.”

But he's even happier with the
Broadway “Tommy.”

“For me it really is such an
exciting thing to happen." Towns-
hend says, “partly because I’m so
sure that ‘Tommy’ is a good solid
piece of work. The work we have
done on it I think has revealed that
there was a very solid heart to it
in the first place. It wasn’t just a
bunch of hippies getting stoned
and listening to a story that wasn‘t
really there. It is a story."

But there’s a new ending for
the ‘905.

Originally, Tommy goes into
“traumatically induced isolation"
after he sees his father, reported
missing in a war, return and kill
his mother’s lover. (Because of
protests from parents of autistic
children, Tommy is no longer
called autistic.) Tommy‘s Cousin
Kevin bullies him; Uncle Ernie
molests him; a gypsy gives him
LSD. His silent plea is, “See me,
feel me, touch me, heal me."

Tommy becomes a pinball wiz-
ard. develops a following. A doctor
notices that he responds to his
image in a mirror. His mother
breaks his mirror. He suddenly

‘ We rock artists who
are aging, instead of
becoming objects of
ridicule, need 10 start
to refine our craft
rather than let it
blunder on like a
lumbering machine

until it crumbles to
dust. ’

Pete Townshend,
guitarist and composer of
“Tommy, '

can talk. He becomes a religious
leader, again gets followers but
they turn against him. The final

song is Tommy's statement o£
wonderment. ‘

Townshend says, “In the origi—'
nal story, Tommy was very much
a rock star figure. Pinball was a
metaphor for rock ’n’ roll and
celebrity, decadence, power and
the misuse of power. 2‘

“Emerging from silence, be
rushed straight into some kind of
spiritual emancipation, which
solved all his childhood problems
and left him facing only God. It
was a nice airy-fairy ending for
the ‘605 and ‘705. not right for this
day and age, I don‘t think.

“We‘ve rewritten the second
act. Now. as soon as Tommy

emerges. he takes charge of his
life.

“I think the great moment for
me was discovering ‘Tommy‘ did
have an ending. Instead of the
abstract ending of him turning
away from everything difficult in
life and going up the mountain. he
goes home. At the end. he is off to
restart his life.

"In these dark days we have to
be optimistic. We have to believe
we can start again and make this
life work." Townshend was the
author in 1965 of the rock lyric
line. “Hope I die before I get old."
He no longer feels like that, either: