The first public announcement by Townshend that he was working on a new and quite large-scale rock opera came in May 1968, when Melody Maker´s Chris Welch visited his flat and heard “Now I’m A Farmer,” which Welch described as being “from the long-awaited Townshend opera which he had been working on, on and off, in different forms for a couple of years.” “Farmer”, of course, would not appear in Tommy, but Townshend told Welch, “I’m working on an opera which I did once before, and I am thinking of calling it The Amazing Journey. I’ve completed some of stand I´d like to put it out on an LP. The theme is about a deaf, dumb, and. Blind boy who has dreams and sees himself as a ruler of cosmos.”
- Chris Charlesworth
Nogle måneder senere, da The Who var på turne i USA, gav Pete Townshend et langt interview til Jann Wenner. De kom rundt om mange ting, men interviewet er særlig berømt for, at Townshend her for første gang offentligt fortæller mere udførligt om ideen til “Tommy” og opridser store dele af handligen. I modsætning til de kortfattede bemærkninger til Welch i maj, åbnede Townshend i august langt mere op for sine planer.
Naturligvis hænger det hele sammen. Men jeg har her valgt at se bort fra det mere perifere og blot citere det stykke, der specifikt vedrører “Tommy”
WENNER: When you work out an arrangement and figure out the bass line and the various voices, is that just directly translated onto a record that would be released?
TOWNSHEND: More or less, but then we don’t really take it that grimly; I mean, what happens is I will suggest the bass riff on the demonstration record; John takes up and goes from there. But the bass (line) I would suggest on the demo, as I said earlier, would be very simple; it would be economical, tasteful and just a vehicle for the song, making the bass line, and, if I use the them, the piano or drum, as simple and effective as possible in putting the song across to the group.
Instead of me hacking my songs around to billions of publishers trying to get them to dig them, what I’ve got to do is get the rest of the band to dig my number. If I’ve got a number that I dig, I know that I’ve got to present it to them in the best light. That’s why I make my own recordings so when they first hear, it’s not me stoned out of my mind plunking away on a guitar trying to get my latest number across. It’s a finished work that might take me all night to get together, but nevertheless it’s gonna win them over.
I’m working on the lyrics now for the next album. When we get through that, all the lyrics cleaned out, we’ll start to work through the album. We’ll probably have do to it in short sections, like fifteen-minute sections. Ideally, I’d like to record one backing track for the whole album whether it lasts for two hours or two days. We sit down and we do it in one go, and then okay, we spend the next two years adding tarty voices or whatever it is that it takes to sell the record. But at least you know what’s happening in the background is real meat and immediate meat, and it’s part of the present.
The whole thing about recording is that a man feels slightly cheated anyway, because he’s getting a recording of something which has happened, so he feels like he’s getting something secondhand. If he thinks he’s being fucked around already, this is a whole different thing. A lot of people, I’m convinced, that buy records don’t realize what happens when a group records on an eight-track machine. They don’t realize that they record half of it one time, and then another eighth of it another time. They record it in eighths at different locations, and this ceases to become music to me.
WENNER: What other ideas in this field do you have?
TOWNSHEND: Well, the album concept in general is complex. I don’t know if I can explain it in my condition, at the moment. But it’s derived as a result of quite a few things. We’ve been talking about doing an opera, we’ve been talking about doing like albums, we’ve been talking about a whole lot of things, and what has basically happened is that we’ve condensed all of these ideas, all this energy and all these gimmicks, and whatever we’ve decided on for future albums, into one juicy package. The package I hope is going to be called “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy.” It’s a story about a kid that’s born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life. The deaf, dumb and blind boy is played by the Who, the musical entity. He’s represented musically, represented by a theme which we play, which starts off the opera itself, and then there’s a song describing the deaf, dumb and blind boy. But what it’s really all about is the fact that because the boy is “D, D & B,” he’s seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That’s really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play.
Yes, it’s a pretty far-out thing, actually. But it’s very, very endearing to me because the thing is . . . inside; the boy sees things musically and in dreams, and nothing has got any weight at all. He is touched from the outside, and he feels his mother’s touch, he feels his father’s touch, but he just interprets them as music. His father gets pretty upset that his kid is deaf, dumb and blind. He wants a kid that will play football and God knows what.
One night he comes in and he’s drunk, and he sits over the kid’s bed and he looks at him and he starts to talk to him, and the kid just smiles up, and his father is trying to get through to him, telling him about how the other dads have a kid that they can take to football and all this kind of crap, and he starts to say, “Can you hear me?” The kid, of course, can’t hear him. He’s groovin’ in this musical thing, this incredible musical thing; he’ll be out of his mind. Then there’s his father outside, outside of his body, and this song is going to be written by John. I hope John will write this song about the father who is really uptight now.
The kid won’t respond, he just smiles. The father starts to hit him, and at this moment the whole thing becomes incredibly realistic. On one side you have the dreamy music of the boy wasting through his nothing life. And on the other you have the reality of the father outside, uptight, but now you’ve got blows, you’ve got communication. The father is hitting the kid; musically then I want the thing to break out, hand it over to Keith – “This is your scene man, take it from here.”
And the kid doesn’t catch the violence. He just knows that some sensation is happening. He doesn’t feel the pain, he doesn’t associate it with anything. He just accepts it.
A similar situation happens later on in the opera, where the father starts to get the mother to take the kid away from home to an uncle. The uncle is a bit of a perv, you know. He plays with the kid’s body while the kid is out. And at this particular time the child has heard his own name; his mother called him. And he managed to hear the word: “Tommy.” He’s really got this big thing about his name, whatever his name is going to be, you know, “Tommy.” And he gets really hung up on his own name. He decides that this is the king and this is the goal. Tommy is the thing, man.
He’s going through this, and the uncle comes in and starts to go through a scene with the kid’s body, you know, and the boy experiences sexual vibrations, you know, sexual experience, and again it’s just basic music; it’s interpreted as music, and it is nothing more than music. It’s got no association with sleaziness or with undercover or with any of the things normally associated with sex. None of the romance, none of the visual stimulus, none of the sound stimulus. Just basic touch. It’s meaningless. Or not meaningless; you just don’t react, you know. Slowly but surely the kid starts to get it together, out of his simplicity, this incredible simplicity in his mind. He starts to realize that he can see, and he can hear, and he can speak; they are there, and they are happening all the time. And that all the time he has been able to hear and see. All the time it’s been there in front of him, for him to see.
This is the difficult jump. It’s going to be extremely difficult, but we want to try to do it musically. At this point, the theme, which has been the boy, starts to change. You start to realize that he is coming to the point where he is going to get over the top, he’s going to get over his hang-ups. You’re gonna stop monkeying around with songs about people being tinkered with, and with Father’s getting uptight, with Mother’s getting precious and things, and you’re gonna get down to the fact of what is going to happen to the kid.
The music has got to explain what happens, that the boy elevates and finds something which is incredible. To us, it’s nothing to be able to see and hear and speak, but to him, it’s absolutely incredible and overwhelming; this is what we want to do musically. Lyrically, it’s quite easy to do it; in fact, I’ve written it out several times. It makes great poetry, but so much depends on the music, so much. I’m hoping that we can do it. The lyrics are going to be okay, but every pitfall of what we’re trying to say lies in the music, lies in the way we play the music, the way we interpret, the way things are going during the opera.
The main characters are going to be the boy and his musical things; he’s got a mother and father and an uncle. There is a doctor involved who tries to do some psychiatric treatment on the kid which is only partly successful. The first two big events are when he hears his mother calling him and hears the word “Tommy,” and he devotes a whole part of his life to this one word. The second important event is when he sees himself in a mirror, suddenly seeing himself for the first time: He takes an immediate back step, bases his whole life around his own image. The whole thing then becomes incredibly introverted. The music and the lyrics become introverted, and he starts to talk about himself, starts to talk about his beauty. Not knowing, of course, that what he saw was him but still regarding it as something which belonged to him, and of course it did all of the time anyway.
It’s a very complex thing, and I don’t know if I’m getting it across.
WENNER: You are.
TOWNSHEND: Because I don’t feel at all together.
WENNER: I know you don’t look it, but you’re coming on very together.
WENNER: This theme, not so dramatically, seems to be repeated in so many songs that you’ve written and the Who have performed – a young cat, our age, becoming an outcast from a very ordinary sort of circumstance. Not a “Desolation Row” scene, but a very common set of middle-class situations. Why does this repeat itself?
TOWNSHEND: I don’t know. I never really thought about that.
WENNER: There’s a boy with pimple problems and a chick with perspiration problems and so on.
TOWNSHEND: Most of these things just come from me. Like this idea I’m talking about right now, comes from me. These things are my ideas, it’s probably why they all come out the same; they’ve all got the same fuckups, I’m sure.
I can’t get my family together, you see. My family were musicians. There were essentially middle class, they were musicians, and I spent a lot of time with them when other kids’ parents were at work, and I spent a lot of time away from them when other kids had parents, you know. That was the only way it came together. They were always out for long periods. But they were always home for long periods, too. They were always very respectable – nobody ever stopped making me play the guitar and nobody ever stopped me smoking pot, although they advised me against it.
They didn’t stop me from doing anything that I wanted to do. I had my first fuck in the drawing room of my mother’s house. The whole incredible thing about my parents is that I just can’t place their effect on me, and yet I know that it’s there. I can’t say how they affected me. When people find out that my parents are musicians, they ask how it affected me. Fucked if I know; musically, I can’t place it, and I can’t place it in any other way. But I don’t even feel myself aware of a class structure, or an age structure, and yet I perpetually write about age structures and class structures. On the surface I feel much more concerned with racial problems and politics. Inside I’m much more into basic stuff.