Who Commentary: Selections from the Rock Commentaries

The Early Who

Between January of 65 and March of 1966, the Who turned Mod angst into the driving force of rock proper, as the blues begin to emerge into Classic rock with singles, songs not recorded on an album until Live at Leads in 1970 or Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, in 1971. The Stones too, released “Satisfaction” in ’65. The first Who record was “My Generation.” It was the song that sprung the Who onto an unsuspecting world, hitting the charts as they would smash their guitars and knock over the drums at the end of the show, the first punk mood in the movement, the cultural development that was rock. “My generation” is the movement not of the hippies but of the mods, and the poet later on Quadrophenia, will call himself the “punk with the stutter.” Townshend is almost single-handedly responsible for the legacy of the mods, and for the continuation of the attitude into rock, though there is a bit of the mod in Jagger and the Beatles as well. That the song became an anthem of the entire generation in the late 60’s shows how the mod tributary entered classic rock via the Who. “Hope I die before I get old” is the mod equivalent of the American “don’t trust anyone over 30.” The mods in Quadrophenia brawl with another social sect called the “rockers,” who seem to be greasers and gear heads who listen to American fifties rock and roll, a different tributary, as we try to penetrate these British mysteries. The mods dressed slick and rode scooters with lights, ate leapers or speed, occasionally fought in the streets, and danced. The Who have the London working class attitude of defiance, similar to the early Beatles, before their producer dressed them more like mods. The mods hold jobs yet disdain their world. My friend Jay once explained to me the stutter in this song as something like the bashful or not self assured part of the youth rebellion or the mod anthem, the human part of the spirited revolt of a generation. They do not quite believe themselves, but are speaking anyway, and against a world that is not more believable than the world they stutter to pronounce.

The thunderous drums broke out with these singles, as in “Anyway” and “Happy Jack,” as had never been heard and seen before, but would be again from Zeppelin’s John Bonham. “Anyway, Anyhow Anywhere” is a revelry in liberty “I can go anyway,” “live anyhow” and “go anywhere” he chooses, even through locked doors, “don’t follow no lines that been laid before.” “I Can’t Explain” is a beginning of love song done in the rock mode:

New feeling inside / I can’t explain

Its a certain kind / I can’t explain

I feel hot and cold / I can’t explain

Way down to my soul, yea / can’t explain

I’m feelin good now, yeah, but / I can’t explain

Dizzy in the head, and I’m feelin blue

Things you say, well maybe their true

I’m getting funny dreams again and again

I know what it means but

I can’t explain

I think its love

Dizzy in the head, and I’m feelin’ bad

Things you say, well they got me real mad.

I’m getting funny dreams again and again

I know what it means but

I say to you / when I feel blue

Said I can’t explain

Drive me out of my mind

Yeah, I’m worried bout it

Cause I can’t explain.

 The beginning of love has these strange effects that no one can explain, and that is the universal expression we like so much in this song. The song shows that Townshend has loved, in the deeper sort that is accompanied by strange effects on the body, emotions and mind. “Funny dreams” occur because one is stirred “way down to his soul.” According to Townshend, the lyric was originally about music, but changed to be about love to produce the pop song (Who I Am, p .75). But this may be fitting, since love is the entry of most people into music. It drives him out of his mind, and he’s worried about it­, the path that leads to the path of “The Seeker” and the studies of Tommy and Quadrophenia.

On the charts in 1966, The Who’s Substitute is awash in dream images regarding the crossing over into majority from youth, as in much of the early Townshend lyrics. The lyrics are difficult, and worth considering:

You think we look pretty good together.

You think my shoes are made of leather.

But I’m a substitute for another guy,

I look pretty tall, but my heals are high.

The simple things you see are all complicated,

I look bloody young, but I’m just backdated, yeh

Substitute your lies for fact

I see right through your plastic mac

I look all white, but my dad was black

My substitute’s really made out of sack.

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth

North side of my town faced east

and the east was facing south

But now you dare to look me in the eye

Those crocodile tears I watch you cry

It’s a genuine problem and you won’t try

To work it out at all,

You just pass it by, pass it by

Substitute me for him

Substitute My coke for gin

Substitute you for my mum

At least I’ll get my washing done.

Your lies for fact

I see right through your plastic mac

I look all white but my dad was black

My Substitute’s really made out of sack

The context of the song is a limit in a love, where the poet loves, but the girl is not there. This leads him to run into a wall and a reflection. He is to her a substitute for one she wants but cannot have, one taller and younger. He has heeled shoes for height, and calls himself backdated. The circumstance, in which he loves but is to her a substitute causes her to lie to him. A plastic mac is a raincoat, perhaps the see through sort from the sixties. White and black are racial, but also language from the unconscious, and also means he is an undesirable sort. And from his father he gets the substitute that is sack, a British-ism for wine.

The plastic spoon of course replaces the silver spoon in the proverbial metaphor of good fortune. He is a product of the working class. The line about the directions of his town being turned one quarter, so north faces east, etc, is a very amusing line, related to the preceding one, about which side of town one lives on. The north side of a town is usually the rich side, as is the West, while the South is poorer. There are variations for example if the water on which a town is built happens to be on the north or west rather the east, or if the water flows west or, as in Egypt, north. The south side of Chicago is, according to Jim Croce, “the baddest part of town.” The West is not mentioned, but it opens out into the wilderness, and is divided economically by North and South. These are city people, from that town by the docks near London! But most towns divide up the same, with variations based on unique features such as a river on the West or harbor on the South, and by the pattern it is possible to have a basis for understanding every town.

The song reaches the crisis, when she is pictured lying, looking him in the eye and pretending to cry, and he insists that his problem is genuine, and she won’t address it. This leads him to consider what he is headed for should he marry her, which is the object of the dream of love: Because she substitutes him for the one she really wants, he will substitute his coke or soda for gin, perhaps like that of his father, though should he substitute her for his mother, he would at least get his washing done. The lack of love, though, would leave him to perpetuate the malaise of the London working class alcoholic househeads. It is the pull of this wretched fate that the violence of The Who strikes out against, and quite successfully, loudly awakening a generation, and showing the awakening of the generation to the search for more to life.

Substitute would be recorded live at Leeds in 1970. The album Live at Leeds may be the highest energy music that actually holds together. Hendrix also holds together sometimes at such a degree, as in Voodoo Child,” if he sometimes loses it, or lets it go, as in his “Star Spangled Banner.” Creed, too, later in the nineties, could manage such wild energy. White Stripes, in “Orchid” is almost overflowing its own rhythm, but still orderly enough to be music. One hears again as rock emerges from the blues, with the fifties tunes “Young Man’s Blues” and “Summertime Blues” surrounding the Townshend pathos, “Substitute,” with lyrics bursting out along with the explosion of thundering drums and guitar, the rock concert turns from Mod gathering to psychic torrent, and one can hear already the crisp beat that was to be taken over by the punks. The mod anger of this anguished rock love song of the Who is a bursting through illusion.

Who’s Next (1971) is very nearly a “perfect” album, on which every single song is worthily a hit. The song called Baba O’Reily is the title of the song that describes what is occurring in the culture as a teenage wasteland. One wonders if the band is not a bit embarrassed when the crowd thinks that the song is applauding and encouraging their all getting wasted, somewhat as Bowie would feel if he played “Panic in Detroit” in Detroit, and it was mistaken as an invitation to riot. The song laments the wasting of a generation, even in things like going to rock concerts and cheering ourselves for over indulgence. The anti drug message of the Who and of Tommy are serious.

Out here in the fields

I fight for my meals

I get my back into my livin

I don’t need to fight

To prove I’m right

I don’t need to be forgiven

Don’t cry

Don’t raise your eye

Its only teenage wasteland

Sally take my hand

And travel south cross land

Put out the fire, And don’t look past my shoulder

The Exodos is here

The happy ones are near

Lets get together, before we get much older

Teenage Wasteland

It’s only teenage wasteland

Their all wasted!

When the crowd cheers at the last line, they become a part of the artwork, as is also done by Waters of Pink Floyd on occasion. He is out in the fields, a spiritual soldier struggling for sustenance by the effort of his mind. He need neither fight nor be forgiven. By this, he seems to mean that his intellectual liberty is not a sin, if some would hold it to be. He does not seem to mean that there is no sin, nor does he make the tragic statement that he has no sin, as would precede a fall. E. E. Cummings wrote a poem called The Wasteland. Part of the name of this song comes from a combination of the name of Townshend’s guru, Maher Baba. It may well be derived from his teaching, as he surveys the Western youth. Amid the crisis of the teenage wasteland, he attempts to show the kids “This way,” to the exodus, to lead them out of the wasteland.

Behind this song is the science fiction of Townshend’s Lifehouse project. According to Wikipedia, A Scottish farmer is to take his wife Sally to London, attempting to exit a world that has become controlled, where people are born through test tubes and fed entertainment intravenously. In this world, the heroes are savages who had kept Rock and Roll as a primitive force, and had gone to live in the woods with their music. The Lifehouse project is based on the idea that each person has a unique music that can be derived by feeding their information into a synthesizer, which then will produce a sound, and when all the sounds are joined, there would be the perfect note (And hence “There once was a note, pure and easy…” The title combines the name of the Sufi Maher Baba with Terry O’ riley, a synthesizer composer, because the Lifehouse aimed to combine these two ideas. In the story, as on Wikipedia, a guru comes who remembers Rock and Roll, and

speaks of a kind of Nirvana people reached through listening to this type of music. The old man tries to set it up so that the effect can be experienced eternally. Everybody would be snapped out of their programmed environment through this Rock and Roll induced liberated selflessness. The Lifehouse was where the music was played, and where young people would collect to discover Rock music as a powerful catalyst- a religion as it were.”

The idea is a bit like Wikipedia applied to music. The attempt to actually produce the Lifehouse is said to have led to a “nervous breakdown.” But the project was interesting for the attempt to combine spiritual things and computer things through music, as well the political commentary on our world, which begins to look a little sci-fi in fact! Our music does come from the people, but not be mathematical addition, and not by conglomerating each of the many, and not by feeding bits of information to a machine. Music and the soul are related, too, but these techies will never have the patience for the devoted study of the soul required for one of the terms in the spirititual study of music. The physicists and techies would want to go straight to making, in the usual human ignorance about the soul, and so would do better to translate soul into sound by leading the lives of musicians, welching off inspiration.

The song “Bargain” rises to a height above the others on that side of the album, because of its statement of love beyond all. He would give all he had and call it the best bargain. Yet the passion expressed in the song “Behind Blue Eyes” is, maybe, like Stings‘s song about the ring, not entirely a good passion, and even out of character for the wisdom–guided Who. His love is vengeance that’s never free? Is the critical self reflection sufficient to counter or transcend the “I blame you?” “Getting in Tune” identifies music with the harmony of a happiness, getting in tune, and with love, that is tune right in on you,” like Joni Mitchell’s radio. And “Going Mobile” is a good song of the liberty of the open road.

Tommy 1969

Rock opera is potentially a quantum leap in the art, though one that was not taken. Drama, as Aristotle explains, is the highest imitative art form, and it is clear upon reflection that all music has a dramatic intention. Every human articulation wants to be part of a drama, which would fully show the human histories imagined or involved. Aristotle writes that drama is the highest art form (Poetics). The move from music to drama is like a move from two to three dimensions, as is evident in the move from the treatise to the Platonic dialogue, showing the speeches with the body.

Pete Townsend is Tommy, and the pinball wizard is the rock star. That much seems obvious, though it won’t occur to us, as it did not to Pete himself, until we think about it. He is also the questing mod of Quadrophenia, and the genius behind the writing of the Who. Townshend himself had to think about this one, as Jessica Siegel writes:

Originally, Townshend said he conceived of pinball as a metaphor for the hypocrisy of institutionalized religion, a topical theme in the 1960’s. With hindsight, he sees that pinball was really a stand in for rock and roll. The pinball machine was a fender Stratecaster guitar. And he was Tommy Walker.

And Siegel then quotes Townshend:

 When you have time to look back on your work, you suddenly think, ‘My God, I didn’t realize I was wearing my heart on my sleeve to that extent.’ I went into a kind of shock…In actual fact, what I had done was told my (expletive) life story and projected it into the future.

 The Chicago Tribune, Sunday section

Tommy is apparently a British legend surrounding the son of a World War I soldier, reported killed in action, who returned by surprise and was murdered by his wife’s new husband or lover. Townshend writes that for the movie, the circumstance is reversed, so that the father is killed in the movie, while the wife’s lover is the one killed in Tommy. The circumstance is similar then to Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart falls in love with supposed war widow Lauren Bacall, and demonstrates noble action in the circumstance, in the end. Yet here in Tommy, in the movie, the lover responds tragically, killing the lawful husband from the unwillingness to give up his new love. On the album, then, the character is not the stepfather, but the father with a murderous secret. In his book (p. 261), Townshend discusses the change:

One of the first changes Ken (Russell, the director) wanted to make was to nudge the story towards a kind of mnodern version of Hamlet, with the lover of Tommy’s mother killing Tommy’s father- rather than the other way around, as on the album. I was concerned about thios at first, then I saw the dead father would become a symbol of Tommy of the “master” he sees in his dreams.

The lover is first shown in the optimism of this new love, and the first breaking through of beautiful poetry occurs in the lines of the lover: “Got a feelin’ twenty one is gonna be a good year / Especially if you and me see it in together.” The love is genuine, and so tragic, when it apparently leads him to kill the true father of Tommy when he returns. The stepfather or father character is ambiguous, and we are made sympathetic with him even while he is the murderer, the cause of his blindness, and the master of the bungling attempts at securing the cure and salvation of Tommy. Tommy sees the murder, and is told he did not see and hear it. The result is a psychosomatic blindness and deafness that is like autism. Also like some autistic children, Tommy shows certain rare abilities. With some it is music, some math. For him it is to be pinball wizard, apparently through sensation felt as musical vibration. On one hand, the equation of sense and music is strange, because while he can feel, he is deaf, and would only produce music from his understanding of sound before the trauma.

Yet there is something more to Tommy than pinball, just as there is something more to Townshend than music. The song “The Amazing Journey” completes the work of the first of the four sides of the double album, which is our introduction to the character and background of Tommy. Tommy lives at age ten in a world of sensory deprivation:

Deaf Dumb and blind boy

He’s in a quiet vibration land

Strange as it seems, his musical dreams

Ain’t quite so bad

Tommy is like Helen Keller in American history, blind and deaf, limited to touch. As in her case, the story is in part about her breaking through. In the Rolling Stone interview, conducted when Townsend was still working on Tommy, he describes the idea:

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 is a song describing the deaf, dumb and blind boy. But what its 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’s all about, because we are creating him as we play.…

Townshend emphasizes that what he really likes, or finds endearing is that

 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 father’s touch, but he 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.

In the interview, there is yet no hint of the mysterious origin of the inner block of Tommy, the concern with Christmas and salvation, the vision that begins the amazing journey, nor of the pinball wizard parallel with the phenomenon of the cult rock star. Tommy is beaten by his father and molested by his uncle, and interprets these sensations as sound vibrations, or musically, without association to “sleeziness” or “any of the things normally associated with sex. It is meaningless, as it is in such actual instances, “you just don’t react.” The sensory deprivation of Tommy is at points related to literal traumas of the soul. He manages to hear his own name, “Tommy,” and “gets really hung up on” it. “He decides that this is the king and this is the goal, Tommy is the thing, man.” (p. 99). Similarly, when he sees his own image in the 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 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…

Here the interview breaks off into a different direction, Townsend complaining that he does not “feel at all together.” What he has in the mirror was himself. But does Townsend think that the tall stranger with the silver gown and golden beard is, similarly, himself? And if not, what does he think it is?

His condition allows the perception of musical dreams from within, and this also leads to bold thoughts, wisdom and simplicity, as if demonstrating the theory that we are corrupted by our experience and by the outside world, yet perfected in mind and the imagination by music and thought, or, by what arises from within. He retains an inner simplicity uncorrupted, but this is only the beginning of the amazing journey, what makes him open to it. The paradox of this openness to the inner things through mental and physical defects is stated directly:

 Sickness will surely take the mind

Where minds can’t usually go

Come on the amazing journey

And learn all you should know

His sensory deprivation is the result of a sickness, yet this very sickness allows him access to the inner school. Sometimes our defects prove our commodities, as Shakespeare’s Gloucester says (King Lear, IV, i, 19-21). His inner world of musical dreams and bold thoughts in the pursuit of wisdom prepares him for the psychic experience or vision of the wizard, a manifestation of what Jung would call the archetype of the Wise old man:[12]

A vague haze of delirium

creeps up on me.

All at once a tall stranger I suddenly see.

He’s dressed in a silver sparked

glittering gown

And his golden beard flows nearly down to the ground.

This is a vision or visitation. The wise man is not an actual person, such as Socrates, because humans are not wise. Our particular teachers, though, might embody or make manifest the wise man that is the guide, and our relations with them makes the archetype active in our lives. The figure is like a combination of Merlin, the ancient British seer, and John’s vision of Jesus at the opening of the Revelation. His gown is silver and his beard gold, or he is clothed in the spirit and has grown wisdom. Before elaborating further on the figure, two sets of lines repeat the points, adding that his deprivation of sight and hearing leads him to convert sensation into music, and that it is sickness that takes the mind where minds can’t usually go, opening the way to the amazing journey. In a final set of lines, he then elaborates regarding the wise man:

His eyes are the eyes that transmit all they know

Sparkle warm crystalline glances to show

That he is your leader

And he is your guide

On the amazing journey together you’ll ride.

His eyes transmit knowledge. The seeker knows that he is the leader or guide because the crystalline glances or the divine glance of one whose sight is the light, are also “warm,” or yet friendly and welcoming to the human seeker. This figure will accompany Tommy on the amazing journey that is to follow, as everyone around him attempts to treat his soul and his condition.

The journey first concerns the question of salvation and a series of traumatic unfortunate encounters with the Hawker, Cousin Kevin, the Acid Queen and Uncle Ernie. The Hawker is like a pimp who presents the woman that is his whore as having the power to bring eyesight to the blind and make the deaf able to hear. It turns out the step father in the dual father figure represents conventional or even Anglican Christianity. It follows that the sensory deprivation of Tommy may be like the alienation of the inspired musician from both the conventional and the radical forms of spirituality.

The father or step father is, as has been noted, strangely presented sympathetically. His poem on Christmas morning opens the second disk. This song demonstrates the meaning of certain aspects of Christmas, as the background of his concern for the salvation of Tommy. I like to play the song around Christmas for its explanation of the meaning of gift giving:

 Did you ever see the faces of the children

The get so excited.

Waking up on Christmas morning

hours before the winter sun’s ignited.

They believe in dreams and all they mean

Including heaven’s generosity

Peeping round the door to see what parcels are for free

In curiosity.

The meaning of dreams includes the generosity of heaven, and the children anticipating Christmas believe in the meaning of dreams. Their excited curiosity anticipates the curiosity that leads adults to the true beneficence of heaven. When humans give gifts to one another, we embody and recall the generosity of the heaven, and gifts from heaven’s overflow, as the winter’s sun will soon light Christmas morning. The poetry is beautiful here beyond commentary, and, once again, demonstrates a rare understanding of the meaning of the Christian things embodied in the bungling father.

The father, having just described the meaning of Christmas, complains that Tommy doesn’t know what day it is. / Doesn’t know who Jesus was or what prayin’ is.” He asks, “How can he be saved?” emphasizing “From the eternal grave.” Salvation is made possible by the knowledge of what day it is,[13] or what Christmas day is, and this is identified with the visible light: “How can men who’ve never seen light be enlightened?” The quest for a cure for the blindness and deafness of Tommy thus becomes identified with the goal of enlightenment or the salvation of his soul.

Meanwhile, Tommy within is singing “See me, feel me / Touch me, heal me.” The song therefore does have something to do with the reaching up to Jesus, a dual meaning that accompanies the more direct meaning for many listeners. It is the longing of our souls for the healing of the divine, in whatever form this reaching arises.

Before the crisis and attempted cure, Tommy is abused by the bully babysitter Cousin Kevin. Tommy is then apparently given acid. The experience is symbolized in the image of a night locked in a room with a sadistic Gypsy whore. After the experience, the innocence of the boy is gone, having had his soul torn apart. He is told to gather his wits and hold on fast, “Your mind must learn to roam” Her work done, she says he’s “Never been more alive,” while he is shaking his head and clutching his fingers with his body writhing. Her night with him is like a rendezvous “guaranteed to break your little heart.” Townsend and the Who are the most anti-drug of the Rock bands, apparently having overcome the mod fascination with leapers and alcohol. This would be the most negative presentation of LSD as a path to enlightenment of any of the rock bands. The position is for example opposite the Grateful Dead and others on the matter.

The third disk opens with the molestation of Tommy by his wicked uncle Ernie, with whom his parents have left him as a sitter. This is somehow the prelude to the Pinball Wizard. Has he discovered sensation and response through sexuality, though perverted by Uncle Ernie? Since such things are fundamental traumas of deep and lasting impact, does he again succeed in making lemonade from the lemons life gives him? The connection between Ernie and pinball is underlined later when Ernie reappears at Tommy’s Holiday camp to guide the recruits to their very own machine.

The story of the pinball wizard is told through the eyes of a third party, another pinball champion that is defeated by Tommy. Tommy plays by sensation or touch, and the lack of the distractions of sight and sound are said to allow for his astonishing ability at the pinball machine. The song is anthem like because of the phase of our youth in the seventies when pinball was a fashion activity in the social lives of kids down at the arcade, replaced now by video games. Yet, as the further adventures of Tommy will demonstrate, the primary meaning of the pinball wizard is the analogy with the rock star, and the comment of Townsend himself on this phenomenon.

The father, meanwhile, has found a doctor who can cure the deaf dumb and blind pinball wizard. This doctor is considerably more helpful than the doctor in Quadrophenia, who cannot take the meaning of the mods weekend when he tells him during a visit. Here the doctor notes that while tests have shown he does not sense at all, his eyes react to light, and he does physically hear. Meanwhile Tommy within sings “See me, feel me / Touch me, heal me.”

The doctor comments that there is no hope from an operation or any outside stimulation, apparently because the condition is an inner block, and so all hope lies with the action of the patient. Yet he fears the shock from isolation when the boy is suddenly able to hear and speak and see. Tommy continues to sing for healing in his isolation. The doctor then sends Tommy to the mirror.

At the mirror, while his father wonders what is happening in his head, Tommy is apparently in contact with the figure of wisdom that appeared earlier to him. The contact, though, is a little too close, since he apparently becomes possessed by the archetype,[14] and for a while identifies himself with such a figure. He says to what he sees in the mirror:

Listening to you I get the music

Gazing at you I get the heat

Following you I climb the mountain

I get excitement at your feet!

Right behind you I see the millions

On you I see the glory.

From you I get opinions

From you I get the story

Meanwhile the father and mother outside contact the boy. His mother is amazed that he doesn’t respond to her at all, but can apparently see himself, as he gazes at his own reflection. Inside, as we have seen, Tommy is in the presence of the one from whom he gets the music, etc. The figure is especially Christ-like in the second set of lines, as he on whom the glory of the Lord appears and whom one sees the millions following. Is Tommy in direct contact with the Christ? He is also the one whom one follows up the mountain, and the source of the music, which are characteristic of wisdom or the wise old man. His mother becomes angry, and senses that Tommy fears her. She then attempts to compel him to answer, by insisting: “Do you hear or fear or do I smash the mirror?” When he does not respond, she fulfills her threat and smashes the mirror.

In his book, Townshend writes:

I decided my deaf, dumb and blind hero could be autistic. This way, when I wanted to demonstrate the glorious moment of god-realization, I could simply restore my hero the use of his senses. It was a good plan; the boy’s sensory deprivation would work as a symbol of our own every-day spiritual isolation.

(Who I Am, pp.146-147)

The language of “god-realization” comes from Maher Baba, though Townshend’s Tommy is more skeptical of becoming a guru or spiritual leader than it is a “proselytizing vehicle” for the guru.

The result of the smashing of the mirror is that the pinball wizard becomes a “sensation,” something like a rock star, in a very nice double meaning. Apparently this occurs when he can suddenly see, hear and communicate. As the third disc concludes, Tommy overwhelms those he approaches, who hold their breath, and lovers break their embrace to gaze on him. The spirituality of his presence is apparent as their love is enhanced after he has passed by. In the refrain, A new vibration” reminds of the Beach Boys Good Vibrations, a new sound intended to be spiritual sound.

The career of Townshend is carried throughout by his hearing of a celestial music, from the time of his youth. This sound is to music as physical sensation is to the ability of Tommy to play pinball (Who I Am, pp.30-32, 34, 45, 93, 205). It is connected to Jesus and the angelic choir from the time of Townshend’s youth, accounting in part for the strangely sympathetic portrayal of Christmas in Tommy. Townshend (p. 35) writes:

Because of Tril’s faith in me, I became a bit of a mystic like her. I prayed to God, and at Sunday school I came to genuinely admire Jesus. In heaven, where he lived, the strange music I sometimes heard was completely normal.

The new vibration is related to the perfect note, addressed later, and to the single note said by some, both mystics and scientists, to be at the root or basis of the cosmos, whether an Ohm or a note left over from a Big Bang.

The music or notes of these words sound as though they were about to shatter glass, or through some sound barrier to the other or above side. The conjunction of pinball wizard / rock star / religious figure or pop idol / spiritual leader is fulfilled in the lines:

They worship me and all I touch

Hazy eyed they catch my glance,

Pleasant shudders shake their senses

My warm momentum throws their stance…

Refrain…You’ll feel me comin,

A new vibration

From afar you’ll see me

I’m a sensation

I leave a trail of rooted people

Mesmerized by just the sight,

The few I touched now are disciples

Love as one, I am the light…

The second instance of the word “hazy” is a clue. Tommy has become identified with the figure seen apparently through his own image in the mirror. He says, as Jesus did, that he is the light. For Jesus, or the messiah, and for him alone, it is a question whether or not he is correct, or whether this depiction of what he teaches about himself is correct. When other men see themselves and are taken with the beauty of the image of god within, and have seen nothing higher, they can become possessed by the archetype, a content of the collective unconscious, and this is a sort of madness. Yet all the while it may be so that there is something divine in us, that it is our true selves, and that we do not know this very well, nor live much in accordance with it. The wise man is the true self, but it is of course not the Most High.

Jung discusses these in terms of the “ego,” archetypal functions, and the “self.” In some instances, that is, without sacrifice, penance and humility, the ego becomes identified with the “self” in the wrong way. The effect is similar to the image in love, when it is the first hint of the divine or intelligible ever seen. The little self is an image of the big “self,” the soul an image of God, which, if the greater is not seen, allows for the error of megalomania, even of the sort where a guy thinks he’s Napoleon, or a Napoleon that he is “the guy.” The truth is that there is a spark of the divine in man, and that it is our true self, and we might be astonished at the intelligence in us, but “we all shine on” as Lennon said. Still, some are extraordinary, heads above their equal fellows, both by nature and by cultivation.

The third disc ends with the newsboy announcing the miraculous cure of the Pinball wizard. This coincides, as was said, with the sudden fame of the rock star, when he can finally communicate the depth of the thought within, or when the greatness of the inward vision that is at the root of his music seems finally to be received if not understood, or at least to have an impact proportionate to its greatness.

The fourth disc opens with the story of Sally Simpson and her love fantasy regarding the rock star Tommy. Here pinball is explicitly replaced by the rock star and the effect of those like Elvis or the Beatles on the fantasy life of their young female fans. The song is touching, as Townsend writes:

She knew from the start

Deep down in her heart

She and Tommy were worlds apart.

But her mother said never mind your part

Is to be what you’ll be.

Sally of course gets a sixteen stitch gash on her face when she tries to enter her fantasy by jumping onstage, and the result disillusions her, so that she is able to settle for marriage to a real musician aspiring in California.

Meanwhile, a world apart, in the world of Tommy, he is singing of his spiritual discovery that the highest truth is freedom:

I’m free- I’m free,

And freedom tastes of reality,

I’m free, I’m free,

And I’m waiting for you to follow me.

 The center of this song seems to me genuinely profound. It is Townsend’s comment on religion or spirituality of the sort “out here in the fields.” It is spiritual, but free of worldly spirituality, and disdainful of all worldly appearances, including the cult-like gullibility of the followers of the rock musicians like Tommy, in so far as they exercise a spiritual dominion over the youth. Townsend’s genuine message:

If I told you what it takes

to reach the highest high,

You’d laugh and say ‘nothing’s that simple’

But you’ve been told many times before

Messiahs pointed to the door

But no one had the guts to leave the temple!

But there is another thing that gives occasion to comment on Townshend and the Who. There is an attempt of the seeker, in the song named in part after Townshend’s Guru Maher Baba, to find a spiritual basis independent of the Christian or Biblical foundations of Western civilization, which is perceived at the start as bankrupt. The Who, Beatles, Clapton and others attempt to go east for spirituality, rather than do without. The path of rock then becomes a self conscious independent spiritual quest. The ground of this attempt or this quest is what he means by:

Out here in the fields

I fight for my meals.

I get my back into my liv’in

I don’t need to fight

To prove I’m right

I don’t need to be forgiven.

He is out independent in the spiritual fields, and does his own work toiling there. This is another way of saying “no one had the guts to leave the Temple.” He accuses Christendom of sustaining and spreading the religion by force, or associates Christianity with the militarists, as in the Viet Nam war. His spirited denial of the need for forgiveness calls for an apology or explanation. It seems, as a hypothesis, that it is toward other men, and not toward God, that he asserts that he does not need to be forgiven, as a way of climbing out from under the oppressive human authority of the Christian tradition. He does not need to be forgiven for his work out there in the fields, or for the spiritual independence of the seeker. Baba is the name of Townshend’s own guru.

The many say “how can we follow?” and one is reminded of the Monty Python movie Life of Brian, when Brian, for his preaching, is telling the crowd, “You must be individuals. You must think for yourselves,” and the crowd chants after him in unison, “We are individuals. We must think for ourselves.” In Tommy, the many simply cannot follow, any further than the mere repetition of the phrase that they must stop mere repeating. Tommy finds contact with the higher things through his musical dreams because he suffered a trauma that led to a psychosomatic loss of senses. His heightened sensation makes him a pinball wizard, but it is not true that the many can gain the same result by doing the same things, especially if they are not poets or musicians. Both Tommy and the followers confuse the accidental particulars with the higher things revealed through these particulars, demonstrating the universal human propensity to idolatry. So the next song, “Welcome,” depicts a cult-like atmosphere, yet one of drinking all night and never sleeping–one of the clues that it is the cult of the rock star. Their followers are the “comfortable people.” Everyone is welcome to be one of them, the milkman, baker, little old lady, shoemaker. The members gather in others from everywhere, like the expanding of a cult. In an aside that reminds one of a Shakespearean subplot occurring alongside a greater action, even Uncle Ernie has become a P.R. man for Tommy’s Holiday camp. Is there a suggestion that the cult, and the rock and roll scene, is a bit like molestation regarding the gullibility of the mind of the participant?

The rock opera concludes with the revolt of the followers from Tommy’s religion of pinball, or music. This is the apparent answer to what it takes to reach the highest high. Yet after the followers revolt, Tommy, again worlds apart, is in the presence of his visionary wise man, and asking to be healed. The many are freer in revolt, and one hopes the distinction has been restored between Tommy himself and the figure whose glance is light, seen when he first set out on the amazing journey.

The scene opens as Tommy is speaking at the ceremony welcoming followers to the camp. “My name is Tommy, and I became aware this year” This demonstrates that his literal perception– opened when the inner block was surpassed at the smashing of the mirror– is identified with spiritual enlightenment or an opening awareness. But Tommy tells them that if they want to follow him, they have to play pinball. He passes out blindfolds, earplugs and a cork for their mouths.

The difference between his movement and the hippie rock followers becomes apparent when he tells those drinking and smoking pot that that is not the way. Strangely, there is a difference between the written line on the album sleeve, “Hey you smoking mother nature, You missed the bus” and the spoken words recorded, …Hey you…This is a bust.” In the recorded version, the religious movement of Tommy begins to become authoritarian. At this, the followers begin to revolt, saying “we’re not gonna take it.” Tommy then finds them all deaf, speechless and blind from the things he has himself passed out. Pinball is said to complete the scene, and Uncle Ernie enters to guide them to their very own machine. The image is uncertain, but it is likely that the musical path of imitating the particulars of Tommie’s character results in perversity or masturbation. It can be said, though, that the primary meaning of what has occurred as a result of Tommy’s breakthrough into contact with the world is just like the mass result of Townsend’s breakthrough, and the poet is disgusted by these things in our music culture. The followers continue their revolt, saying they do not want religion, as far as they know. They resolve to forsake him, then to rape him, then simply to forget him.

Yet the story does end in the failure of the Holiday camp, but in the glory of the vision of Tommy, and it is these lines that have become the most moving and the most memorable. Finally alone the Opera concludes in Tommy’s solitary epiphany, beginning with his prayer:

See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.

See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.

And concluding with his description that most reminded of the identification of the wise man with the actual Christ, with the glory upon him, followed by the millions:

Listening to you I get the music.

Gazing at you I get the heat

Following you I climb the mountain

I get excitement at your feet!

Right behind you I see the millions

On you I see the glory.

From you I get opinions

From you I get the story.

The interesting elements, to sum up our inquiry, are involved in the question of who or what it is that Tommy addresses when he is praying or asking to be healed, the analogy between pinball and being a rock star, and the comparison of the rock star to a religious cult figure, and therefore rock and roll as a replacement for religion. The rock writer is indeed in touch with something, even due to his inner block, caused by something that is like having been told not to see. What he is in touch with, when he is singing “See me, feel me, Touch me, heal me” is nowhere described more clearly than in the vision described in the “Amazing Journey.” It is somehow both Christian and philosophic or based on the wise man, though it is a free encounter with the concrete divine, rather than the traditional religion of the step-father, who identifies access to salvation with the ability to see the visible regarding Christmas. Simultaneously, the poet’s understanding of the deep and high truth in the celebration of Christmas makes it clear that while it is not the same establishment of religion, the poetry is not opposed to but is ultimately consistent with the truth of that tradition. We have to go all the way to “Love Reign Over Me,” at the end of Quadrophenia, to show this fully.

The final question is the first question: what is the meaning of the murder of his true father by his step father or the murder by his father of the lover of his mother, that caused the inner block and sent Tommy along on the Amazing Journey? Townshend indicates a connection to a personal trauma, and this may be part of what occurs regarding the musician as autistic savant. But following the symbols, we will say that the father figure in Tommy considers how Christian tradition blocked poetry or a high sort of spirituality, allied with wisdom, that is the true inheritance of Britain and the Western world. In the end, this poetry and spirituality is not inconsistent with Christianity, but may even be a fulfillment. The path of Townsend leads to the reign of Love, which is one Christian teaching of what God is. This is found concretely, through the quest, rather than through the mediation of the Temple, as Monks and Essenes seem always to have known. And it may be that Tommy and Townshend are uniquely enduring and inspiring, as though a repressed content of the Western unconscious were what is represented by the Who, with the sharp and pounding drum, wall of sound percussion of Kieth Moon announcing that it will break through, or is breaking through. This, contra Bloom, is what the rebellion of the mod leads to, and, though unknown, has been all about.

Townsend himself comes closest to indicating something like this, even while rejecting attempts at interpretation, when he says in the interview:

…obviously the story has got something to do with your sexual relationship; you know, obviously it’s got some spiritual significance: “does Pete Townsend think he’s Jesus?” or whatever the hang up is, man, it can all be read into it. I’m sure a lot of it is there, but one doesn’t know because one is trying to avoid all this. We, of all people, have got to be afraid of seriousness in the Who, because if we were serious, we’d admit that we don’t like each other. But because were not serious, we don’t have to admit it…

1973 Quadrophenia

The dramatic setting of Quadrophenia is the life of the Punk on the sleeve, Jimmy the mod. He is stranded on a rock, having wrecked his bike, drunk and speeding, and somehow now stuck on that island with his life flashing, or crawling before him. The opera opens with the Sea, and haunting words, almost lost in the sound of the water:


Is it me for a moment?

Bell Boy, Bell Boy…

Love reign o’er me.

As Townshend explains, each phrase represents one of four aspects of the character of Jimmy, each played by a different member of the band. Quadrophenia is Townshend’s word coined to describe what threatens to be a four part schizophrenia, or, literally, a splitting of the “phrene,” which is the skull. Townshend claims that these four are unified through the opera (hence “I’m one”). This is the beginning and the end of what we are about to see, an attempt at self knowledge (“Is it me?”) that ends like the ascent of Dante’s Divine Comedy to paradise, in the reign of Love. A contributor identified as Braunbeck on Everything2.com has written of how the four themes are introduced separately then overlap…until these “blend seamlessly into one, creating a fifth, unique, defining theme as Jimmy finally realizes who he is.” He describes how the Intro appeared to him at age 12 as a musical Rubik’s cube. He calls this the psychological equivalent of “string theory,” the end or goal toward which we strive from birth until the grave: “To bring our various selves together to form the whole that is uniquely me or you”

Carl Jung discusses the quaternity and the unification by reference to the mandala symbols he found all over, in dreams and in art. The quaternity concerns the integration of the “self,” the imago Die, or image of God, considered by Jung as an “archetype.” The matter is a high level thing, since in the understanding of Jung’s Analytic Psychology, the integration of the self is the issue, after the integration of levels called anima and animus, and shadow. The first things of the unconscious to be encountered in the personal shadow are repressed contents and aspects. The recognition of our own shadow, the parts of ourselves we do not admit to ourselves, precedes the integration of the anima, in the things concerning love, or opens the way for love. The integration of the anima, in turn, gives rise to images related to the self, such as the child and the wise old man. On this level, the contents are those of the “collective,” rather than the personal, unconscious. In Tommy, this figure appeared as the wizard seen in The Amazing Journey.

Jung also has a theory of personality types. Introvert and extrovert are words he popularized. But he considers four functions, the intuitive, thinking, feeling and sensing functions, divided as quarters of a pie that is the whole person. For each, one is dominant, another secondary, and usually two unconscious. Some marriages compensate certain functions, while some are based on samenesses, and all are of course a mix of both. (Couples join because they are the same regarding first principles, and compensatory regarding functions.) Townshend himself is an intuitive-thinking type. The four functions of each member of the Who in the opera should relate directly to personality functions, with Jimmy and Townshend representing the whole person. But the self is the wizard, and a single thing, the wise man. He does not appear in Quadrophenia, and this is an argument that Tommy is the higher subject matter. According to Townshend, the character that was presented in what is like a “distorted dream view, Nik’s composite of the four members of the Who, called Tommy in “Rock is Dead,” became Jimmy in Quadrophenia, and all my hero needed was a few days to recover from being a Who fan” (Who I Am, p. 241).

Under the theme of oneself, the first song, “Is it me?” raises the question of himself, of who he is. What would one see if he could see “the real me?” The song is about the apparent mental problems of this young mod. He is already sent to see a shrink, and also brings his question to his mother, and the preacher, and implicitly to a former lover. This- being brought in for therapy- was a common experience of the troubled youth only beginning in the late fifties or sixties, and it is rather strange because the very circumstance, if not the principles of the science, precludes the possibility of it doing any good. The doctor cannot possibly see the real patient with whom he is to be concerned. We, in our psychology, assumed with this “therapy” method that the soul is like the body to be treated in medicine with a doctor visit, or a scientific version of the confessional, though there is little reason to assume this. The scientific objectivity of the doctor is different from friendship. A friend can help us bear a burden, and even take on part of our suffering. There are also terrible things about reality that we find difficult to face alone. Their truth can shatter the soul. Children and common persons often see and suffer more than they can bear. One of the most helpful things is friendship, and people pay professionals to listen to them, as observers outside our circle of family and friends. Freud introduced the idea of the “talking cure,” as neurotics seemed benefited by talking. Jung formally introduced the amplification of symbols in conversation. These things seem to do some good because they assist us in knowing ourselves. And sometimes we do not know what we mean until we say things to another person, or try to. At least the science of the doctor prevents him from interfering with advice, though he could ask more questions. But something about the doctor here, and in most circumstances with teens growing up, cannot possibly do any good, and at great expense. One would think the professionals would be the first to realize this, something obvious to a mod musician. Cat Stevens seems more likely to benefit Sad Lisa, or at least do no harm, by love and by knowing his limitations. He also might play her a beautiful song she might get lost in, as sometimes with common human troubles the solution seems to be to simply do something else. The one thing we can do that helps us is to cultivate knowledge, the knowledge of man, in whatever form this can enter any circumstance. Knowledge allows us to integrate certain particulars and experiences, providing a timeless context to images and things that come out of our own souls. But people must come to the questions for the most part on their own, or teachings will not be understood. Having the question often unlocks a writing or a mystery, where these things do not make sense until we have the fitting question, and then only to the extent that we do have the question. Consider the teaching of Jesus about the splinter and log in the eye (Matthew 7:1-5, etc.): therapeutic psychology will only be possible to the extent that we have, in Jung’s terms, integrated our own shadow, and perhaps a great deal more. But penance is our permanent condition, not something with which we are finished. More recently, the science of psychology has given up on the expensive and time consuming practice of these therapy sessions and turned almost wholly to drugs, which are prescribed in about fifteen minutes. A modern version would include a verse like the acid Queen, where they drag his mind about a while ‘till they come up with the concoction that makes him look most right, regardless of unknown “side effects.” But the question “Can you see the real me?” is raised in the young person so sent to the experts. Had he sucked up, on the assumption that the doctor has esoteric knowledge of the soul and truth of the patient, as is commonly assumed, poor Jimmy would be incurable, though perhaps it would not so much matter.

Can you see the real me, can ya?

I went back to the doctor

To get another shrink

I sit and tell him about my weekend,

But he never can take what it means. [But he never betrays what he thinks]

Can you see the real me, Doctor, Doctor?

Can you see the real me, Doctor?

I went back to my mother, I said I’m crazy mom help me

She said I know how it feels son, ‘cause it runs in the family

Can you see the real me, Mother, Mother?

Can you see the real me, Mother?

Can you see the real me

I’m [back] between the paving stones

The rivers of fallen rain

Strange people who know me

Look in behind from a window pain

A girl I used to love lives in this yellow house

Yesterday she passed me by

She doesn’t want to know me now.

Can you see the real me? Can ya?

Can you see the real me, Can Ya

I ended up with the preacher

Full of lies and hate

I seemed to scare him a little

So he showed me to the golden gate.

Can you see the real me, Preacher

Can you see the real me, Doctor?

Can you see the real me, Mother?

Can you see the real me?

There is the possibility that Jimmy is what would be called a borderline schizophrenic, as we do not yet have the category quadrophrenic. Psychological science has various categories imagined to describe maladies that are like bodily diseases or conditions. These categories are not themselves established scientifically, but drawn from common sense and the differing appearances of the various maladies. These maladies are indeed something, though science is in the same boat as everyone else regarding the first principles and the kinds. St. Augustine would surely not escape a category, and many errors are possible, for science as for common sense, when trying to understand the uncommon. Other categories are currently manic depressivepsychotic, while “neurotic” and “hysteric” have gone out of fashion. Homosexuality was considered a disorder throughout the twentieth century, though now,- with no new science, but rather a change of opinion- has become no malady at all, while “homophobia” threatens to become an illness. The criminally insane are called “sociopath,” intended to refer to their lack of conscience. Psychiatry wishes, as did Freud, to ultimately call these neurological disorders, something wrong with the biological functioning of the nervous system. And hence psychiatry wishes to treat imagined “chemical imbalance” with drugs supposed to restore or address the imbalance chemically.

The reason he may be borderline schizophrenic is both that this seems to run in English and Scottish families in a certain way and he is reacting strangely to certain perceptions, as will be elaborated in the song “Is it in my head.” Here he sees something strange about the rainwater flowing between the paving stones, in rivers like veins, and people who know him seem strange and react strangely to him.

Who is full of lies and hate, he or the preacher? He scares the preacher a little, so it is probably him, or both. But until the song “The Two Sides…,” he means it is is the preacher that is “full of lies and hate.” The golden gate is a beautiful double meaning: The Pearly gates are what the preacher is supposed to show us to, but he shows him to the Golden Gate Bridge, a place of suicide. The Doctor, Mother, and Preacher are all of no help to Jimmy, who sees through them. In addition, he asks the girl he once loved if she can see the real him. She does not want to know him now, now that he has become strange.

The girl is very important to the story, though one would not know it from the absence of love songs in Quadrophenia, and the absence of female characters. In the movie, Jimmy loses his girlfriend to his mod friend. The persona business, of “who I am” and the appearances of mods and rockers, is inseparable from love. Persona is also a formal term in Jungian psychology, meaning the mask we wear for others, and for ourselves. “What” one is is of course a different question, a philosophical question, though the question of “Who” one is may depend upon an answer to the question of “what” one is. (Hence, without knowing it, as it were, all psychology is based upon the presuppositions considered rather in philosophy. “Why” and “How” and “Where” are also involved in the question of “What.”) Our social persona is inseparable from our biologically based attempt to present an image in sexual selection. So the limit of this love brings Jimmy to the limit of the social persona, simultaneously. As Townshend comments: The angst of those teenage years in which we all feel misunderstood is easy to make fun of, but its real, and it brings my hero Jimmy to the brink of suicide.”

Suicide of a particular sort, the danger of teen suicide, is what is addressed in Quadrophenia, and is what makes this such a work of psychological art. Jimmy is in danger of killing himself in part because he is afraid of madness.

Instrumental: Quadrophenia

The instrumental includes all four themes, as Townshend explains, and encapsulates the musical theme of the whole. It is a good example for trying to see the relation between words, or meanings, and melodies. Eventually the melody of “Love Reign over Me” is introduced for the first time, with only the music and no words.

Cut my Hair

The first four lines describe the mod kid in his daily life, on the edge of leaving the home of his parents, or on the edge of adult hood:

Why should I care

If I have [you] to cut my hair

You’ve got to move with the fashion or be outcast.

I know I should fight

But my old man is really all right

And I’m still living at home, though it won’t last.

Then when the mod steps out onto the street, it is an electrifying transformation:

Zoot suit, white jacket with sideburns five inches long

I’m out on the street again, and I’m leaping along

Dressed right for a beach fight

But I just can’t explain

Why that uncertain feeling is still here in my brain.

The two worlds collide, but when he steps out as a mod, he is in the free adult world, the real world, or so he thinks. But there is some uncertain feeling, a restlessness that carries him through the story till he ends up on the rock. “Leaping along” is of course going out on amphetamines, called “leapers,” and the mood of amphetamines effect the rhythm or beat of the Who. The mods do leapers and go out on the beach at Brighton, where they get fish and chips and fight with the rockers, who are a different social class. The rockers ride motorcycles rather than scooters. They are probably rockers in the sense of adherence to a kind of music from the Fifties, including rock proper, as in “Rock Around the Clock.” This would mean that the mods are for better or worse, more progressive, or modern. They are the new thing, while the rockers are what was there previously. These divisions of social class are different from the divisions of gangs that we have so much of now. The rockers are mechanical rather than imitators of the rich in their slick dress, as are the mods. As a fashion phenomenon, the mods were actually governed by certain trend setters called “faces,” and under these were small faces. Hence the name of the band “Small Faces.” The key difference musically between the mods and the rockers is shown in the scene of the movie Quadrophenia, when Jimmy and his rocker friend are in divided public baths, each singing their different music, and almost start a fight over the songs, before they recognize themselves as old friends. Their friendship is probably from their pre-pubescent school days before the difference between mods and rockers mattered. When Jimmy’s girlfriend takes up with his best mod friend, this friendship with the rocker helps him to see through the illusion of the British system of social cast. The transcendence of social identity is necessary in his quest to answer the question with which the opera began, of who he is.

The kids at school have parents that seem so cool

And though I don’t wanna ham, mine won’t be their way

I clean my room and my shoes

But my mother found a box of blues

And there doesn’t seem much hope that they’ll let me stay.

Blues are amphetamines, though the word might also mean condoms. Again he steps out electric:

Zoot suit, white jacket with sideburns five inches long

I’m out on the street again, and I’m leaping along

Dressed right for a beach fight

But I just can’t explain

Why that uncertain feeling is still here in my brain.

Why do I have to be different to them?

Just to earn the respect of her dancehall friend

We have the same old row again and again

Why do I have to move with the crowd?

The kids will hardly notice I’m around

I work myself to death just to fit in

I’m comin down at home on the very first train from town

My dad just left for work

And he wasn’t talking.

It’s all a game

And inside I’m just the same:

My fried egg makes me sick first thing in the morning.

(A radio plays a news report of the fight between mods and rockers.)

A commentator identified as ByClone on Everthing2.com has written:

Jimmy says he became a mod to “Be someone different” but as the film goes on he realizes, with the aid of drink, blues and psychosis, that mods are all the bloody same. They don’t have minds of their own, they follow the hive mind of peer pressure, which Jimmy is sucked into to the point of helping beat up a childhood friend just because he is a rocker.

In the video, it is the mods and the rocker, and Jimmy is in tension with his own mods because of his friendship with a rocker, and the estrangement from his mod friend. The Greeks call a friend another self, and so he is estranged from himself. He realizes that the social world even of the mods is illusory, or, he manages to burst his box, spiritually.

The Punk meets the Godfather

This song is very difficult, and holds the mystery of the place of The Who in the whole story. According to Wikipedia, Jimmy goes to see a mod band perform, only to be disappointed that the band was just a part of mod culture that made up the audience.” Wikipedia then cites Townshend:

The hero goes to a rock concert. He pays his money, and he decides he’s going to see the stars backstage. And one of them comes up and says [something mean], and suddenly he realizes that there’s nothing really happening in Rock and Roll. It’s just another cross on his list.

The song “The Punk Meets the Godfather” is very hard to interpret, in part because it is not clear who is speaking each part. The confusion may be intentional. The dialogue is between a punk and a godfather, the “guy in the sky,” but because Jimmy is Townshend, it becomes the dialogue of Jimmy, through the band The Who he goes to see, with the record industry/mod society that led Jimmy to idolize becoming a “face,” a leader of fashion, or a rock star. The punk says:

You declared you would be three inches taller

You only became what we made you.

Thought you were chasing a destiny calling

You only earned what we paid you.

You fell and cried as our people were starving

Now you know that we blame you.

You tried to walk on the trail we were carving

Now you know that we’ve [framed] you.

I’m the guy in the sky

Flying high, flashing eyes

No surprise I told lies

I’m a punk in the gutter

I’m the new president

But I grew and I bent

Don’t you know, don’t it show

I’m the punk with the stutter

(My Generation)

You declared you would be three inches taller

Thought you were chasing a destiny calling

You only became what we made you

You’re watching movies tryin’ to find the feelers

You only see what we show you

Were the slaves of the phony leaders

Breathe the air that they’ve [sold] you

I’m the guy in the sky

I’m a punk in the gutter

I’m the punk with the stutter



We try to speak between lines of oration

You can only repeat what we’ve told you

Your ax belongs to a dying nation

They don’t know that we own you.

You’re watching movies trying to find the feelers

I have to be careful not to preach

I can’t pretend that I can teach

And yet I live your future out

By pounding stages like a clown.

And on the dance floor broken glass

And bloody faces slowly pass

The numbered seats in empty rows

It all belongs to me you know.

Repeat You declared…

The key to the song is something like this, that The Who are to Jimmy, and his idealizing of the face, as the record industry and society were to Townshend and the Who. Hence in the opening, the Punk speaks as a “superego” or as the nation would speak to the Rock star. So the punk is revealing to Jimmy what has occurred by singing sarcastically of the complicity of The Who in this, and this is what Jimmy sees through. Now the lyrics may make sense: You thought you would be taller than your fellows, but the star you became is what we made you. Now society blames them for playing rock while people are starving, and has framed them with the crime, after, as is said in the last stanza, pounding stages for them like a clown. His ax, the smashing of his guitar that was his trademark, is seen by the godfather as belonging to a dying nation, and this is perhaps the deepest window into the motivation of the godfather. The musician thought he could speak to the many between the lines, like a classical orator, but in fact the many can only repeat certain phrases, like “teenage wasteland.” “You” are watching movies trying to find the script devices used to lead the audience about, but in fact you ”only see what “we”, i.e., they, have shown you, and they present to you The Who. Because the nation is dying, and it will have no effect, society does not mind if he speaks, especially while the nation is making money off him. This is Townshend’s depressing conclusion about the value of his own life, and one can see from this song how Jimmy, like Tommy, is Pete. And Pete is a very bright fellow ! The Godfather becomes the bent president, and we are the slaves of the phony leaders. This is something like the failure of the prayer in Baba O’ Riley that “we won’t get fooled again.”

Side II

I’m one

The Dirty Jobs

Helpless Dancer

Is it in My head?

I’ve had Enough

The other songs are all very important to the story. In “I’m One,” Jimmy is a loser, with loneliness sinking in. He takes heart, “You’ll all see,” and claims to be “one.” With his Gibson guitar, he sets off to become the face of the faces, The Who for the mods.

The Dirty Jobs is very important, and the line “I am the man who looks after the pigs” breaks through. I sing it when I’m feeding the cats, as cat shepherd. It is to be understood in the context first of the faces, and significance of the social status of one’s job, and especially in light of the Bell Boy song, in the penultimate position at the end of the album. He is but a pig keeper, yet gets by. He is one who reveals himself too easily. He is getting dishonored, intimidated and beaten daily, but he is not going to sit and weep. He is a common man, like the one who drives the local bus. The bus driver recognizes him as one of them because they look the same. Jimmy’s “karma” tells him they are getting screwed again, and if they allow this to occur, it is them who will bear the blame, pain and shame. He concludes that he is young and has not done much, and is reminded how to fight. He realizes that his fashion world has been like the illusion of a child. Though he is mixed up about reality and appearance, still he knows what is right. This leads into the next song, the moral outrage of the helpless citizen.

Helpless Dancer

Something in us is going very wrong, though our efforts to change are suppressed or do more harm than good. The money driven world of computers, cost and receipts where people work does not address the real problems, like street violence and the lack of care for the homeless and the seniors. “If you complain you disappear / Just like the lesbians and queers,” as was the case in the old society, though the latter is still true. Though Jimmy next turns inward, it is important to understand the forces that do drive the world, how things got to be the way they are, and why things are the way they are, in order to change society in a meaningful way, without doing more harm than good.

“Is it in my Head” is the song where Jimmy thinks he may be going insane. It begins from the conclusion of the previous song, as he sees a country starving on one hand and a man without a problem on another, as in Dylan’s “Hard Rain.” He hears the music of a heartbeat, but people laugh at him, again reacting strangely to him. He wonders if the problem is in his head from the start or in his heart. The next four lines are very interesting:

I pick up phones and hear my history

I dream of all the calls I miss

I try to number those who love me

And find exactly what the trouble is.

Does he hear vast things in small particulars? When the mystery begins to appear, it is startling, and the knowledge not immediately integrated. At least this is what seems to be going on here, as when the rivers in the paving stones looked like veins: One just never noticed. And do the phones, if he means headphones, not tell his history? He feels he’s being followed. Each word he says is a sentence, and he cannot respond to a stranger without asking philosophical questions, like “does anyone really know how to get downtown,” or “Does anybody really know what time it is?” Human words are pregnant with meaning we do not imagine, and indeed cannot contain. The mad see this. He is not mad, only surprised, if he is a bit shaky. And perhaps lonely, if he is counting the people who love him, as Jimmy is now completely alone.

In “I’ve Had Enough,” the hero realizes his mod rebellion has been misdirected. He heard the theme of “Love Reign Over Me,” and has had enough of climbing in the mod hierarchy, and for Pete, of being the musician. In a quatrain visible only in light of the Punk and the Godfather, He writes:

Don’t cry because you hurt them

Hurt them first and then they’ll love you

There’s a millionaire above you

And you’re under his suspicion

The first two lines are a statement of the godfather, stated sarcastically. The second two are the experience of Pete in the record business, but also the position of most people, which is indeed a bit scary to recognize. This is perhaps the point where he wrecks his bike and gets on the train for Brighton.

Side III


Sea and Sand


Bell Boy

The 5:15 train is the host of Jimmy, who had just wrecked his bike, and is headed for the rock. The song makes sense again in light of the connection between Jimmy and Pete. Pete is concerned about the effect of the rock culture he has helped perpetuate, from the perspective made available to him through Maher Baba. Is it really good for fifteen year old girls to be adults in their knowledge of the things regarding sex? Lesbianism is foreseen, and he calls his fashion “he-man drag,” the masculine long haired beauty of a Daltry or a Plant, introduced in seventies rock fashion. And why should he care if they are sadly ecstatic that their heroes are news to them, meaning either new or, more likely, in replacement of the serious news.

In Sea and Sand, Jimmy is homeless, having been kicked out during a speech on morality by his drunken father. When he goes to the beach, he has a flashback inspired by a time on Brighton Beach with a lover in his mod days, when he was 19 (Who I Am, p. 245). His mod girl is a perfect dresser, and knows just how she wants him to be. A reference to the discussion of Rousseau on the importance of women to morality or the formation of the conventional character might be in order (Emile, Book V). Women, by selection, determine how the men will be, and while this is also true in reverse, there are many other things too that determine how women will be. Coming down from uppers, he and the girl met a group of mods seeking shelter from a light rain, under the pier.

Out of the mists of memory, he sees the Bell Boy. The Bell boy was once one who set the paces in front of a hundred faces, and Jimmy used to follow him in 1963. He still has a secret identity behind his Bell Boy badge. He still sleeps on the beach on occasion, but he spends his days licking boots as a bell boy, since he was so good as a mod at fitting in. So, he sees that the character formed by the image of how women see men leads one to become a Bell Boy for Bootlicking, a tolerable life for the many.

In the movie, he steals the boat to go out to sea, and winds up on the rock. He enters into delusion, with his girlfriend from the past, and just wants to die with her near. He sees men up high fishing, and comments that they have not yet seen enough of the world. He has not seen his hero, but is still diving down for pearls. He wishes to dissolve into the water, and imagines himself a drop of water, like a baby’s tear, seeking the great ocean.


Doctor Jimmy

The two sides of Jimmy Cooper

The Rock

Love, Reign o’er Me

But Jimmy does not drowned or commit suicide. On his way to the rock, he has the battle with the shadow, the other side of himself, the repressed side that comes out when he drinks his gin. “When I’m pilled, you don’t notice him.” He wants to head back to civilization and fight the guy who stole his girl. This character, though, is capable of rape, and murder, as it is the animal in man. He is the man he wants to fight, who deflowers his virgin in disregard of her fellow. Something of this character is within the masculinity repressed so that culture can replace animal tyranny.

Somehow, though, the drop of water that was a baby’s tear has been dissolved into the sea to come down as rain.

Only Love

Can make it rain

The way the beach

Is kissed by the sea

Only love can make it rain

Like the sweat of lovers

Laying in the field


Reign O’er me.


Reign O’er me

Rain on me

Only Love

Can bring the rain

That makes you yearn

To the sky

Only Love

Can bring the rain

That falls like tears

From on high

He realizes then that he needs to get back home, and needs a drink not of alcohol but cool, cool rain. “On the dry and dusty road / The nights we spent apart alone” is Pete, as literally Jimmy has no one but himself and his new adult world to return home to, where he knows he should have left home at fifteen, and wonders why he did not then say what he means. He has indeed become who he is, as a drop of water in the Reign of Love over us.

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