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Pete Townshend Talks Mods, Recording, and Smashing Guitars

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What other ideas in this field do you have?
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 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.

The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Who, Tommy

And the whole album is about his experience?
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 they can teach them to play 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 these words: "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 sleeziness 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 this 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 hangups. 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 a 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.

You are.
Because I don't feel at all together.

I know you don't look it, but you're coming on very together.
Good.

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