Musical 52

Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.

TOMMY (1975)

Hey, I’m skipping the summary this week, because guess what? Tommy blew my mind, and if you haven’t seen it, go get that done. Seriously, drop everything and watch it. And don’t read this article until you do. Tommy that shit up. It’s on Amazon, it’s on iTunes, it’s on YouTube. Try your local library or your bass-playing uncle with strong opinions on how overrated Zep is. Maybe I’m burnt out on the musical formula or the last sack of crap I watched broke my spirit, but Tommy was a breath of fresh air and too incredible to be discussed without experiencing it.

So experience it.

Too lazy to search Netflix? Click here, get it done.

Otherwise, I’ll see you next week for Hair. The rest of you that have seen Tommy, pretty great, right? Let’s proceed.

The actual plot of Tommy is fairly simple, so much so that the Netflix descriptor in the link above aggravatingly blasts out the whole movie in two sentences. But, since you clearly watched Tommy before reading this like I asked you to, I don’t need to tell you that it’s about a boy so shocked by seeing the murder of his brother that he loses his sense of touch, learns to play backgammon with his face, and befriends a claustrophobic extraterrestrial named Ned.

Pictured here.

But really, Tommy Walker’s story is a very basic hero’s journey. Trauma after trauma after trauma is thrown at him, and just when you think he can’t take any more, he triumphantly breaks free of his mental anguish in an uplifting climactic moment of enlightenment. And then… there’s more movie. Lots more.

How are cartwheels on a beach NOT the big finale?

At first, I thought it was weird that there were thirty minutes to go after Tommy regained the ability to see, hear, and speak. A religion forms around this pinball champ’s miraculous recovery, and it felt like the movie was just filling time. But suddenly, it hit me… this rock opera wasn’t content with covering the usual beats of a heroic epic. No, we get to see the aftermath too, in which our hero believes that his path through the darkness is the one that everyone must follow. He forces his converts to cover their eyes, ears, and mouths while playing pinball, and they eventually see through his bullshit and revolt. And honestly, this amazed me. Other stories are simply fit to give you a protagonist worth emulating; Tommy takes you on a quest and then reminds you to go your own way and not be a dick about it.

Fuck this (lack of) noise.

And this is only one of the great themes of the movie! It also explores fame, abuse, money, parenting, exploitation, sex, drugs… and rock and roll is a genre smart enough and dumb enough to make these topics compelling and entertaining.

The performances in Tommy are all ridiculously over the top, save for one, and that’s Tommy himself, played by Roger Daltrey. I was worried that a member of the Who wouldn’t have the acting chops for a starring role, but damn, Daltrey has the innocence and intensity that really make the character. Also, he plays blind pretty well.

That or he’s on a ton of drugs.

Everyone else is about as subtle as a Tim Burton character, but that really works for the energy of the film. Tommy’s mother Nora is played by Ann-Margret, and good lord, does she go all out. She’s sweet, she’s greedy, she’s insane, and she flails around in baked beans. A+ work.

Wait, is this why they call beans the musical fruit?

Oliver Reed is Tommy’s stepdad and he is simultaneously very caring and super creepy, ie. what I imagine most stepdads feel like?

You are making kissy faces at the mom, right?

The cameos in the movie are great as well, including Jack Nicholson as a psychologist with a surprisingly good singing voice, Elton John as a man with big boots, and Tina Turner just straight wigging the fuck out around a light-up robot condom.

What you see when you drop acid during GoldenEye.

If I only get to play this card once, Tommy is the movie to do it on: I’m not going to analyze the songs individually.

Suck it!

I have a few reasons for this. First, the movie is wall-to-wall music. There’s no dialogue at all, and the songs flow in and out of each other. I couldn’t even begin to take notes. Second, I liked every song. Really. You don’t need me to say, “This was amazing,” 31 times. Sure, some were stronger than others; “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m Free” really stuck with me, but they were all good. Third, this isn’t the sort of musical that you can strip the songs out of. Each one is a piece of the puzzle, and they work better as a whole. When I inevitably buy this album, I’m not going to listen to one song at a time. These tunes belong together. And they fuckin’ rock.

Fourth, it’s my article and I’m tired.


  • A freak thunderstorm started right at the beginning of my viewing and it greatly enhanced the experience.

I already told you I loved every song in this flick, but if I had to pick the worst lyric, based solely on the fact that it made me cringe a little, this is certainly a shitty way to make light of sexual abuse…

“Down with your bedclothes, up with your nightshirt,
Fiddle about, fiddle about, fiddle about…”

Tommy is a religious experience.


Hair (1979)