The Composer, The Avatar and The Director Who Heard Tommy
In "The Story of Tommy" documentary from the mid 90s, Pete Townshend makes what I once thought was a funny, lovingly pejorative quip about Ken Russell:
"We did a production of Tommy with the London Symphony and Lou Reizner and it was a great success. And it led directly to Ken Russell's film because I don't think he could have understood Tommy without hearing it played by a symphony orchestra."
I always thought Pete meant that Ken's big personality is so bombastic that he needs a big production to be satisfied but I was incorrect in this case. Pete meant that Ken's love of classical music runs so deep and so passionate that it is the standard by which he judges all music and most art. Apparently the Who's 1969 Tommy album Ken found boring. It was only after going over the orchestrated music that he pointed out to Pete:
"...if one was going to do it as a film, that there were huge gaps in the story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy who finally gets to see the and see the light so to speak in many ways. You never knew who the father was, why he was killed, why the boy went blind, deaf and dumb. It's almost as if his album started half way through the story and the other half was in his mind and had not been written down."
And thus the main framework of Tommy's narrative as we know it today and what would eventually become the mega-watt stage production performed all over the world today was created by Pete and Ken. The two great men who inspire so many are forever linked by Tommy.
Where does Meher Baba fit in here? Well, it is clear that the ground based spiritual teachings of Baba gave Pete a new direction and purpose in all aspects of his life. Meher Baba's influence on those of us who love him is very personal so I cannot interpret this, I'm just glad Meher Baba's teachings made it to the West while he was still alive.
"The experiences are so innumerable and varied, that the journey appears to be interminable and the Destination is ever out of sight. But the wonder of it is, when at last you reach your Destination you find that you had never travelled at all! It was a journey from here to Here." -Meher Baba
That quote to me sums up Tommy and I feel the lives of those of us who had dramatic and traumatic childhoods. As in the film there is a circular narrative to those words of Baba. Tommy, flees as flames engulf the Holiday camp. He escapes and arrives at the same place in the wilderness in the beginning of the film where his parents spent a romantic day together (presumably the day he was conceived). Though now alone and no longer a rich and famous messiah, Tommy attains an even greater sense of self-awareness and one hopes freedom as he faces the rising sun and a new dawn. His arms are outstretched to face the sun as his father's were in the film's opening scene.
Here are a few blog cross posts on Tommy being influenced by Meher Baba and how it helped form the foundation of the work.