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American Rambler with Colin Woodward

Aug 4, 2023

Dewar MacLeod is a Californian by way of Canada. He teaches in New Jersey now, but he grew up in L.A. in the 60s and 70s. And it was a 1969 album--the Who's rock opera Tommy--that blew his mind. In his latest book, Tommy, Trauma, and Postwar Youth Culture, he looks at what Tommy meant for the 60s, composer Pete Townshend, and the legions of Who fans who continue to love it to this day.

A double album that put the Who into the ranks of premier rock bands, Tommy is a story of a "deaf, dumb, and blind boy" who goes on a spiritual journey. Along the way, he meets unsavory characters such as Cousin Kevin, Uncle Ernie, and the Acid Queen before achieving enlightenment and starting his own religion full of rebellious followers. 

Tommy was not only a smash record, it became transcendent when the Who played it live. It also inspired a memorable, albeit over-the-top 1975 Ken Russell film and a Broadway and London musical. Pete Townshend has talked about the album often since it came out. But why did he not want to talk to Dewar about it? And how consistent are Pete's takes on is own songs? Should we trust what Pete has had to say? And what does the album tell us about his own trauma and that of his generation?

Dewar takes on many complex themes in his book. But then again, Tommy is a complex album. While bands don't often do double album rock operas anymore, Tommy addresses issues that are still relevant in the 21st century. In a world facing existential threats (as always?), aren't we all a little traumatized by now? So, put on your headphones and prepare for a true Amazing Journey!