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With The Who's Tommy stage revival now in a six-month run at Canada's Stratford Festival, Pete Townshend took time to look back on his first rock opera. Townshend, who wrote nearly all of the music and lyrics to the piece, told that due to the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, he needed to hand some of the more disturbing plot twists in the storyline to bassist John Entwistle to compose. Townshend explained, "(Uncle) Ernie isn't about specific sexual abuse, it's about the threat of it, the inference if it, the fear of it. I actually asked John Entwistle to write that one, because I couldn't deal with it. I'd had my own bad time with my grandmother. I had been eroticized at an early age and I'd had to learn to deal with."


Townshend explained that dealing with such topics in his art was cathartic -- but only to a point: "I found that this is something that is not unique to me. It's a worldwide syndrome. And I couldn't write about a purely spiritual journey. I had to deal with hideous social scars that touch all of us."

  • He recalled that he wrote Tommy at a critical point in the Who's career: "Everybody thought we were a hot band, but suddenly we stopped selling singles. I knew we couldn't just keep going like we had been. I decided I would have one last bash, if you like, throw everything into the washing machine and see what we came up with."
  • When asked about what Tommy means to him 45 years after writing the piece, Townshend said: "Sadly, not a lot has changed. There's still a sense that the family is in trouble, that the way religion operates is still in trouble, that the celebrity system is still in trouble and that all of these things. . . well, they're all the same. There's a poignancy to that. I think about my generation and think that it's sad that things were as they were."
  • Pete Townshend says that the Who was among the most versatile bands of their era, and that their musical talent freed him to write material that frequently covered many different genres: "The band the Who never gave me a clear brief. They never said to me, 'We wanna be a comedy act,' but if I gave them comedy songs they were brilliant at them. They never said to me, 'We wanna be a girl-friendly band,' but if I gave them a love song they would do it brilliantly. They never said 'We want to be a heavy metal group' -- if I gave them a heavy metal song, they did it brilliantly. They could do anything -- but they never gave me a brief. Where did I get my brief? I got my brief from the audience."
  • The Who kicks off its 14-date European tour on June 8th in Dublin, Ireland at The O2 Dublin.


  • The Who's original album Tommy was released on May 23rd, 1969 and peaked at Number Four on the U.S. album charts.
  • The Who performed Tommy in full throughout 1969 and 1970.
  • In response to the hit movie version, in 1975 and 1976, the Who reprised major portions of the album during their shows, and in 1989 performed most of it nightly on their 25th Anniversary reunion tour.


  • The Who's Tommy led once again by original director Des McAnuff -- runs through October 19th at Canada's Stratford Festival.
  • The original production scored five Tony's during its initial run, winning Best Director for McAnuff, Best Score for Pete Townshend, Best Choreography for Wayne Cilento, Best Design for John Arnone, and Best Lighting Direction for Chris Parry.
  • Following McAnuff's success in reinventing Tommy for "The Great White Way," he went on to direct Jersey Boys on Broadway as well as productions in London's West End, Las Vegas, Chicago, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Philadelphia, Auckland and Brisbane.

CHECK IT OUT: The Who live on July 2nd, 1989 performing "Pinball Wizard" at Giants Stadium:

Pete Townshend On The Who Tackling Different Genres

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