Tommy was my first Who album, bought at the original location of Mystery Train Records in Amherst, Massachusetts on 7 September 2000. At the time, I had no idea that was Keith Moon’s 22nd Jahrzeit. It was truly one of those times where I knew, even before I knew.
I became interested in The Who at age thirteen, in ’93, and liked them from the time I was fourteen. At age twenty, in early 2000, I finally began graduating to serious fandom. Long story short, I chickened out on buying an album several times before deciding it was now or never.
That was the only Who CD in stock, though they had a bunch of their LPs. For almost all my succeeding trips to the various music stores in Amherst, this was my default modus operandi. I bought the sole CD, or sometimes two CDs, available. As I got more albums, I had to buy the one(s) I didn’t have yet.
I’d been so reticent about taking the plunge already because I was afraid of not liking an entire album of unfamiliar songs. I only knew the massively overplayed “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me.”
I played the first three songs on 8 September, but didn’t have the time to play it all the way through till 9 September, a Saturday night. Until pretty far into my junior year, I obediently went home to Pittsfield every weekend instead of staying on campus like a normal person. Learnt helplessness, but I digress.
I didn’t know what to do with this album at first. It was so unlike The Beatles’ albums which I was so familiar with. At one point, I almost thought about returning it, since this kind of music was so different.
The more I listened to it, the more it grew on me, though I didn’t understand what all was going on for awhile. Some things definitely aren’t directly stated in the songs, but the listener can fill in the blanks based on context clues and one’s own imagination.
As Charles Chaplin said, “While watching a silent picture, each individual supplies the unspoken words according to his own understanding of the action. The dullard sees the story in his own way as does the intelligent, the wise, and so on–each one, as I said before, supplying his own understanding, and everyone is pleased…”
At this early stage of the game, I didn’t even know who was whom, except Roger, the only blonde and lead singer. I correctly guessed straightaway Pete was the one with the higher-pitched voice, and John had the thicker, lower voice. It was obvious which one Keith was. Then I learnt to distinguish the three dark-haired ones.
As a child, I had a character named Carmel Allison Jaywalker, who loses all her senses on the eve of her third birthday. In my juvenile mind, the culprit was “the killer pimples,” giant pimples growing over her eyes, ears, nose, mouth, tongue, and skin as she slept. Tommy’s surname is Walker. It’s another of those uncanny experiences of knowing, even before one knows.
From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by the blind-deaf. What must it be like to be cut off from the two most major senses, living so deeply in one’s own mind, processing everything through sensations, communicating without speech or sign language? I did a paper on the blind-deaf in a class I took on special education in 2005. Someday I’d like to resurrect Carmel.
It’s such a powerful, intense journey, both for the character of Tommy and one’s own emotional feelings listening to the story. Every time feels like the first time all over again. Tommy isn’t what I’d personally recommend as an ideal first album for a new fan, but it was my first Who album, and as such is so, so, so special to me.
Once I began understanding it and was firmly in love, there was no turning back. My amazing journey had begun, and I’ve never regretted it. This band has had my heart, soul, and mind since I was twenty years old. All these years, they’ve never been unseated as my #1.
And it all started with the story of a blind-deaf-mute boy which saved The Who from bankruptcy and breakup. If Tommy hadn’t succeeded, they might never have gone on to become such legends, and I never would’ve fallen so deeply in love with them and been interested in buying any of their albums.