(opening line of “Pinball Wizard”)
Well, relative young boy. More like since I was a late teen or even an early twenty-something. That’s how long I’ve wanted to have an article, essay, story or something published in a bona fide professional or academic journal, about anything, but especially about the following subject. It’s happening finally, so it’s time to explain what it is; what it means to me, and what it might mean to others. See, it’s an everything and nothing thing, this paper I’ve written: a big deal and not.
The paper has an impossible title: “A Question of Pathology: object relations, attachment patterns, and a disorder of self within the rock opera TOMMY”. I can imagine eyelids weighing heavily over the first several words, that dense, psychoanalytic jargon. Only the last three words spark interest, jolting the pop consciousness. Not for everyone, I guess. For those of a younger generation, The Who’s iconic double album of 1969 may be little more than a crusty artifact of classic rock, one whose moment and meaning has long since past. Wasn’t the main guy in The Who busted for child porn some years ago? some might query. Others might know snatches of their songs: “Baba O’Riley”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Who Are You”, and “Eminence Front” will all be familiar to CSI fans, viewers of car commercials, or whatever the products were that my favorite band sold out to. Though their days are surely numbered, The Who continue to tour like cabaret acts of previous eras, even as their two surviving members, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, glide past the age of seventy. They grind out the hits and the show goes on, seeming more professional than ever, actually. But their relevance to the world around them seems–if not diminished–then perhaps just less clear as time moves on.
That wasn’t the case back in the 80s when I first heard their music, or saw the odd video of theirs on MTV. I didn’t listen to them much at first, but knew of them, was aware they were deemed cool by peers who seemed to speak about music with authority. My family alluded to The Who, but were not fans. “Just noise” my sister opined on occasion, though she seems more respectful today, in deference to me I think. “Didn’t they smash their instruments?” my mother would incuriously ask, just hoping to join in the conversation somehow. In my household, lighthearted pop dominated: jazzy sounds of Sinatra, Streisand, or the rockabilly of Elvis stirred my father’s blood; the loving, cheerful beat music of The Beatles or The Bay City Rollers were my sister’s favorites; maybe a wistful Simon & Garfunkel ballad made it into the mix. Don’t get me wrong, I liked all that stuff, but it didn’t move me as The Who later did. Until I was a later teen, music didn’t speak to who I was, or who I wanted to be. Thirty years later it’s still hard to explain who I wanted to be, or how bands like The Who helped. All I can say is that rock and roll seemed more than commonly important back then. Its leading lights had much more than talent, or “class”, as the generation above me uses that term. Instead, there was something else, something more desperate. The giants of the classic rock era had brains and guts, and they played their music like music itself was about to die.
It was easy to get in arguments with friends (Ultimately, I wouldn’t bother with family) about whose favorite artist had the best chops, or the smartest lyrics; about which band was the only one that really mattered. My band was The Who, and for about ten years in my late teens and into my twenties, I was more devoted to them than I was to any girlfriend; more knowledgeable about their story and catalogue than I was of any author’s oeuvre, or any psychological theorist’s body of work. Had I been a thug, I might have defended them against critics like a hard-core gang member. Had they toured regularly during this period I might have followed them like Grateful Dead fans followed their heroes. I was down for The Who, and if I’d had the opportunity, the right context, and the confidence, I would have written about them also.
And so, to the paper. It started around 2006, when I was taking part in a study group with the West Coast Masterson Institute, led by my friend Joe Farley. In illustrating some point long since forgotten, Joe made some comment about modern musicals, narratives and psychopathology, and might have mentioned Tommy–I don’t recall the specifics. Anyway, we talked further, and Joe suggested I write up my then idea, which was to give the The Who’s deaf, dumb and blind boy a diagnosis or two. It was a fanciful suggestion, but little did Joe know how serious I was. Sometime later I presented him with a 3000 word essay that he thought worthy of passing on to Dr. Masterson, then still active and living in New York. Well, Dr. Masterson (who vaguely recalled meeting me once) read the paper, liked it apparently, but said it was too long for the institute’s then newsletter. Instead, he suggested I hawk it to academic journals, which I’ve been doing ever since.
Now, if you’ve ever submitted a manuscript to an academic journal, you are likely familiar with the lengthy delays, re-writes, and rejections that often follow. Between 2007 and 2012 I submitted my paper to about a half a dozen different journals: one Bay Area-based, the rest national, and in two cases, internationally-based. This might not seem like an ambitious spreading of the net, but let me explain something: When you submit to an academic journal, editors request that you not submit concurrently to other journals, as they are committing themselves to a rigorous review of submitted work and wish to have assurances that they are not wasting their time lest an author’s head be turned by another. Fair enough, but the commitment meant that I’d spend close to a year with each journal consecutively, four out of six of which expressed significant interest, requests for re-writes, before ultimately rejecting my work following a staff voting process.
By 2012, I was jaded with the sporadic task, forgetful of my original purpose, and ready to mothball my paper to the shelf, there to sit amongst my self-published, occasionally lauded but nonetheless un-celebrated collection of novels. Then in 2014, two things happened. First, The Who announced its 50th anniversary tour–likely its last. Secondly, I read an article in another journal, a psychoanalytic review of Henry James’ Portrait Of A Lady, that was similar in structure and style to my paper. Now, the journal in question had already rejected my work, but as I glanced at my 2007 list of prospects, I saw that there was one journal I’d yet to solicit: The Journal of Culture and Psychology. What did I have to lose except a bit more hope and narcissistic fuel? I thought, and thus I submitted my journeyman paper once again.
A familiar pattern ensued, save for one aspect: in the spring of last year, the journal contacted me, saying they were enthusiastically interested, but requesting changes. Sigh. Here we go again, I thought. Still, I soldiered through, reminding myself that this was, after all, a labor of love and there are much worse ways to spend my time than writing about my favorite rock band’s most famous work. Anyway, I made the changes, working hard on the paper over a space of a month, and resubmitted. I went about my life as patiently as ever until September when I received an e-mail suggesting I had just a week to meet the journal’s deadline for re-submission. Huh? I e-mailed a polite WTF to the editor, and within three days received an embarrassed admission that my re-submitted manuscript had been misplaced–lost in their system. I laughed sardonically, thinking this thing was just not meant to be. But once again I re-submitted, this time thinking what’s another six months or so in the life of an itinerant piece of literature. By this time, the lifetime of the project was a fifth of the length of The Who’s career. An apt parallel was happening, I mused.
The journal moved swiftly thereafter, however, and in early October I was told the paper was accepted. Hooray. Three months later, its modicum of copyediting completed, I was informed of a March 2016 publication. So that’s the backstory. My commentary on the paper itself is still to come.