Monthly Archives: May 2019

My response to the Tommy book review


Gratified, of course. That’s my basic response to the review that Kirkus magazine gave my long-incubating book, The Psychology of Tommy: How a Rock Icon Reveals the Mind. In short, everything about it was what I expected, and more or less what I’d hoped. I tend to wish for more detailed analysis, less of a synopsis. I tend to want more prose to be referenced, various features and tidbits that may delight to be praised. What I’ve come to expect is something more functional, more reader-friendly. Get to the point, the reader asks of Kirkus. Is this thing worth reading?

And the answer with respect to my book is yes, apparently. Although, Kirkus doesn’t think that many people will read my Tommy book. Again, I expected that. That, after all, is the reason I self-published the book instead of finding a traditional outlet. I’d spent a year writing the book while soliciting agents and academic publishers–more the latter than the former, due to feedback from commercial agents: “too academic” they said. They couldn’t “sell” it. Academic publishers were less instructive. Save for one who praised my writing and asked me to submit my next manuscript to him (yeah, sure, I’ve got 5 in the can good to go!), most academics were sniffy and dismissive, saying the manuscript didn’t fit their lists, whatever that means. I could’ve spent another year looking for a publisher and might have found someone interested, not to mention risk-taking. But then I’d have missed this 50th anniversary moment. It was time, I decided, to publish my hybrid of memoir, art and psychological review.

But, back to the review. My sympathetic critic devoted much print to the observation that I love The Who. No kidding, I thought churlishly, thinking this not a compliment, necessarily. Then the review indicated my “intriguing” ideas: that Tommy and The Who impact audiences as modern mythology, and that pinball and mirrors had become part of rock’s archetypal system. Most gratifying was an observation of the following idea: “The Who were perhaps the first act in rock history conceived as a reflection of its audience rather than a self-contained performing act”. I get used to critics of my books missing subtle ideas, instead focusing on whether my prose and subject are engaging, or whether my narrative makes sense in some basic way. I quibble with the macro-accented interest that is assigned to the average reader. But here attention was leveled at one of the more important ideas of the book, one that I will paraphrase here.

Basically, it’s trite to argue that a performer or artist is a reflection of his or her audience. I can think of some who distance from their fans, usually in uninteresting ways, but even the few who are critical of audiences think themselves a mirror. The Who not only thought themselves a mirror of their audience, they thought they’d get famous only by mimicking them, and later expressing them, not themselves so much. Unlike The Beatles, whose management thought that dressing up the band would make the lads respectable, The Who’s principals intuited audience narcissism. They observed an audience that wanted itself represented, not just entertained. They were hungry, restless, anonymous amongst themselves, yet identified as a group. Mods, they were called, and The Who were their band.

So, The Who copied their dances, mimicked their gestures. While accidentally breaking a guitar, Pete Townshend noted audience excitement, and though initially embarrassed, he further did as he was implicitly told; hence, The Who’s auto-destructive act and an early feature of their legend. Soon thereafter, Townshend began writing songs in earnest, though not so much for himself as for those desperate, excitable “faces” in the crowd. The later Tommy character, with his deaf, dumb and blind condition that ironically renders him more open, seems to indicate The Who by manifesting its self-negating, absorbent self. The rest is rock history, and I respectfully challenge anyone to cite an act (pre-1964) whose initial rise to fame was achieved or even conceived in this fashion. I appreciate Kirkus for giving me a thumbs up, and for maybe helping me find a readership that it thinks will be hard to find. Regardless of whether that happens, I’m thankful for landing an idea not previously beaten to death; for making an impression on one reader, no matter how many others I obtain.




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