Pete Townshend Defends Changes In Revamped ‘Tommy’ Musical

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With The Who‘s Tommy now in previews at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Pete Townshend is well past taking flack for softening the “rock opera’s” plot line to appeal to a wider audience. Townshend spoke to The Chicago Tribune, and recalled the multi-generational issues that inspired the original 1969 piece: “What happened with Tommy was. . . it became the story of a post-war child. . . because I saw what was happening to the Who, what was happening to me and what was happening to the movement that we had started and celebrated, particular with the song ‘My Generation,’ which had said, ‘it starts now’ and ‘there is going to be no more old men who had fought in the war who won’t. . . talk about it telling us to get out of their way. That will never happen again. We will be respectful of them. We will tip our caps. But they will not tell us what to do. We have thrown away their rule book.'”

Townshend went on to address his detractors that felt the mid-’90s Tony Award-winning musical featured a series of pulled creative punches: “Quite a few intelligent people were irritated that (at the end of the play) I had allowed Tommy to put his hand on his father’s shoulder, inferring that he was forgiven, thus inferring that the whole of the generation that rock was supposed to be standing up against was to be forgiven. But in my life and my history, my aim actually was not to be antagonizing to the previous generation, but to say we were different.”

With the initial success of the Who’s Tommy in 1969, Pete Townshend was dubbed rock’s latest genius. He told us that he feels that the term is often thrown around too loosely: “I think that the music business and the press that surrounds the music business thinks that rock is a black art, magicians weaving this magic — and to some extent I suppose, I agree with them. Y’know. . . but I don’t think that genius is a part of rock n’ roll. I think it’s an instinctive process, a bit like sport. If you can do it, you can do it. You don’t often know why you can do it, but you can do it.”

Previews for The Who’s Tommy are now running at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, with a planned opening night of June 26th. The show is set to run through July 23rd.

A nine-piece band performs the Tony Award-winning original score, behind the 28-member cast. For ticket information, log on to

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