May 26, 2013

The Who's Tommy

November, 1978, my freshman year at Augustana College. Student Union Movie Night is showing  Tommy, the 1975 rock musical starring  Roger Daltrey of The Who!

"Um...does he, like, take his shirt off?" I ask my friend.

"All the time!"

So I ask a boy from my French class, and we sit cozily on folding chairs.

It's about a boy named Tommy (Roger Daltrey), who sees his stepfather murder his father, and is so traumatized that he becomes blind, deaf, and dumb. But he grows up to become a "pinball wizard" and the messiah of a new youth-oriented religion.  Gay performer Elton John plays one of his followers.

On the way, horrible, traumatic things happen to him.  When he is ten years old, evil Uncle Ernie (Keith Moon), who has blacked-out teeth and wears rubber gloves, is asked to babysit.  After reading The Gay News to get some ideas about how to be a more effective pervert, Uncle Ernie starts "fiddling down there."

 Oi, gay men are all child molesters. Got it.

The British rock group, with lead singer Peter Daltrey and backups Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle, didn't seem particularly homophobic, although they were certainly heterosexist.  I first heard about them in the fall of 1975, when the older boys at Rocky High started grooving to their song about fondling women's breasts:

Mama's got a squeeze box she wears on her chest
And when Daddy comes home, he never gets no rest.

Many of the other Who songs I heard over the next decade were  heterosexist:

"The Kids are All Right": "I don't mind other guys dancing with my girl."
"Heat Wave": "Sometimes she calls my name, and I feel a burning flame."
"The Real Me": "The girl I used to love, lives in this yellow house."
"Imagine a Man": "Imagine a girl [with] the body of chalky perfection and truth."

And two were actively homophobic:
"How Many Friends": "There's a handsome boy, tells me how I've changed his past.  But could it be, he's really just after my ass?"  Not to worry, he meets a woman who's a real friend.

"Rough Boys" (1980) is about gay men.  Apparently they're all into macho heterosexual hustlers: "Tough boys, come over here -- I want to bite and kiss you."  Some people thought that Pete Townshend (left) was "coming out," but he denied it, saying that he was just singing about gays.  Although in a recent interview he states that he's "probably bisexual."

Oddly, in 1998, Roger Daltrey starred in the gay-themed Like It Is, as a sleazy music producer whose assistant, Matt (Ian Rose) falls in love with a young boxer (played by Steve Bell).  Quite a transition from Tommy.