by Arielle Greenberg
From Roger Ebert’s 1975 review: "…A heaven-sent opportunity for [director Ken Russell] to exercise his gift for going too far…The message of Tommy, if any, is contained mostly in the last thirty minutes…By then the hero (who started out in life as a blind deaf-mute) has become the pinball superstar of all time…Stardom brings him a fortune, he becomes the leader of a quasi-religious cult, regains his senses, and gets his own Tommy T-shirt…"
I loved it so much when I was sixteen but I tell you I don’t want to go through it again.
It’s a Boy
It’s a boy, Mrs. Walker. It’s a boy.
You Didn’t Hear It
Pete didn’t cast himself as the Jesus: he gave the part to Roger, who apparently started to go shirtless and walk on water.
Late 60s, and Jesus freaks and gurus buzzing around like fruit flies.
Not to mention psychedelics.
You could say, I suppose, that all Brits in the 60s had the Blitz encoded in their marrow.
And that all Americans had Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, MLK, JFK, Bobby, Malcolm.
A familiar nightmare, wherein familiar means of the family.
The Acid Queen
Christ on the cross as a turned-on victim of a Metropolis-style iron maiden, syringes injecting lip-twitching mania.
Is every Gold Star family headed for a manger? Every baby born from war destined for everlasting fuck-up and goldenness? Every primal scene witnessed or plea for denial a trauma?
Do You Think It’s Alright?
A theory: messiahs need attention, see me feel me touch me heal me, because they are all shattered boys from bad homes.
To give Pete—and Ken—credit, this was far before memoirs of childhood abuse and molestation and vets with PTSD were book club standards.
I didn’t understand until this viewing how punching the flippers on the Bally machine is windmilling on an electric guitar: the one thing the kid is good at, the hobby that will make him famous.
There’s a Doctor
Church of Marilyn. Electroshock church. Church of barbiturates and booze.
Go to the Mirror!
When your mother exploits you or pushes you through a window—or, as happened to Pete, ships you off to live with your demented grandmother—you can be reborn and follow a higher path.
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Gods in human form: I don’t recommend it.
Smash the Mirror
There wasn’t so much talk, at the time, about how the mind can leave the body when the body is raped.
Another theory: every bombed-out citizenry or recently liberated group of slaves or otherwise disenfranchised peoples are a cult waiting to happen.
He pulls off his mother’s glowing acrylic nails and throwing them into the sea.
The Frankenstein rock star child bride.
And freedom tastes of reality, but from the images we see, reality tastes of DDT, Vietnam, Brighton Beach.
A religion of the poor and disabled, of the renunciation of wealth, but not really. More like the religion of hang-gliding.
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
It turns out he is not the light either. He’s a militia asylum, more at the door, a riot, a telethon, a merchandise bonanza, Altamont with the Hell’s Angels.
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Human nature: a habit of building golden calves, poison kisses in gardens, burning it all to the ground.
Arielle Greenberg is the Resident Poet at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is the co-author of Home/Birth: A Poemic; author of My Kafka Century and Given; and co-editor of three anthologies, including Gurlesque. She lives in Maine and teaches in the community and in Oregon State University-Cascades' MFA program. Arielle writes a regular column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review.