Monday, December 22, 2014
The Power of the Original
Stop a mo; before I go on, let's acknowledge the quirky brilliance of Keith Moon, making the drums sing at Woodstock, especially from 7:05 on, where he does things I can't even fathom with them; as Robert Traver once wrote, listen to that ma-a-an...
Right, back to business.
That clip above is the portion of Tommy at Woodstock that my old friends Athos and Porthos (at that time new friends) played for me when I was just on the verge of leaving my teens to demonstrate the prowess of the Who. (Athos later gave me a copy of Scoop and sealed the deal; Porthos turned me on to Who's Next and sealed the seal of the deal.
Now, here's the revised version for The Who's Tommy:
Now, this isn't bad as such--Michael Cerveris is quite good,and the notion of using what is in fact the best curtain call music ever written as a curtain call is clever. The onstage action (not available with these performers, alas) depicts Tommy slowly forgiving each of his family members and ends in reconciliation. Not bad.
But the lyrics have the raw, politically incorrect edges sanded off. The orchestration is good, but lacks the sheer verve of the Who--the slower-than-remembered hieratic tempo is just about right; Townshend's music is absolutely being respected--and yet--the force is abated. It's a little too clean. The piano is duplicating some of Moon's flourishes--but that's what made them extraordinary--Moon played the drums like they were a piano. Two drummers and a piano are needed to keep up with Keith Moon.
The adaptation has its pleasures, and I enjoyed it in 1993. But the 1969 original is like nothing on earth.