Instant Replay: Tommy
by Stefanie Kalem
illustration by Nancy Bach
I don’t recall which came first—my mother shaking her head and walking away from the TV as I took in my second viewing of the Who’s Tommy, or said mother being told by a kindergarten teacher that I was perfectly well behaved, except for all that standing up on my chair and spontaneously singing.
Now, I don’t begrudge my mother leaving me in the not-so-able hands of a greasy-haired Oliver Reed and a tripping-balls Tina Turner, which was hardly better than Tommy himself being left in the care of sadistic Cousin Kevin or salacious Uncle Ernie. Because stashed in among the folds of Ken Russell and Pete Townshend’s overdone messianic parable is a vision of free-wheeling, spangly-dangly allure that competed nicely with the more mannered glamour of my mother’s day. She liked Oklahoma and The Music Man, yet she left me to the devices of Tommy’s mother Nora Walker’s silver-sequin beauty spot and all-white room*, ill-fated groupie Sally Simpson’s glittery cloche, and Tina’s awesome wig as the Acid Queen, and these ladies had a loosely done glamour that appealed to me. I’ve often said that Tommy made me the woman I am today and, while that’s not entirely true—Tommy didn’t make me a feminist, Women’s Studies 101 did—a recent watching of this celluloid cocktail certainly appealed to the Sex, Food & God editor in me.
Champagne, false prophets, pinball and see-through jumpsuits do not necessarily a masterpiece make. But as a testament to the joys of shameless ’70s excess, Tommy’s got a lot to sing about.
*While men my age remember the film for Ann-Margret’s roll-around in the beans, I recall my relief when that frolic’s revealed to be a hallucination, and the carpet and bed remain pristine.