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Tommy: The Interactive Adventure

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 1997, Interplay

Tommy: The Interactive Adventure is possibly the rarest release from Interplay. This CD-ROM, narrated by Pete Townsend, chronicles the development (as well as a lot of backstage goodies) of The Who‘s hit musical Tommy, although it would have been much cooler if it had the entire show on the CD ;) explains why every fan of The Who should take a look:

“This CD could actually be a die-hard Who fan’s dream-come-true, covering what quite possibly could be too much ground in the history of this work. Too much because there is only so much real estate on a CD, and what ends up on screen are snippets, the operative word here, of everything. From the early Who days of “creative violence” to the awakening provided Townsend by American flower children that “the audience is ready for a bigger idea”, there are clips of sound and film to whet any curious appetite.

But the CD leaves the viewer flat by failing to deliver the whole product in any tangible sense. There are no full-length cuts, no complete songs, no 20-minute interviews, just teasers — lots and lots of teasers. Any Who fan knows that one aspect of the band’s appeal was their early propensity for excess, for flamboyant theatrics, for explosions of sound and energy in a burning desire to break free of the confines of teenage confusion. The essence of the Who is that attempt to be free, something this CD just can’t deliver in film and sound clips sometimes as short as 10 seconds. It just leaves you wanting more.

Beyond that shortcoming, the interactive Tommy is indeed a wealthy source of information for any beginning Who-bie or the well-acquainted Who historian, and should be considered a companion piece to such requirements as “The Kids Are Alright”. The archive section features images of the original lyric sheets; torn, burned, tattered, beer-stained pieces of paper that say more about Townsend and the Who than any documentary could ever convey. There are movies of performances throughout the band’s history and clips from major parts of Ken Russell’s film, with narratives by Russell, Townsend, Daltrey and others about the writing and making of it. Literally tons of information, conveyed throughout in an enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening format.

Maneuvering in Tommy is done with the mouse. There are no keyboard commands. The “adventure” opens with a vignette of 1941, the first song on the album, and an animation of B-29 bombers and parachuting pilots is supported by the opening chords of the song. The cursor changes from an arrow to a hand to an eye to a movie projector depending on where it is on the screen, and each mode offers an opportunity to explore the work in some unique way. Without clicking somewhere the images segue into the next song, and so on.

Exploring the vignettes is where the adventure begins. As a number of images move about on the screen the viewer is encouraged to click about and find things. What one often finds are movies from Who archives and clips from the likes of director Ken Russell, Ann Margaret, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Billy Idol (in a 1989 concert version as the offensive Uncle Ernie), Patti LaBelle, Buddy Smith (Young Tommy on Broadway), former Who manager Chris Stamp and, of course, the Who.

There is quick access at any time to the archives stored in the back, where everything is cataloged for easy reference and you can choose what you want to view and hear without the mystery. Among these treasures you will also find snippets of Tommy demos that never made it onto Townsend’s Scoop series, interviews with band members about the opera, the film and the making of it as well as anecdotes about fist fights, song writing and the general confusion that surrounded the original recording session of a then unfeasible “double album”. Entwistle speaks of how crappy the drums sounded and those sour notes he played on the French horn. Daltrey wonders what all of it is about and where it came from while Townsend works at explaining the concept of Tommy, what it meant to him when he wrote it, filmed it, its transmogrification on stage and what it means to him today. Is it biographical, parodic, artistic need, contractual obligation, spiritual groping, random chance, a labor of love or pure accident? Tommy, can you hear me? Click somewhere inside to find out.

For the long-time Who fan, Tommy offers offers a goldmine of clips and archives, but falls short as a full presentation. For new fans and those just discovering the Who, this is an excellent starting point.”

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