Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rock Opera: From Tommy to the Wall and beyond


While not the first,  The Who's 1969 Tommy is undoubtedly the first rock opera to reach international acclaim.  Originally titled Tommy 1914-1918 the story was set at the end of WWI (although the 1975 movie was set in WWII).  The premise introduced in the overture is that Captain Walker is lost in combat,  the mother gives birth to Tommy in "It's a Boy" and moves in with her lover Frank.  In 1921 Captain Walker returns and kills his wife's lover (in the movie it was portrayed the other way around) 

The first verse is the wife's lover singing to Tommy's mother.  The second verse reintroduces Captain Walker with the murder of his wife's lover, then the third by Tommy's mother asks "what about the boy?Captain Walker and his wife then admonish Tommy "You didn't hear it, you didn't see it, you won't say nothing to no-one".  Tommy is left traumatized in a semi-catatonic state,  deaf, dumb, and blind.  The last verse is sung by Captain Walker to his wife Here is the song 1921 from the 1975 movie (remember the movie switched the roles of Captain Walker and Frank):



Pink Floyd's 1979 The Wall, is the life story of the opera's protagonist, Pink, believed to be based on Roger Water's own life and that of the bands original leader Syd BarretThe songs tell the story of each event in his life, the death of his father, his overprotective mother, the oppressive school system, each adding a brick to the metaphorical wall isolating him from his humanity. The story climaxes with Pink, his metaphorical wall now complete, is in a drug induced hallucination believing that he is a Neo-Nazi fascist dictator, the audience his angry mob.


Styx 1983 Kilroy Was Here was the rock opera that gave us Mr. Roboto.  Set in the future under a fascist dictatorship that has outlawed rock and roll,  the song "Heavy Metal Poisoning" is sung by the antagonist Dr. Righteous, leader of the Majority for Musical Morality.



Green Day's 2004 American Idiot is the story of the anti-hero Jesus of Suburbia.  The song Boulevard of Broken Dreams is sung from the point of view of the protagonist, Jesus of Suburbia who, dissatisfied with his life, has run away from home to the city.  The prelude to this song "Holiday" features cruising the city, partying the night away and ends back in the car, breaking down in an open field where this song begins.


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