Tommy Inside TOMMY

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WATCH highlights of the Broadway production.

SEE who Tommy Walker really is.


By Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff

Tommy Walker becomes traumatized at the age of four. He goes through a series of events that lead him to a “Locked In” condition. His father seems to come back from the dead and if that’s not shocking enough, Tommy witnesses his father shooting his mother’s lover, who has been serving as a kind of stepfather to Tommy. Not only this, his father and his mother instruct him to lie about the event, telling him, “You didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it, you won’t say nothing to no one ever in your life.”

On top of these horrendous occurrences, Tommy is taken through an extremely distressing trial and begins his journey through the world of medicine and therapy that’s no less upsetting. Over the course of the play, the state that he’s in leads to terrible treatment in society, abuse and bullying, and the awfulness of that is portrayed vividly in the story.

From the early days of Tommy, Juliet Alvin from the Guildhall College of Music who began Music Therapy was consulted and felt strongly that Tommy was not neurodiverse but rather neurotypical. The condition that he descends into before he breaks through the surface of reality when his mother smashes the mirror can be described as Conversion Disorder. There is no underlying neurologic condition for Conversion Disorder, which is sometimes called Functional Neurologic Disorder. This condition is rare, but it certainly occurs in extreme cases of trauma with neurotypical children, and for that matter, adults.

There is a quote from The Specialist in Tommy during “Go to the Mirror,” where he says:

“His eyes can see, his ears can hear, his lips can speak
All the time the needles flick and rock
No machine can give the kind of stimulation
Needed to remove his inner block.”

Tommy is, of course, a contemporary fable and does not intend to be a documentary or a medical textbook. It is a work of fiction. If Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye rejected adult life, Tommy rejects existence as we know it. This makes him in some ways the ultimate rebel, the antihero ground zero, as our colleague, dramaturg Chad Sylvain, called him.

Just as important to our story as the trauma is Tommy’s emergence as a charismatic leader or, in today’s terms “influencer,” as a vast group of fans and followers attempt to recreate his darkness and silent state in order to reach mystical enlightenment. This is Tommy’s second major epiphany in the play, and it’s no less meaningful than his decline into and ascent out of Conversion Disorder. This revelation leads Tommy to turn against his acolytes.

Both of us have experience in our personal lives with autism, volunteer mutism, and other psychological states. We understand that often there are parallels in the symptoms between the various conditions that people can suffer through, including catatonic behavior.

Over the years, there has been consultation not only by Music Therapy, but also with the non-profit group Nordoff-Robbins, which The Who supported as an acknowledgment that music was a potent force in Tommy as therapy. Since that time, we have engaged the advice of the late Dr. David Levine of Columbia University and Dr. Martijn Figee of Mt. Sinai Hospital on matters concerning trauma and Conversion Disorder.

Dr. Gabor Maté, in his book The Myth of Normal, writes about the fact that trauma can lead to many disorders, including Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.

Both of us have experienced trauma, abuse, and bullying. As artists, we find the most effective way to express that history is in the work itself.


Effective Date: October 18, 2023

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