Twenty years ago today, on Thursday, July 27, 1995, I did something (or at least my mother did) which by that point had become commonplace in our household: bought theatre tickets. The difference is that these tickets were for a musical called Tommy, and nothing was ever the same again.
I wrote about my first time seeing Tommy, not surprisingly, ten years ago today, when I noted how “nothing’s come close to rivaling the effect that seeing…Tommy had on me, not just in terms of theatre but in terms of my actual life.” Yet ironically, I wouldn’t have even seen Tommy that day had we been able to get better seats to another musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was playing at the former O’Keefe Centre. But we couldn’t, and having just spent an hour outside the T.O. Tix office we had the following, fateful exchange:
Mom: “Do you want to see Tommy?
And so we crossed Yonge Street to the Elgin Theatre, whose southern wall was covered in a massive yellow-and-black Tommy mural. We bought tickets in the third-last row. The transaction changed my life.
That initial Tommy didn’t actually impact me as much as the second one, which came exactly one year to the second later at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. One part that did, though, was the final song, which made me feel as though my heart was going to burst out through my chest. I’d never heard it before. It went like this:
Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet
Right behind you, I see the millions
On you, I see the glory
From you, I get opinions
From you, I get the story
The song, of course, is “Listening to You,” and if I could pick the last song I hear on this earth Gaslight Anthem-style it’d be this one. The next day, with “Listening to You” and another song called “Sensation” still ringing in my ears, I went to Sam the Record Man and picked up the highlights of Tommy‘s cast recording. I wore it out, then got the full version for Christmas. I listened to it–no exaggeration–every single day until July 27, 1996, when I couldn’t listen to it because I was on a plane to Calgary and didn’t own a portable CD player (remember them?). Almost exactly one year after that, on July 22, 1997, I saw the Who for the first time.
Today I drove downtown–something I assuredly could not do in 1995–parked on Shuter Street, and walked down to the Elgin, then stood outside the entrance while the memories flooded back. Suddenly I was fourteen years old again, my hair awkwardly pressed against my head in a manner I then considered stylish, handing an usher my ticket and walking into the Elgin’s long main entrance hall. I’d walk out two hours later a completely different person. Two years ago, after seeing Tommy‘s resurrection at the Stratford Festival for a final time, I tweeted: “My new goal in life: create something that moves someone, anyone, as much as Tommy moves me.” I wasn’t in search of a transformative experience twenty years ago today. Yet that’s exactly what I ended up getting.