Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The first rock opera I ever heard was Pete Townsend's collaboration with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, "Tommy". It came in a big two-record set with a full-color insert whose contents were partly graphic--illustrations in a style like Peter Max on acid, or is that redundant?--partly artfully-staged photographs. Here's Tommy's pinball machine on the beach. Here it is, nestled amongst scrub and deadwood. Here's the chrome of the pinball containing the world in mirrored backwards perfection. Here's Cousin Kevin, made out of thick plasticized strokes the width of your thumb, and here's the chair he used to torture Tommy, the stylized chunks of glass rising from the seat in jagged mountain ranges.
The metaphor of the chair was a regular feature in my therapy drawings. It wasn't a conscious choice on my part. I made the connection six years after I began drawing my way through healing. The messages in the photographs and art from Tommy penetrated deep and so cleanly I needed the shock of therapy to understand how profoundly they'd affected me. This is a chair, and also a prison cell, and a panic room with glass walls, a baby's crib and the dentist's chair from Marathon Man, where I played both Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier. The chair was where I was supposed to be.
Pete and his buddies put that kid Tommy through an awful lot of crap. He witnesses his father murdering his mother's lover. Mother and father demand he blot the event from his memory. Tommy's a dutiful little kid and he does what any child desperate for his parent's love would do. He finds a way to bend to their will. He makes himself deaf, dumb and blind.
That doesn't sound outrageous to me. Adults put their kids through jarring realignments of what equals security all the time. What wouldn't you do to stay in the shelter of your parent's shadow? What would you sacrifice to keep them together if they were getting divorced? What would you willingly become to make one parent happy after the other has died? A puppet? A perfect student? A hellion? A china doll? A perpetual child?
Tommy's spell is broken when his mother shatters his mirror, the only physical thing he's reacted with since the murder. Does that mean his mirror was like a projection screen for his mind's eye? Maybe that was the idea. It sets him free. The circle is broken and he spills into the world as a prophet.
I have never experienced one overwhelming shift in self-perception from which all the days that followed were free of old weights (or chairs). My revelations have come as fast as I've been able to handle them. Sometimes that's in been in bunches, like a fistful of grapes. More often it's been a slog. I got out of my chair like an agoraphobic going to the grocery store, slowly, hesitantly, resentfully. Comfort and confinement combined make you a junkie for dependence. I hated that I hated letting go of such a crippling thing.
The chair rests discarded in the attic of my head. I stumble across it now and then. I know I don't fit there any more. You can't blame a guy for trying. It's scary out there.
May tomorrow give you many reminders of what you have to be thankful for. May you face no Cousin Kevins or Uncle Ernies over the dinner table. I wish you love and to be loved in return.
May you be free.