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Sound Advice
Dr. Spin takes lessons from Dear Jon to heart.

by Dr. Spin
October 18, 2004

Dear readers,
In my last article, a reader noted that all I do is write about car commercials. I countered by saying all I write about is car commercials and subliminal messages. This is due to the fact that that’s all my readers ever ask me about anymore. Distraught that my article had been reduced to this, I sought the advice of my colleague here at the PO, Dear Jon (he is, after all, an advice columnist.) His advice seemed solid (for a change), and so my article is a reflection of his wisdom.
Dear Dr. Spin. You are a naïve twit for believing that back-masking never happens. I have it on good authority that in his “Here Comes the Sun” on Abbey Road©, George Harrison tells us backwards that “Hare Krishna is Satan and commands you to eat your children.” What do you think of that? Sincerely, Some Idiot
Dear Idiot,
The Who’s Tommy obviously draws form a wealth of archetypical figures both within the realm of myth and the realm of classic literature. Most obvious is Pete Townshend’s use of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is itself a variation of Oedipus Rex and several other well know Greek tragedies. Tommy begins life as a fatherless child (“Captain Walker didn’t come home/his unborn child will never know him). His mother takes on a new lover, and all seems optimistic, until Tommy’s father suddenly shows up.
Tommy witnesses the murder of his father by the lover, but is told by the mother and the lover, that he didn’t hear or see anything. Here Townshend employs the classic struggle between child and father, as dominant over the mother. Indeed, the real father is killed, and Tommy struggles against his mother’s new lover. Like Hamlet, Tommy knows his stepfather is the murderer of his father, and in both cases the mother abets by hiding the heinous crime. Hamlet feigns insanity, whereas Tommy becomes “deaf, dumb, and blind,” withdrawing into himself. This is also a neo-classic ploy of the tragedy; the hero is so grief struck he becomes a cripple. It may also be a subtle acknowledgement to Homer, the brilliant teller of the Iliad and the Odyssey, who was of course blind.
Further allusions to Homer are seen in Tommy; he is taken on an “amazing journey” where he is subject to many trials and tribulations, much like Ulysses. He endures the humiliation of Christmases where relatives speculate that since Tommy is deaf, dumb, and blind, he can’t possibly know who Jesus is and is therefore doomed to the “eternal grave.” This panics his mother, who seeks various cures, including a visit to the “Acid Queen” who represents Circe (in the Odyssey) and various other witches in other well-know classics.
Tommy is also a social criticism; the protagonist is seen as a useless member of the family, abused and neglected. It is only when he becomes a “pinball wizard,” that he becomes not only a valued member of the family and society in general, but his “miracle cure” elevates him to status of a messiah. Soon Tommy becomes a leader of a cult, espousing a message of love and being free. He employs his followers to become like him, deaf and blind while learning the miracle revelations he received through playing pinball. His followers reject him, and he becomes victim again, left for dead; once more a useless member of society.
However, Townshend ends his “rock opera” on a positive note. Taking cues from the Christ story and other resurrection stories, such as Osiris, Tommy rises from the ashes of his cult and reaches out one last time (“see me, feel me, touch me, heal me”). It is then that Tommy finds his salvation “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.” In the end, Tommy’s tragic suffering is redeemed.
Drawing from many themes and examples of mythology and literature, Townshend creates a modern version of the classic tragedy and tries to give it an update, suitable for the “Woodstock” generation. Tommy is a reworking of old themes into a modern parable, which has become a classic in its own right.
Can you list some songs for me that have subliminal messages in them, please? I’ve started a collection like the ones listed (Another One Bites the Dust, Stairway to Heaven) and I was wondering if you knew of anymore.
Dear Individual with too much free time,
I think the mine of subliminal messages in Rock songs has been pretty much tapped. You can probably find tons of lists throughout the web. It is good and all that we find these, but I feel we’re ignoring an entire era of songs that potentially have subliminal messages. We all know Rock has songs with subliminal messages, but do you honestly believe it began there? What about the performers before Rock? What are their songs telling us?
Let’s look at Frank Sinatra for example, what are some of his trademark songs? “Witchcraft,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “That Old Black Magic.” Can he spell it out any clearer?
What about Bing Crosby? We’re all familiar with David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo,” but how many of you know it was Bing Crosby that first sang the song? And what about “Swinging On A Star?” What kind of “Irish Lullaby” is “Too-Ra-Lu-La-Ruah?” Sounds like some sort of back-masked message to me!
Readers, I can’t stress this enough; the epidemic of subliminal messages dates back much further that the Rock ‘n’ Roll era. Surely Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, realized his machine could play the messages both backward and forward. A full investigation of his “recordings” needs to be made as well! We’ve been duped from the very beginning! So grab those old 78’s from your grandma and find the “messages” before it’s too late!

About the Author:
Dr. Spin has also been advised to take some quiet time to release his frustration from being repeatedly asked about subliminal meassages.

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