Firefly Pointer Fiberglass Jacket: The album art of Tommy by Mike McInnerney

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The album art of Tommy by Mike McInnerney

 People often ask me what my favorite album is. Without much thought I am able to answer them. The Who's 1969 album "Tommy" is my favorite record of all time. The album artwork also happens to be my favorite. Recently I was thinking about the album and how it affected me in my life. I decided to look up the Tommy album art and was surprised that I was unable to find any of it. I could find the cover, but never all the album art inside. The Tommy CD comes with a booklet with lyrics and a series of different illustrations. But they weren't on the internet. 

 So this blog will be changing that! I just took out my CD booklet and scanned all the artwork. There are two versions of the cover, one featuring small images of their faces inserted into the gaps in the central sphere. The other is just the original work. Executives at The Who's record label insisted on having the band members pictured on the cover, so that's why there are two covers. Pete Townshend commissioned Mike McInnerney to do the cover art for Tommy after McInnerney introduced him to the teachings of Meher Baba.
"As ever, Mike overflowed with visual ideas, many of them influencing the way some of the songs - at that time in raw demo form - were to turn out. The poetic mysticism of his work, its simplicity and bleakness, mirrored the music precisely. As ever, Mike's response was explosively positive." -Pete Townshend

 CD Cover 

Album Cover

Inside panels









"It was 1968 and the world was full of messages. Everyone was promoting some kind of message - feminism, expanded consciousness, meditation, revolution, God, drugs, love, the environment. Rock was doing its usual up-to-the-minute job of transmitting them - if rock could do it, I thought, so should illustration.
By the time Pete commissioned me, the recording was well advanced. He gave me some tape cassettes from the recording studio, filled me in on the libretto, and left me to it. Tommy was a lovely vehicle for the visual interests I had at the time. I had been exploring ways of creating images that could picture my pre-occupation with spiritual ideas. I particularly liked the patterns and rhythms of Op Art and its concerns with perception and illusion and the language of Surrealism - not for its subversive qualities but rather its transcendental possibilities - like finding poetry in the ordinary.
The project started off as a double album cover job and grew into a triptych with 12-page booklet. The Opera had a strong libretto which I used to develop the images...I chose to do images that acted as symbols for key moments in the story. I hoped the images would be viewed like painting and sculpture are viewed - that is, in a contemplative way, with a long look at images layered with references.
I liked the 'idea' of the Tommy character. Rather than trying to portray him, I wanted to picture his experience of being in a world without conventional senses. I thought it would be limitless and unbounded, yet trapped in an environment made for people who have all of their senses.
The outer and inner covers seemed to be the appropriate places for this statement. The outer cover has its globe (Earth/Self) hanging in an endless infinite space that can never be touched - only imagined. The inside cover has its wall and wall lights, a symbol of domestic space - the room we all live in. The light from these lamps, however, does not fix things as in our sighted world - it shifts and changes for Tommy.
The work took two to three months to complete (According to Pete T. - 'Mike worked constantly under a single ordinary lightbulb. He entertained and pontificated from his drawing board at one side of the room, stopping only to eat...Behind him on the wall was a picture of the young, craggy-looking Meher Baba...As an illustrator, he was constantly up against impossible deadlines, and in the case of Tommy, he worked indefatigably to produce the cover art even though the actual album completion was continually delayed by technical and financial problems.'). During that time, I had the feeling that I was working on a special project. That's why it kept expanding.
I have this memory snapshot, back in '68, sitting in Pete T's kitchen, showing him the finished artwork for the Tommy cover and trying to find a way of bringing God into the cover copy. The Indian word for God is 'Avatar' and, for us, his name was Meher Baba and the cover credit list was where we put him. Somehow, giving God a job description on the album, juxtaposing the ordinary with the extraordinary, seemed appropriate to the project. It was a contrast that wove its way throughout the Opera."
-McInnerney


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