ICSA Annual Conference: The wisdom of “Tommy”: How The Who’s classic rock opera informs about cultic dynamics

Steve Eichel
Friday, June 24, 2022
4:00 PM-4:50 PM

In his introduction to the CD release of the classic rock opera “Tommy,” author and The Who biographer Richard Barnes stated that “the story line was influenced by [Who songwriter/guitarist Peter] Townshend’s rejection of psychedelic drugs and simultaneous discovery of mysticism…[he] was working on a metaphorical story device that put across the idea of different states of consciousness. The premise was that we had our five senses but were blind to Reality and the Infinite.” We, however, are also struck with the congruence between Tommy’s story line and the processes of traumatic dissociation, reenactment, and misguided healing, that culminated in Tommy becoming (and failing as) a cult leader. Although he never met his guru (Meher Baba), Townsend was a true believer when he began writing and composing “Tommy.” In this presentation, we will explore Townsend’s creation of “Tommy” in both prose and music, and contemplate his theories about the creation of a cult leader, Tommy’s attempt to start a cult, and the rebellion that ultimately brings him down.

ICSA Annual Conference 2022
The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is conducting its 2022 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal. Conference Theme: Exploring the Needs of People Who Leave Controlling Groups and Environments We look forward to seeing you at this year’s event!

Steve K. D. Eichel, PhD, ABPP, Board member and past president of ICSA, is Past-President of the American Academy of Counseling Psychology and the Greater Philadelphia Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He is a licensed and Board-certified counseling psychologist whose involvement in cultic studies began with a participant-observation study of Unification Church training in their Eastern seminary (in Barrytown, NY) in the spring of 1975. His doctoral dissertation to date remains the only intensive, quantified observation of a deprogramming. He was honored with AFF’s 1990 John G. Clark Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Cultic Studies for this study, which was published as a special issue of the Cultic Studies Journal and has been translated into several foreign languages. In 1983, along with Dr. Linda Dubrow-Marshall and clinical social worker Roberta Eisenberg, Dr. Eichel founded the Re-Entry Therapy, Information & Referral Network (RETIRN), one of the field’s oldest continuing private providers of psychological services to families and individuals harmed by cultic practices. RETIRN currently has offices in Newark, DE, Lansdowne, PA and Pontypridd, Wales and Buxton, England (U.K.). In addition to his psychology practice and his involvement with ICSA, Dr. Eichel is active in a range of professional associations. He has co-authored several articles and book reviews on cult-related topics for the CSJ/CSR. In 2016 he received ICSA’s Herbert L. Rosedale Award at the Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas.