Ngl, reading this felt like what I imagine an acid trip would be like. I guess one good thing about it is that it made me want to listen to more of The Who’s music? Good thing this graphic novel is being released with an accompanying vinyl LP! (Link at the bottom, tho you can also snag this book on its own.)
Life House is based on a rock opera originally conceived by Pete Townshend, lead guitarist and principal songwriter of The Who, as the follow-up to their massive multimedia hit, Tommy. Alas, Life House as a rock opera was shelved due to practical constraints, tho it did serve as the inspiration for their globally bestselling album Who’s Next?. That album has now been remastered and the original script reshaped into the graphic novel format/package we have here.
I’ll be blunt: this is some weird shit. And that’s fine! I love weird shit. But it was also weird shit that was originally conceived in the 70s, and I think a lot of the cultural references just totally flew over my head. Anyway, in a dystopian future, an autocrat known as Jumbo Seven rules over England, the last nation left remaining after the rest annihilated themselves via nuclear warfare. The first Jumbo outlawed religion and music in her quest to save/control her people. The current Jumbo, seventh of her name, rules over a land where most of the citizens live in a sort of stasis called Grid Sleep (basically The Matrix, but without artificial intelligence using people as batteries.)
In the arms of Grid Sleep, citizens are kept safe from the deteriorating environment outside, and can work through lifetimes worth of karma via what’s essentially lucid dreaming. Jumbo Seven is eagerly awaiting the moment that the Silver Child, a person whose karma is pure (or something — the details are rather fuzzy) is created via Grid Sleep. Meanwhile, sleeper Mary Cotton has been having vivid nightmares of being a prisoner. Unwilling to keep suffering, she breaks out of the grid, to the dismay of her partner, and goes off in search of answers at the Tower, a symbol that kept recurring in her dreams. Will she find the answers she’s been looking for, as she learns exactly what her role is in saving England and, perhaps, humanity?
I think that if you’re a fan of The Who, and the whole psychedelic music scene of the 1970s (to which, pace, I know they don’t necessarily belong,) that this will be right up your alley. If you love the whole mod/rock scene of the era, then you’ll likely love this as well. But for everyone else, this story is kind of a mess. I feel like a large part of this comes down to the fact that writing a graphic novel about musical concepts of transcendency is a bit like the old saw of dancing about architecture. I get Mr Townshend’s general point, and I applaud James Harvey and David Hine’s valiant attempt to distill his vision into a comic that makes sense and entertains. Max Prentis has almost the easier job of it helming the art (shout out, too, to Shari Chankhamma for assisting on the bright, saturated colors throughout.) I did also appreciate the gender and racial diversity, much of which was likely changed from their original depictions in the 1970s.
For all that, this book lacks the sophistication that the last fifty years have escorted into and solidified in the realms of sci-fi writing. It reads well as an object of its time, with crucial modern updates, but this book feels more like a novelty for music and history fans than for the contemporary reader.
Life House by Pete Townshend, James Harvey, David Hine & Max Prentis was published January 9 2024 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including