Friday, December 14, 2007

(November) Old Meets New: Catullus and The Who

In Catullus’ day, poetry was written for the sole purpose of glorifying Rome and its religion. Catullus, however, began to write poems that were not only much shorter than the traditional epics, but were also more concerned with the thoughts and emotions of the poet. Even his epyllion addresses the story of the relationship of Ariadne and Theseus more than gods and Rome. Many of his works reflect his feelings or thoughts, such as in Carmen 36 when he describes the annals of Volusius as “carta cacata.” Though most of his contemporaries found his works to be tasteless and meaningless, his innovations changed the world of poetry from one of form and religion to one of freedom and thought.

As Catullus did around 2000 years earlier, so The Who revamped the traditional opera with their works Tommy and Quadrophenia. For years the opera was a form of musical theatre, which was only concerned with traditional and Classical themes (many of the same that Catullus popularized with his poetry). However, in 1969, The Who released Tommy, and created a whole new genre of opera, the rock opera. Tommy relates the tale of Tommy, a blind, deaf, and dumb child, whose parents try to cure him through various methods of hallucinogenic drugs and cult religions. The story also has themes of physical/sexual abuse, psychological disorders, drug/alcohol abuse, death, and abandonment. Tommy eventually became a huge hit for The Who and is counted among various lists of the best albums of all time. The rock opera also grew into a legitimate style of art and now includes many other works including The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien, Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and The Iron Man by Pete Townshend. This kind of innovation mirrors Catullus' innovation remarkably.