Lifehouse began as a story written around several songs. Pete Townshend: "The essence of the story-line was a kind a futuristic scene…It’s a fantasy set at a time when rock ’n’ roll didn’t exist. The world was completely collapsing and the only experience that anybody ever had was through test tubes. In a way they lived as if they were in television programs. Everything was programmed. The enemies were people who gave us entertainment intravenously, and the heroes were savages who’d kept rock ‘n’ roll as a primitive force and had gone to live with it in the woods. The story was about these two sides coming together and having a brief battle."
Under those circumstances, a very old guru figure emerges and says ‘I remember rock music. It was absolutely amazing—it really did something to people.’ He spoke of a kind of nirvana people reached through listening to this type of music. The old man decides that he’s going to try to set it up so that the effect can be experienced eternally. Everybody would be snapped out of their programmed environment through this rock and roll-induced liberated selflessness. The Lifehouse was where the music was played, and where the young people would collect to discover rock music as a powerful catalyst — a religion as it were. "Then I began to feel ‘Well, why just simulate it? Why not try and make it happen?’"
The plan was for The Who to take over the Young Vic theatre with a regular audience, develop the new material on stage and allow the communal activity to influence the songs and performances. Individuals would emerge from the audience and find a role in the music and the film. When the concerts became strong enough, they would be filmed along with other peripheral activity from the theater. A storyline would evolve alongside the music. Although the finished film was to have many fictitious and scripted elements, the concert footage was to be authentic, and would provide the driving force for the whole production.
Pete went wild, working out a complex scenario whereby a personal profile of each concert-goer would be worked out, from the individual’s astrological chart to his hobbies, even physical appearance. All the characteristics would then be fed into a computer at the same moment, leading to one musical note culminating in mass nirvana that Townshend dubbed ‘a kind of celestial cacophony.’ This philosophy was based on the writings of Inayat Khan, a Sufi master musician who espoused the theory that matter produces heat, light, and sound in the form of unique vibrations. Taking the idea one step further, making music, which was composed of vibrations, was the pervading force of all life. Elevating its purpose to the highest level, music represented the path to restoration, the search for the one perfect universal note, which once sounded would bring harmony to the entire world. Despite Pete’s grandiose plans, the project had its problems. The theater had its own schedule of drama productions, and wasn’t available on a regular nightly schedule that Townshend insisted was necessary for the band to sustain a "euphoric level" of performance. Pete: "The fatal flaw…was getting obsessed with trying to make a fantasy a reality rather than letting the film speak for itself." Eventually Pete had to let go of Lifehouse for his own sake.
Pete’s inability to translate the ideas in his head to those around him eventually led to a nervous breakdown. "It was a disaster." No one apart from himself actually understood the whole concept of Lifehouse. Kit Lambert, an integral part of the communication between the members of The Who, was missing. Pete had rejected a Tommy film script written by Lambert. Kit, dejected, frustrated and hurt, had moved to New York. With Tommy, Lambert had served as Townshend’s "interpreter," explaining "to the willing but befuddled people around me what I was on about." The film was indefinitely postponed until the album had been issued. The band went to Glyn Johns to produce their collection of songs, intended for a double album. They decided to shelve most of the songs in favour of a single album, hoping that it would have "a sharper focus and greater impact" than the concept of Lifehouse had become..
Elements of the Lifehouse concept predated and resembled virtual reality and The Matrix movie, but obviously also took inspiration from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Townshend also revisited the concept, in modified form, in his radio play and recording Psychoderelict, which incorporated outtakes from the Lifehouse/Who's Next sessions and demos. In the plot of Psychoderelict, a reclusive rock star named Ray High is lured out of retirement by a fan-letter hoax between his manager and a gossip columnist, ultimately staging and broadcasting a virtual reality concert similar to the Lifehouse climax. He continued discussion of these themes in his later opus The Boy Who Heard Music.
Quote: Do you hear the Whisper Men The Whisper Men are near
If you hear the Whisper Men then turn away your ears
Do not hear the Whisper Men whatever else you do
For once you've heard the Whisper Men they'll stop. And look at you.