I was reading this morning in The New York Times (‘Quadrophenia,’ Still a Flash Point for the Mods by Marc Spitz) that the Criterion Collection will reissue Quadrophenia on Blu-Ray and DVD this Tuesday.
This inspired me to purchase The Who’s Quadrophenia on itunes (oddly enough, while I’m a lifelong fan of The Who, I’ve never actually owned that title outright), watch a pirated version of director Franc Roddam’s 1979 movie (on YouTube), and to even get my Tommy songbook out of storage (purchased in 1969) and make a go of it with my Fender sunburst Stratocaster.
As it turns out, today is dedicated exclusively to the music of The Who. I’m running Tommy by one more time as I type. I have the bragging rights to boast of seeing The Who perform Tommy in its entirety just after the release of the Rock Opera, in Houston, Texas back in the day, 1969.
Moreover, I saw them in Dallas early on in 1965 (at Memorial Auditorium) when they were at their Mod peak; you know, when Pete would crash his guitar into his amp, then shatter it into tiny pieces, by holding it by its neck (you’d have to be there to see what I’m talking about) and slamming it to the ground.
The thing is, I was familiar with what Marc Spitz was talking about in his article, as far as The Who taking rightful claim at forging the Mod Movement in rock music, ala the British invasion. On the other hand, the reasons for the movie so aptly capturing the Mod phenomenon and becoming a cult classic, were foreign to me, since I hadn’t seen it until just today.
But I think I get it now; Phil Daniels is perfect as Jimmy Cooper and I was really digging Leslie Ash as Steph, with an interesting, let it all hang out hairdo. Oh, and Sting puts in a nice, indignant (the default demeanor of Mods, apparently) performance as Ace Face. The tragic ending might be coupled with A Rebel Without a Cause, and the Mods conceivably have a connection with the 1950s Punks, who became our Roots Rockers.
I sense, the movie works well since the screenplay sticks to themes laid out meticulously in Pete Townsend’s original songs, written for his second Rock Opera, Quadrophenia. These themes are autobiographical (with Jimmy as a filter of expression) of the band’s early days in England, when they created this Mod species (in music) out of nowhere. Furthermore, their hairdos and decorum (clothes) play a big part in this manifesto of art!
Well, I need to point out, they did have proper company, that shared a kindred spirit, with bands such as The Kinks, the Yardbirds (check out Jeff Beck smashing his Telecaster into his Vox amplifier in Blowup – Perfect Mod-i-fications!), The Rolling Stones, and Small Faces. And yet The Who have the most fully developed sensibility of what Mod can mean (or what it came to mean in the hands of New Wave groups, such as The Jam).
My take away, is that this Mod thing is still very much alive today, if not even stronger. I was intrigued by it’s characteristics when just 13 or 14 years old. In fact, this is one of the reasons I decided to take up electric guitar and a (mostly) inspirational music career (even if it was merely an amateur one). Mod is sexy!
Modders are more on the inside of what it means to be hip; anti-social, a trifle anarchistic, frustrated with the status quo, really just more secure in working in the world of art, where you can be your inner self, even if that doesn’t jive with what’s acceptable to mainstream society.
Odd how little things have changed, in some senses, in 47 years (1965 is the year when this Zeitgeist got its legs). I’m glad I didn’t get Quadrophenia until today; in the late 1970s the Punks were down on The Who, and I found myself absorbing and reflecting this same negative attitude.
Pete Townsend goes on record as saying Quadrophenia is his greatest accomplishment as a songwriter. I’m beginning to break it down now (just like I did with Tommy when I was a kid); just listen to Keith Moon’s drumming on The Rock and tell me I’m wrong, this is The Who’s Ultimate Masterpiece in this Mod genre, that they can (righteously) call their own!
‘Quadrophenia’ Reissue, New Spark for Enduring Mods – NYTimes.com