Tag Archives: The Who

This is a Modern World

On the eve of Quadrophenia’s release, the Who’s most articulate message finds a new audience

Quadrophenia

Rhino Records is releasing the Who’s Quadrophenia on DVD in September and the film is enjoying a limited theater release to celebrate. After countless viewings of the film on an old VHS bootleg, I recently saw the film for the first time on the big screen last week and was again taken back to my own days of teenage angst and Anglophilia.

Originally released in 1979, Quadrophenia was slated to be the last word on England’s Mod scene of the mid-60s from the pretenders to the throne of Modfatherhood, the Who. Loosely based on the album of the same name, the film stands on its own and succeeds where other rock movies failed. It’s not an extended music video like the Who’s earlier venture Tommy. It’s not a vanity plate like Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s not a vehicle to promote the career of a singer-turned-bad-actress like any one of Madonna’s embarrassing films. And it’s not an art film like those produced by many of the Who’s brethren of the 60s, including the Rolling Stones (the simultaneously exhilarating and disappointingly tedious Sympathy for the Devil). In fact, the movie may have suffered for its affiliation with the Who. Its producers’ audience couldn’t possibly take it seriously as a movie because of the above-mentioned attempts.

Quadrophenia follows Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) through the trials of teendom where young adolescent males discover some of the hardest truths of life: working sucks, you don’t always get the girl (even when you DO!), and your heroes have day jobs.

Excellent performances by Daniels and exquisite Mod Girl Steph (Leslie Ash) bring to the screen the complex rules and disappointments of young love. The story unfolds as Jimmy struggles to find his own identity in a peer group rigid with conformity. His affiliation with the Mods is strengthened in a weekend trip to the resort town of Brighton where he falls in love; fights for his gang; and meets his hero, played with utmost restraint by Glono’s own favorite corporate hack Sting in his pre-Jaguar days (the scenes of him on a Vespa GS could just as easily act as a commercial for the ultimate Modmobile, but that’s for another day). Everything he believes about being a Mod is confirmed in that quick, violent weekend.

Those beliefs are just as quickly challenged upon Jimmy’s return home to London’s working class Flatbush district. Jimmy attempts to recapture his ideals in a desperate, pill-headed return to Brighton. The trip is introduced by a genius nod to the Beatles’ Hard Days Night train scene with Jimmy riding first class among the very suits and “third class tickets” he hates. Jimmy arrives only to have his dreams further dashed on the rocks of the Brighton shoreline.

Quadrophenia acts as the ultimate guy movie from the ultimate guy band, but not because of the violence, sex and ass kicking rock and roll. It speaks to most guys, American or British, through its portrayal of the confusion and uncertainty of teenage soul searching. In a time when most guys are struggling hard to project an image furthest from their true self, Quadrophenia asks “Can you see the real me?”

Thinking Makes It So

Imagine a famous painting. For the sake of simplicity, think the “Mona Lisa.” Now consider an artist. Exceedingly talented. Adept with brush and paint. A mastery at manipulating the latter with the former. A steady hand. A keen eye. And she paints, stroke for stroke, brush for brush, what is, visibly, the “Mona Lisa.”

The point of her doing so is not forgery. At least not in the sense of trying to dupe anyone. Rather, she simply has created a version of a masterpiece, a version that even a practiced eye would have a difficult time debunking.

So say you go to a gallery or an art museum in a city you’re visiting. Say San Francisco. And you see what you think is the “Mona Lisa.” As you don’t keep up much with the comings and goings in the art world, you think to yourself, “Hey, the ‘Mona Lisa’ is here at SFMOMA. And there aren’t any crowds.” This scenario, of course, would have to be abetted by a curator. But just take all of this as a given.

Now the question becomes this: Is the reaction that you have to that painting any different than the reaction if you saw the real thing? Assuming that you had no extraneous knowledge of the masterful painting abilities of Jane Doe and her rendering of the DaVinci, presumably whatever reaction that you have would necessarily be the same (perhaps heightened a bit, knowing that you didn’t have to cross the Atlantic and then stand in a long line to see the object under glass).

Let’s switch the mimicry to music. Let’s say there is a band that has thoroughly dedicated itself to performing the music of the Jimi Hendrix Experience such that every lick that Hendrix played is accurate; every throb of the bass is rendered as Noel Redding would; every snap of the snare resonates of Mitch Mitchell.

Let’s further suppose that you didn’t see the performers playing, but actually, in some sort of audio rendering of a Turing Test, the music was piped in to a room where you were sitting. What would your reaction to this imitation be?

Admittedly, the Hendrix example isn’t good inasmuch as everyone pretty much knows that he’s dead. But I use it for a reason. Last month, there was a charity auction held of some of Hendrix’s memorabilia. And as part of promoting the event, a band was performed that played Experience music. And one of the members of that band was Noel Redding. Which led me to start wondering about precisely what it is that makes something authentic. After all, wasn’t Redding part of the Experience? Wouldn’t the audio experience in that case be Experiential?

There are always situations in music wherein performers come and go from any given grouping. Think only of an orchestra: What are the odds that the same people are playing in, say, the Berlin Philharmonic today as did 10 years ago? Long after band leader Glenn Miller died, an orchestra with his name continued to swing. Rock bands tend to be significantly smaller than either of these types of ensembles and so the individuals would seem to have more of an effect on the outcome of the music. What’s more, there seems to be a legal jealousy that exists in rock, where a few band members of a seemingly defunct group go out on a reunion tour with the original name intact. . .until they have to morph it into something similar but different (e.g., “Creedence Clearwater Revisited.”). While this may be seemingly like the calculation of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, what I am trying to figure out is the number of people necessary in a band to make the band continue to be the band. Near as I can tell, no one said The Who was something other after Keith Moon died. Or the Stones after Brian Jones. Would the Grateful Dead have been unalterably changed after Garcia was dead? Is R.E.M. today something less than it was a few years ago. (OK. That’s a bad example.)

But what I am wondering about is the effect of the near-perfect clone, be it visual or aural: What is it that makes the artistic experience? Is it something that we know independent of the painting or song itself that makes it valuable? Without the validation of a name performer is what we see or hear less striking? Does this mean that our reactions are not immediate but actually mediated by information?

Does rock and roll change our lives, or does what we know about it really do the trick?