Tag Archives: The Who

Is It Me, For A Moment?

In a recent issue of AutoWeek (11/19/01), GloNo‘s own sab created a brilliant piece of writing, essaying the Vespa ET4 scooter, which begins, “For all of you Ace Faces who don’t fancy grubbing up your trousers tinkering with a fiddly and ancient Italian scooter, your day has arrived.”

While it might strike some people as log-rolling to give props to one of our own on this site, I should note that (1) I have personally caused sab undoubtedly the most grief vis-à-vis his prose renderings and have no intention of stopping and (2) it seems to me that a “brilliant piece of writing” is something that causes you to be sufficiently gobsmacked so that you are forced—yes forced—to take action as a result of your reading.

And in the case of the Vespa piece, it drove me to pull out Quadrophenia.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the reference (or as sab describes them in the Vespa piece, “Above Average Joe/Jennifer Jobsworth, you who might think Quadrophenia is something you take Zoloft for”), it is the quintessential Who recording. Whereas Tommy has unquestionably greater visibility and acknowledgement (disc, film, and even Broadway stage spectacular), and while it has been uniformly lauded for being the first “rock opera,” Quadrophenia is beyond comparison. (Which could bring us back to the argument about whether a group’s most popular recording is its best, but I won’t trod down that path for now.) Superficially, Quadrophenia is about the Mods, the likes of whom ride scooters (“I ride my GS scooter with my hair cut neat”) , and the Rockers. Townshend identified with the Mods, who tricked out their scooters in a manner analogous to the way that Civics are being tuned in SoCal today.

While listening, again—and again—to Quadrophenia, I began to think about what makes it such a phenomenal piece of work. It has little to do, I think, with the form, with the fact that whereas most groups circa 1973 were turning out recordings that were discrete bits under four minutes and The Who was out there with something that arrived on two black discs that has a story arc. Rather, I think that what Townshend had exactly put his finger on is something that is rarely captured in music, at least semi-popular music: the feeling that many young men (yes, I realize that this is a sexist approach, but I know no women who are as taken with Quadrophenia, so I can only posit this from my point of view) painfully experience, regardless of time and place.

Consider: Pop music about Women + Men + Love tends to equal something wherein (a) everything is wonderful, (b) one of the parties misses the other who may have fallen out of Love with the other, or (c) well, there doesn’t seem to be a (c). In this formula, the parties are equal. But in Quadrophenia, Jimmy realizes that he’s not equal, that there is a longing for a girl:

The girl I love
Is a perfect dresser,
Wears every fashion
Gets it to the tee.
Heavens above,
I got to match her
She knows just how
She wants her man to be
Leave it to me. (“Sea and Sand”)

“She knows just how she wants her man to be,” but it becomes clear that despite his best efforts—

My jacket’s gonna be cut and slim and checked,
Maybe a touch of seersucker, with an open neck.
I ride a G.S. scooter with my hair cut neat,
Wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet. (“I’ve Had Enough”)

—he isn’t going to achieve what he’s looking for. There is always something that isn’t quite right in his attempts, he’s always frustrated. He asks himself,

Why do I have to move with a crowd
Of kids that hardly notice I’m around,
I have to work myself to death just to fit in. (“Cut My Hair”)

Yet note that he is working to fit in. What else can he do? The girl he loves clearly moves in a crowd that he’s not a part of, a crowd where the people are somehow different. He asks,

Where do you get
Those blue blue jeans?
They hold secrets so tight.
Where do you get
That warcoat so neat?
Your shoes and your shirts
All just right. (“I’m One”)

Even though he has his own wartime coat, one that he was undoubtedly proud of when he got it, he recognizes that it somehow doesn’t measure up. He knows that his jeans aren’t quite what they should be, especially as the girl he loves “Is a perfect dresser.” And who among us hasn’t had this experience, this personal questioning, at a dance when we were in our teens:

So how come the other tickets look much better?
Without a penny to spend they dress to the letter.
How come the girls come on oh so cool
Yet when you meet ’em, every one’s a fool? (“Sea and Sand”)

Somehow it is the other guys who have been able to pull it off. Somehow the other girls—well, given their rejection, we can only be dismissive of them in order to hold onto a shred of our own ego. “They are stupid, not worth it,” we tell ourselves. Otherwise, we have doubts. . .

I’m dressed right for a beach fight,
But I just can’t explain
Why that uncertain feeling is still
Here in my brain. (“Cut My Hair”)

…we have that “uncertain feeling.” He asks, “Why should I care, why should I care?” and he knows, as we all did, that it goes back to the unrequited love. We dress up. We act the part. We drive the scooter. We act tough. We do what we think will make the different. Yet often,

Here by the sea and sand
Nothing ever goes as planned (“Sea and Sand”)

I can remember clearly when Quadrophenia first came out. I was in my first year of college. And I think my behavior, actions, attitudes were not far away from these. I still see Her every now and then. None of it worked. And I am better for that.

How can rock and roll change your life? I don’t exactly know, but I do know that as I listen to Quadrophenia, sometimes a knowing chill runs down my spine.

Thanks for making me listen again, sab.

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?