Saturday, December 3, 2011

No. 915 – Is It in My Head

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Quadrophenia
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: None

I was going to write about discovering Quadrophenia, but I can do that another time. Instead, I want to write about something relevant that happened the other day.

Laurie and I were out for dinner at the most excellent Duke of Perth—all you can eat (a lot for me) of the world’s best fish and chips on Fridays—with her oldest friend, Janet, and her friend’s husband, Cliff, who’s from England. I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, but I said that my favorite album of all time was Quadrophenia.

Based on their reaction, you might have thought I just announced that John Wayne Gacy got a raw deal. (He’s been in the news up here lately.) They thought Quadrophenia’s story was dated, and Cliff asked, “How can you like it; it’s about Mods and Rockers in England?” He thought it was too specific to have reached an American who grew up in the 1980s.

To me, saying Quadrophenia is about Mods and Rockers is a little like saying Moby Dick is about 19th Century New England whalers. Sure, the literal storyline to Quadrophenia is about English youth and the riots at Brighton Beach in 1964 and all that, but take a step back and look at the forest for a second. The larger themes of isolation and alienation, of desperately trying—and failing—to fit in with a group, working crap jobs for no pay, wondering what the heck the future holds are universal teen-age concepts. Eddie Vedder has said numerous times that Quadrophenia is his favorite album, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

Actually, it wouldn’t make any difference; it’s good enough for me, period. All art is just about the perception and the experience that you bring to it when you encounter it. Laurie’s friends are a little bit older than I am, and that might have something to do with their failure to connect with the material the way I did. Perhaps Cliff, growing up in England, was too close to the actual events themselves. Whatever, everyone’s experience—and therefore perception—is unique. They said their favorite Who albums were Tommy and Who’s Next. I can’t argue with that.

Full disclosure: I tried twice—and failed twice—to read Moby Dick. I couldn’t connect with it. Maybe I will try again at some point. But in the meantime, I know that it’s about more than just whaling.

And no one will be able to convince me that Quadrophenia is anything less than brilliant.

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