Introduction by Brian Cady
I was sixteen and had been a Who fan for about a year when the Quadrophenia
album came out. It seemed huge, gray and heavy with its two records and
black-and-white photo album. Remember this was when rock music was all
bright colors and glitter. Ziggy Stardust was still Lord of Britain even
after his recent abdication and in the States it was Alice Cooper and his
Billion Dollar Babies. So this bleak cover stood out in that day-glo era.
This was not just another rock record.
Every page of the booklet seemed an affront to pop showmanship. Who spends
all this money to make a booklet of pictures of a kid hauling trash and a
plate of half-eaten eggs? If the booklet was harsh and spare, the music was
something else entirely. No Tommy thinness here. This was rich, layered
rock both in sound and words. Plot songs were gone as The Who dove headlong
into the mind of this angry, hurting teen.
At the time The Who were rightly concerned about whether Americans would
understand the subtext. I was given a head start on the meaning of Mods by
Gary Herman's recently published book titled The Who. But even without it,
I doubt many teenagers anywhere in the world had trouble understanding
Jimmy. His obsession with seersucker suits might seem a little strange but
what teenager hasn't been the lonely kid in his room ("I'm One"), angry at
the injustice of the world ("Helpless Dancer"), left behind by the in crowd
("Cut My Hair"), searching for a way out of the pain of growing up ("Love
Reign O'er Me").
The generation that had grown up with The Who were uncomfortable with
Quadrophenia. It was too daring, too complex. Where was the master crafter
of pop ditties in this gigantic work? There was no Happy Jack, only lonely,
crazy Jimmy. But Quadrophenia took hold of The Who's new young fans, those
who were just then old enough to go to rock concerts. Here was a work made
for them. No pop-silliness to while away the time, no empty-headed power
chords to get drunk to. These were songs that cut to the core of what you
were. Songs like "The Real Me" and "Dr. Jimmy" understood how deep the pain
went and how dangerous you could get if the pressure didn't let up soon.
And at the end there was a way out. A hope for your future. Maybe you
could grow up and be a wiser person.
It took time for everyone to realize what this work meant, even The Who.
Designed to replace Tommy on stage, it turned out too technically
challenging for The Who to perform live. Even if the backing tapes worked,
they were locked into playing the songs the same way every night, killing
any chance of letting the songs grow into new meanings as Tommy's had.
AndPete and Roger were so concerned that the audience might not understand
every little nuance of Mod culture that Quadrophenia turned into half rock
show/half lecture. Bootlegs of those live shows disguise the fact that Pete
and Roger's explanations were rarely understandable beyond the first few
rows. Up in the cavernous regions of the arenas The Who now had to play,
kids would pass joints while someone in the band droned on unintelligibly.
Why don't they just shut up and play?
After that disaster, The Who abandoned Quadrophenia for years. Written off
as a failure and disliked by the old Who fans who bombarded Pete with their
opinions, Quadrophenia seemed best forgotten. But underneath it all word
spread. And that familiar gray cover popped up in many a teenager's
bedroom, played over and over at top volume, making a sonic wall between the
listener and the world that didn't understand. Didn't understand except for
this one rock band from England.