Rock & roll!" cried one lone voice, as Peter Townshend continued to explain where the upcoming song fit in his latest rock opera.
The Dallas Convention Center Arena is like the inside of a UFO, perfectly circular with concentric rings of lights in the ceiling. Down on the stage beneath 144 colored spotlights the Who were walking the tightrope of their first tour in two years, trying to put across songs from their first album in as long. After their US debut in San Francisco they'd decided the selections from Quadrophenia needed a bit of plot synopsis. The surprising thing is that only one cry of "Rock & roll!" split the air, to say nothing of the possible "Boogie!," "Party!" or "Get it on!" Because the story of Quadrophenia is not the fairytale triumph of a trebly-handicapped teenage guru.
"It's about growing up," Townshend explains. "At the end of the album the hero is in danger of maturing."
Maturity! Surely, some have theorized, rock & roll is about evading adulthood. Your classic rock star, though his face grow lined and his hair thin, continues to swagger out his teenage images of foot-loose cowboy, ghetto punk, or these days even pre-adolescent Peter Pan.
And only one voice shouted "Rock & roll!" Ten thousand college and high-school age Texans crowded the sold-out Arena November 25th to watch four men in their late 20s, including a singer and guitarist who are bywords for athleticism, perform powerful crashing music about . . . events in 1965, and their own possibly misspent youth.
Spooky, is the way Peter Townshend characterized the tour as of Philadelphia, nine days and six performances later.
"We've been getting differing audiences – differing like the reviews of Quadrophenia. Some don't respond to it. It doesn't have a resolved theme, a logical conclusion, and it's tough to expect an audience to go away . . . unsatiated.
"Quadrophenia has been getting blamed for our troubles this tour, but I don't think that anymore. I think the audience has changed. We've been so self-involved the last two years we've missed, I think for the first time, the changed experience of the audience. It wasn't till we got here to the US that we found out such acts as Alice Cooper have not only come but gone. Audiences seem more demanding, more skeptical, more level-headed – less likely to accept myths. There was a time when an audience would come to a concert and be satisfied with the myth of the Who, while we could be doing fuck-all in the way of music.
"We won't necessarily be going home unhappy, though there have been emotional outbursts among us that reflect a sense of dissatisfaction. The trouble is, we still want as much, maybe even more, out of a performance as the audience does. We want that direct connection to the audience. We'll be working more and getting into line next year."
Townshend's characteristically unsparing self-analysis refused to give the Who points for having survived the various hassles of this tour: Keith Moon's collapse onstage during the US debut, the theft of $30,000 of sound equipment in Los Angeles, seven hours in a Montreal jail following an amicable bit of room destruction, and a doctor's warning to Roger Daltrey of possible cancer of the vocal cords. And in fact audiences were not going away grumbling. Los Angeles, Chicago and Montreal had made extravagant demands for encores, and in some cities encores had been turned down for the sake of Daltrey's vocal cords.
But it was the tenth year of the Who, longest-lived of all British rock bands, and a time for ghosts. Spooky.
The story of Quadrophenia has become better known by now: A frustrated Mod kid, circa 1965, doesn't understand why his parents and his psychiatrist think he's crazy, he's not fully accepted by the Mod circle he moves in, and when it comes to it he can't even make a successful job of committing suicide. He isn't simply schizophrenic, he's got four personalities, each of which Townshend will explain (perhaps a little too neatly) as a reflection of the four members of the Who – and components of the personality of the rock generation.
"Jimmy – the name is a little joke," said Townshend with a quick smile, "I'm thinking of calling my next hero Bobby – Jimmy has made a sort of mistake in labeling, you see. He feels a failure because he thinks these Ace Faces, these Mods he admired who were the best dancers and fighters, had the bike, the birds, the most up-to-the-minute clothes, were really demi-gods because they had the things he wished he had. The exact kind of bike a fashionable Mod had to have, for instance, cost £300 and it took a working class kid a hell of a long time to scrape that lot together. But actually the people he was admiring weren't guys who were his own age who were better than him, they were a few years older and more experienced.
"He's a little late in the game. In a sense he's a failed Mod, because he's made the ultimate Mod mistake, bad timing. This is 1965 and the Mod scene is already falling apart – and what does he do but go to Brighton just to remember. The crazy days when 300,000 Mod kids from London descended on that little beach town were only three weeks ago, but already he's living on his past. And he meets an old Ace Face who's nowa bellhop, at the very hotel the Mods tore up. And he looks on Jimmy with a mixture of pity and contempt, really, and tells him, in effect, 'Look, my job is shit and my life is a tragedy. But you – look at you, you're dead.'
"'Dr. Jimmy' was meant to be a song which somehow gets across the explosive, abandoned wildness side of his character. Like a bull run amok in a china shop. He's damaging himself so badly so that he can get to the point where he's so desperate that he'll take a closer look at himself. All he knows is that things aren't right in the world and he blames everything else. And it's getting in a boat, going out to sea and sitting on a rock waiting for the waves to knock him off that makes him review himself. He ends up with the sum total of frustrated toughness, romanticism, religion, daredevil – desperation, but a starting point for anybody. He goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it's over and he goes back to town he'll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he's moved up a level. He's weak still, but there's a strength in that weakness. He's in danger of maturing."
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