Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Legacy of The Who's Quadrophenia

I want to die before I get old.
Pete Townshend, My Generation

Being a second generation Mod, I would be lying if I said that the Who's Quadrophenia hasn't had a profound effect on me. As a teenager in the 80s, the album as much as the movie, spoke to me. Jimmy WAS me.  I could certainly relate to him feeling excluded and ostracized. Try being a French Canadian Mod living in Quebec, surrounded by kids that didn't have a clue what Mod is all about.  See how misunderstood you might feel at 16 being into a British subculture living in a French community.

Can you see the real me? There I am, to the left of Dave.

Now well into my adulthood, I hope that I have gained some wisdom and dare I say, a bit of maturity. But the whole Mod thing has never left me. And my goal with this blog has always been to present facets of a grown up Jimmy Cooper. For one, I would rather wear a nice crombie then wear a parka covered in patches and pins. Being dressed casually and showing my adherence to a clan has been replaced by a desire to forge a strong sense of individual style and class. In other words, to always strive for the best.

My taste in music has also evolved. I'm more interested in finding vinyl records of original artists on defunct record labels then the British bands that covered them.

This brings me back to Quadrophenia. I sort of have a love/hate relationship with the music and the movie. (Makes sense, the album is all about having a split personality) On one hand, its one of the main reasons why I got into the movement. On the other hand, I hate the fact that Mods are depicted as violent drug addicts who wield deck chairs at rockers any chance they got. Yeah, that's right. I'll say it. Mods are NOT fighters. You look silly when you fight in a suit! Blood stains are a bitch to get off mohair. 

Picture taken while on a trip to Brighton in 2009.

Lets talk about the music. I love the album but lets face it, it's not Mod music. It's a Rock opera! I'm not suppose to like this! It's not because you have lyrics like these that it instantly makes it Mod music.

My jacket's gonna be cut slim and checked
Maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck
I ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet.

It doesn't matter. It remains one of my favourite albums of all time. Oh brother... This is why I've dreaded writing this piece for the past two years.

But after last week, it was hard for me to put off writing this post any further. That's because The Who was in town! In 1997, The Who came to Montreal to do Quadrophenia. I was in the midst of leaving for a cross-North America summer-long trip on a Lambretta GP200. My riding parter Dennis, who was from Vancouver and hadn't seen his wife in 6 months, wanted us to leave as soon as I finished the school year as a teacher. That meant leaving just a couple of days before The Who concert. I've regretted it ever since.

So this moment was 15 years in the making. Would it live up to my expectations? Well, it did. It was a "20+ chills" concert.  Everything was there. Daltrey's voice was strong (except maybe for one song). Townshend's windmill action produced a nice little breeze and the Mod imagery was everywhere. 

A weird cocktail of different emotions made an appearance during the show: melancholy, nostalgia, excitement, exhilaration. Just the way I like it.

Aside from a few scooter problems getting to the venue, it was a perfect evening. The best part was probably meeting up with fellow Mods before and after the concert. I'm glad to report that no fights broke out between the Mods and the Rockers after the show. That's a good thing since we were less then 10 and they were 20 000.


  1. Oh dear,I have seen that Quadrophenia musical in Brighton. It was dreadful. They made it look like Saturday Night Fever, but in vaguely 60's - looking clothes which were probably bought in the fancy dress shop.

    But I guess a purist would say the same about the film.

    1. I've never been a fan of musicals in general so I can just imagine how I would feel if I saw it. I haven't seen Tommy on Broadway and probably never will.

      I'm glad you hinted at how inaccurate a lot of the movie is. (I'll probably do post on that soon) That's why, for me at least, it was only the starting point of a long quest to know more about Mod culture.

  2. You totally hit it! I also have mixed feelings on the film (not the original record, which I love) which is why it's taken me so long to get my thoughts down on it. Like you, I related to the Jimmy character a lot as an angsty teen. But seeing it 10 years later, really changed my perspective on the film in general. Didn't care for it! Now, 10 years after that, I've been stalling on watching our Blu-Ray of it, because I want to see it with a clear mind for an honest review. (Looking forward to the live show though!)

    1. I have a confession to make Carlos. I re-read your post about the album while writing this one.

      I urge everybody to check out Mod Male's perspective here:

  3. Good article Patrick. I think it's important to be honest with yourself about these things. No one got into this wearing tailored mohair trousers, listening to Modern Jazz and reading Satre. Everyone has to start somewhere. The important thing for me, is that you don't become stuck in a rut. I started out listening to the Jam and then the revival bands and wearing an ugly green coat. Now I am continually finding new,( to me),Boogaloo, Jazz, Soul, R&B, Ska, Rocksteady, Blues, that I have little inclination to explore other more recent muscical types. I think that with a knowledge and appreciation of such fantastic music that you can look back on music such as Quadrophenia and the revival bands, with a more comprehensive critical view. Personally, most of the revival bands have not aged well and don't transcend the time they were made. Quadrophenia on the other hand, is probably the Who's best album and the only Rock Opera that works. Is it Mod music? Probably not, but it is music about mods and teenage angst and alienation and transition into adulthood. In that sense it does work and still evokes different emotions on the odd occasion that I play it. As a piece of art I think it has stood the test of time and for that reason alone it is worth a critical reappraisal. Take care, Ozy Pete.

  4. Patrick,

    You are spot on. I grew up in a rather small college town in the heart of the United States and I can say the ONLY way I got into the Mod scene was through Quadrophenia. I feel no shame to admit it because it is part of MY story. With that said, my influences and tastes in the subculture has matured over the years, but I will always have soft spot for the album and the film.

  5. Hi Patrick!
    Erich here, it's been awhile.. Seeing The Who December 2nd in Nashville, pretty excited and busting out the M-51. Lol At least you had twenty, I'm sure I'll be the only Mod here. I'll give you an after actions review.

    1. Hi Patrick!
      Erich here, thought The Who sounded great! Was impressed, it was all and more than I expected. They played for over two hours! Pretty amazing for men near 70. The imagery was great too! Had seats on the main floor and thought the price was well worth it. You could tell that they really enjoyed playing and weren't just going thru the motions like a lot of older acts that do 45 minutes to an hour.. Etc.
      Saw one Mod a couple of parkas floating around and a decent amount of Skins. The rest of the crowd was a mix of people spanning 60 year olds to young people. It's been a long time since I'd been to a stadium show. I prefer smaller clubs to see bands but that sure wasn't going to happen with The Who so I'm happy I got to experience them. Things are much more reserved now than in the 70's/80's. Lol It's much more about just enjoying listening to the
      band and behaving. I like The Who's other
      music besides Quadrophenia and was really
      happy they played that stuff too.

  6. Great piece as always Patrick! I too have a love/hate relationship with the film/LP (more so with the film). I passed on The Who's "Quad" tour because, well plunking down $300+ for tickets for my wife and I in some stadium just wasn't sitting well. I spent the money on The Action book "In The Lap of the Mods" instead.