So Quadrophenia was screened on BBC4 on Friday. It’s nearly 33 years since its release but I still love that film (even with its well-known chronological / continuity errors!) I saw it soon after it came out, at the local Odeon, which just happened to be a five minute walk from my college. It immediately attracted the attention of some of us who’d just started on the Art Foundation course. Terry, a kind and unassuming mod, was very excited, and suggested that we skive off one afternoon to catch it, so a little gaggle of us did just that. There was Ivor, the Sid Vicious lookalike (except that he had curly hair – the bane of his life) and his soul-boy mate Jake (white socks), my fellow punk friends Jill (slightly Siouxsie-ish) and Andy (chided for wearing 'Jam' shoes with bondage trousers), parka-clad Terry, and me (spiky peroxide-white hair). Being a midweek matinée the cinema was nearly empty and we spread ourselves over two seats each, right in the middle. Munching on bumper packs of Opal Fruits and Butterkist, we lapped up the gritty tale of a troubled young mod from ‘60s London and his cohorts, as they battled through a lot more than just the obvious conflicts with their nemesis rockers, to a vibrant, evocative soundtrack. For a start it was a much better way to spend time than designing a label for a box of dog biscuits (to a soundtrack of marker pens squeaking on paper), but, more than that, for us teenage viewers it had it ALL. Music, parties, youth tribes, aggro, sex, drugs, unsympathetic parents, disillusionment, misunderstanding, fashion, anger…
Like Quadrophenia’s central character, Jimmy, there were some lost souls in my local punk scene too. Jimmy could have been pink-haired Allie, whom I remember admiringly for being one of the first to buy proper Crazy Colour from London (while the rest of us were still using food colouring). Being a punk meant everything to him but he had that unsettled edge, as if constantly seeking something he was never going to find. The last time I heard of him, an unhappy home life and hard drugs had taken their toll and he’d ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I hope he recovered, and didn’t take a trip to Beachy Head.
In Quadrophenia, Jimmy did take a trip to Beachy Head on The Ace's stolen scooter - and my college friends and I couldn’t quite figure out if he’d intended to go over the edge with it as well. Still, we enjoyed the whole film. Terry particularly loved the soundtrack, the scooters and the clothes, of course. Jill, Andy, Ivor and me were quite chuffed to see Toyah – she was still a bit of a punk figure largely from her ‘Jubilee’movie appearance – and I think Jake was quite happy just to see Lesley Ash being shagged in an alleyway. But the main thing was its relatability, in spite of its retro theme. At that time I didn’t really care about the past and had little interest in music or fashion from another era. I would have turned my naïve and snotty punk nose up at a Who single (I know...) - yet I liked some of what I’d heard by mod revival bands because they were contemporary. Daft as it sounds now, ‘Mod’ to me then only meant 1979 Mod ! Some months before seeing Quadrophenia, my local gig venue had put on an all day mod event...
Wonder what the prize was for the 'best decorated parka'..?
Punks and mods had mingled relatively easily there – just as we did at college too - because for the main part we felt some kind of allegiance. A mutual liking for the Jam probably helped us to cross those boundaries too. Any rivarly between us was generally confined to light-hearted ribbing. Some elements of our look were shared, like short hair, straight trousers and multiple badges, and separated both tribes equally from hippies, teds, skinheads and disco kids. I guess we had a joint feeling of being in the margins through our own choosing. Our parents laughed at the records we bought... "is that how you're supposed to play a guitar now, then?" ...and couldn’t understand our sartorial obsessions... "I suppose they wear wet jeans'n'all?". Kids got beaten up for the way they dressed and teenage dreams were shattered by adult reality. Of course Quadrophenia acknowledged all of that. It couldn’t have been a better time for me to see it.
When some other friends said they wanted to go to the pictures just a week later, I was happy to join them and watch it all over again. And I watched it again last Friday night, all these years on. Even from this distance and with some very different priorities and cares, I recognised a lot of those teenage feelings once more.
A little bit of inspiration for the Who from Slim Harpo