PERMANENT RECORDS: NOTHING IS PLANNED BY THE SEA AND THE SAND
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
This endeavor is based on a concept started by Chris Tamarri at Crisis/Boring Change. Chris has also covered the Who here.
44. THE WHO - QUADROPHENIA (1973)
Personnel: Roger Daltrey, lead vocals; John Entwistle, bass, horns, vocals; Keith Moon, percussion, vocals; Pete Townshend, remainder [actual sleeve credits]
Producer: The Who /Label: MCA
"Well, the music that I write, it's just in my imagination. It's not coming from anywhere else. And into that imagination, it's filled with experience and your own ideas, and it's made up of personal experience and the music that you absorb from the curiosity that you have. People always talk about influences in a very heavy-handed way, but I just think you've absorbed a lot of music if you've lived a little bit of time and you kept listening. Some people are satisfied with a small range of music that they hear up to a certain point and stop listening, but I've listened with great interest to lots of different threads of music. I don't see one kind of music as better than another, it's just different, it's a different time in your life, a different mood you were in. Music wasn't invented the year I was born, even though rock 'n' roll, the official anniversary of rock 'n' roll is 1954--to my mind there were rock 'n' roll records before that. There's so many hundreds of years of great music you can learn from." - Elvis Costello (b. August 5, 1954), speaking on "Austin City Limits" in 2004, promoting The Delivery Man
It's hard to say where I'd be without Quadrophenia. What would have happened had I never discovered it? No one pointed me to that album, no one urged me to buy it. I discovered the Who in 1989, thanks to the much-publicized 20th anniversary tour of Tommy and a greatest hits tape that belonged to my girlfriend's mother. I used to play that tape as a ritual every time I baked my girlfriend her favorite chocolate chip cookies--big cookies the size of your hand. I also used to bake them with my pants around my ankles, but that's a tangent best left for my therapist and me.
I would have been sixteen or seventeen in all of this, a junior and a senior in high school. I lived in Quartz Hill, a small town sandwiched between two slightly bigger towns that were anchored to an air force base a little over an hour's drive from Los Angeles. It was a dismal area plopped down in the Mojave Desert. We were situated close enough to better parts of Southern California to smell the excitement that our existence was lacking, yet far enough away that it wasn't that easy for kids our age to get there on a regular basis. Most of our record stores were chains, though there was one that catered to an older rock crowd and one other that was set up by an aging punk who wanted to reach the kids in black who were searching for something else. And that's what the store was called: Something Else Records. I'd spend hours in there, silently looking through the same small bins over and over, unable to decide how to spend my money. I could only buy maybe one record a week on what I was earning at whatever of the various part-time jobs I had as a teenager, and I had to make it count.
Something Else had a copy of Quadrophenia on vinyl--double album, gatefold sleeve. I stared at it often, intrigued by its cover image: a boy in a parka on a scooter, his four side mirrors reflecting the faces of the members of the Who. The boy's back was to the camera, and so he was looking at something we couldn't see, and his face was also a mystery. He could be any of the four band members (or as it turned out, all of them), or he could be symbolic of the person holding the record. It was anybody's guess. I wouldn't have known what a mod was yet, and so it seemed like an odd choice for Something Else to have in their bin. This was older music, from before punk. I didn't yet understand the lineage. "Mods" were an abstract idea, a group of people I only knew of from the time my sister saw a Beat video and declared that she hated mods. It made me always want to know what they were--if she hated them, they must've been cool--but at the time I was elsewhere stylistically, wearing the simple uniform of all black all the time, to reflect on the outside how I felt on the inside.
Eventually, though, I gave in and bought this record that had been calling to me. It was brand new, still sealed, so it was probably a decent penny to drop, but I did it. Years later I would discover that whatever reissue this was, it didn't come with the thick booklet that the original release had, and so I would liberate said booklet from a Portland used shop by sliding a copy from one of their Quadrophenia records into whatever album I was actually buying. Which you should never do, kids. Stealing is wrong!
My guess is that Quadrophenia didn't blow my mind completely on first listen. If it did, it was such an intense experience, it wiped itself from my memory, the way I'd forget the intense pain if I became the character from the album cover and crashed my scooter, sending my body skidding across the concrete. Some things are just too much for our fragile consciousness to handle, and so our mind gets rid of it on our behalf.
No, I think Quadrophenia was something I had to work at. It's a concept album, the story of Jimmy, the cover star. The musical narrative is of his rite of passage, his struggle for identity. He's trying to be part of a scene, trying to get by with his jobs and his parents, trying to avoid a crushing life of banality--and it's pulling him every which way to the point that he feels like he is more than one person. Four, in fact. As Jimmy declares in the monologue printed in the sleeve, "Schizophrenic? I'm Bleeding Quadrophrenic." Later, of course, I would discover that the four aspects of Jimmy's personality were written to reflect those of the members of the Who, but just as one might interpret the cover photo as being devoid of a face so that the audience could insert itself into the role, so could one listen to the album as if he were listening to his own life story.
It wasn't Jimmy. It was Jamie.
Errr...what are you stirring that dough with?
Repeated listens opened the record up to me more and more until it became a part of my vocabulary, almost like it was already encoded in my DNA and the songs were individual fuses that had to be plugged in so I could power up. Quadrophenia could have been my long lost twin brother. We were born a year apart, but our gestation period would have been similar. Whatever fractured zeitgeist informed the creation of a soon-to-be confused young man in 1972 was also working its way through Pete Townshend's pen.
Granted, the stories of initiation, of an individual passing through adolescence and into adulthood aren't necessarily that special or unique. Boil them down so that just the bones remain, and the personality crises are pretty much the same. Holden Caulfield and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause will never lose their immediacy because sensitive lads will always chafe at phonies and find themselves lost in a world where they just don't seem to fit. This is what art is almost exclusively about: the search for our place. Even love songs and romance novels are about trying to find somewhere to belong, they just happen to focus on our need to find that with another person.
Within the grooves of Quadrophenia, as with so many of the records that became important to me over the years, I found a place where I fit, the puzzle where I was the piece that was missing.
Possibly more important than the impact it had on my personal life, though, is the impact it had on my creative life (if, indeed, the two can be separated). I had already written the first two scripts for my first ever trilogy about three brothers, a graphic novel series called Lords of Order. The first one was about Antonio Flores, a telepath/telekinetic who ends up being gathered into a strange array of kids from his school who have mental powers. In the end, he discovers that they have all been manipulated from afar by an evil psionic who was planning to use them for his own selfish ends. Tony has been acting rashly because someone has been monkeying with his head, and he wants his mind back. He dies in the end, as does his younger brother in the sequel, as would the youngest in the third, which was never written. I was a dark and brooding kid, to be sure, but Lords of Order is a signpost in my early ambition. It smooshes together a lot of my influences, aping the X-Men and the anime series Megazone 23. I would write it cinematically, pacing sequences to song lyrics. Somewhere I probably still have the full thumbnails for it. In college, I would convert it into an equally awful screenplay, where for the first time I would start to work in Quadrophenia.
From the credits sequence, where we see into the bizarre visions another of the characters is suffering from:
...the skull sits alone, floating on a black sea. A female child whispers "BREAK." The skull comes apart and the pieces spin around in a circle, forming a cone, and then they melt to the bottom of the screen, where they ignite into fire. Behind the fire, a heart appears, very faint, and then disappears -- a lost Valentine. The Who sings "Is it in my head?" three times as the fire burns and grows into the light webs, going backward, orange, yellow, green...
The Who sings "Is it in my head?" three times as the fire burns and grows into the light webs, going backward, orange, yellow, green...
This project would last several years before fizzling out, surviving the first aborted novel I started in 11th grade, but eventually being killed off by my second novel--and the first I'd finish and publish--Cut My Hair. No longer would Quadrophenia be in the backseat, it would be up front now, the main influence. "Cut My Hair" is track four on the album, and my favorite (too bad it's not track tree, in keeping with my triplicate patterns), its one line, "I've got to move with the fashions/ or be outcast"--which I had originally misheard as "I've got to move with the fashion of the outcast"--being the main inspiration for the entire story. Mason would stand in for Jimmy, but instead of being loud and brash, he'd be quiet and shy, a thinker. I would quote another Quadrophenia track, "I'm One," at the front of the book to state my existential intent. Jimmy wonders, "Can you see the real me?" while all of Mason's friends are the ones who can see in him what he can never see in himself. Little details would be borrowed from the songs, most notably, most specifically, most obscurely Laine's yellow house. The song "The Real Me" has the lyric: "The girl I used to love/ Lives in this yellow house." Not every lift was entirely intentional, because it was too natural to be overly planned. Like I said, this stuff was in me, "The cracks between the paving stones/ Like rivers of flowing veins."
Now when I listen to Quadrophenia, my own fictional narrative is tied up in Pete Townshend's fictional narrative, and the parts of it that he borrowed from his own biography are tangled with the things I borrowed from mine. And yet, as well as I know the album, there are still things about the whole Quadrophenia experience that I have yet to learn. Last year, Daltrey and Townshend released the DVD The Who: Tommy & Quadrophenia Live, a double disc set. The first disc is the Tommy show that was broadcast back in 1989, when it cemented my relationship with the band; the second is from the Quadrophenia 25th anniversary tour in 1998, the first time I saw the Who in concert. How could I ever have imagined that I would not only get to see this band, but performing my favorite of their albums in its entirety? I watched the DVD and felt the same excitement I experienced at Portland's Rose Garden eight years prior. Then I watched it again with the audio commentary, and as Townshend summed up the whole project at the end, I felt like he was explaining Cut My Hair to me in terms far more insightful than I ever could myself. His songs have not only influenced my work, but they've made me understand that work--and once again, myself.
Which is the important thing to understand if you think I've been telling you very little about Quadrophenia the record, and instead I've just been talking about myself. To know one is to know the other. Inextricably.
As a final act of humiliation, since we have been combing over the past and old writing, I will leave you with one other nugget, dated 2/13/90, the day before Valentine's Day my senior year in high school, obviously written after a few too many spins of the final track on Quadrophenia, "Love, Reign O'er Me":
I walk the shore of the beach I remember how you were sleeping I think I could live here A seagull lives free. Only love.
With reservations about returning home
The water touches my feet with delicacy
And the winter is cold.
And it stirred something within me.
I kissed your eyelids before I left.
You didn't know. You were asleep.
Give me a cardboard box
Maybe a blanket
And I think I could enjoy it here.
Nothing's the same on the beach
It's more crushing, it's weightier.
It takes on the heaviness of all
The grains of sand
And it oppresses your chest
And, Jesus Christ, I should have lifted
Your sleeping body
In my arms
And brought you with me
--But you wouldn't have wanted to be here.
No, it doesn't.
It's chained to the sea.
I'd wish I was a seagull
--But you know what?--
I think I already am.
I remember how you were sleeping
I think I could live here
A seagull lives free.
Reminder: As always, this post is full of links to Amazon. Click on any one of them when shopping, and Amazon will shave a few pennies off their take to give to me. So, if my reviews make you all hot and bothered and you just have to own one of the things I'm talking about, use my link and contribute to buying me more stuff to review. (Those reading a Live Journal feed will likely have to click to the actual blog page first before heading over to Amazon, though.) Either way, thanks for reading.
Current Soundtrack: The Concretes, In Colour
Current Mood: peaceful
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich