On a winter night in 1980 I was supposed to meet a friend of mine in Seattle. We were going to the Guild 45th, an art house in Seattle to see the movie release of Quadrophenia, the movie inspired by the Who’s classic 1973 two LP rock opera.
Unfortunately, I never made it. My car broke down in the wind and rain just south of the Mercer St. exit in rush hour traffic. The only person I got to see was a Washington State Patrolman, a tow truck driver, and my poor wife who had to drive up to Seattle from Tacoma and shuffle my sorry, disappointed ass back home. In the days before cell phones, I couldn’t reach my friend, so he waited for me at the theater ticking off one more black mark against me and my lack of responsibility.
1980 was a big year. My son was born. I became a claims adjuster for a local insurance company. The Who toured in support of Who Are You, and I took my wife to see them at the Seattle Center Coliseum.
I was a confirmed Who fanatic in those days. My college roomie introduced me to the Who. I loved Roger Daltrey, and believed there was no smarter songwriter than Pete Townsend. I bought nearly all of their records, and even acquired an original pressing of The Who Sell Out in a trade. But my favorites were Who’s Next (naturally) and Quadrophenia. I still have my well-played 1977 repressing of that record. It is one of my treasures.
I loved the story of Jimmy the Mod, the central character in Quadrophenia, and his journey through the alienation of London working class youth and the Mod movement in 1964 to understanding and inner peace. It’s packed with great songs: “The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “Sea and Sand” and “Love Reign O’er Me.” I could never understand why Tommy got all the fanfare and Quadrophenia was known by so few folks in 1980. It seemed to me the much better record, despite the pretty shabby production on the early pressings.
Last night, a Friday, I was waiting for Lorri to get home, stuck in rush hour traffic as usual, and I perused the channel guide. KBTC, the public television station in Tacoma, was hosting “Classic Quadrophenia,” an adaptation of the record to classical orchestra, with British tenor Alfie Boe as Jimmy. I was intrigued but a little skeptical. I’d heard a NPR interview with Boe and Townsend about the project about a year ago. I had a hard time envisioning the music without the ragged brilliance of Daltrey. But here it was, free on a Friday night and I had nothing else on the docket so I gave it a whirl.
I was impressed. Boe has a magnificent voice-trained, operatic, without Daltrey’s edges, and he was vocally stupendous. He was joined on stage by Townsend himself, playing the part of the godfather in “The Punk vs. the Godfather.” The edge was supplied by a refreshed and healthy looking Billy Idol, and the original movie Jimmy, Phil Daniels. Backed throughout by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and London’s Oriana Choir, there is little question this stage production had considerable musical depth it was impossible to provide on the original record or the movie.
Though this was not a stage version of the movie, Boe is still a big healthy, younger guy, with a gigantic voice who easily outshone Townsend and Idol. He took the songs and made them his own. His performance was classical, polished and his interpretation was very good. Is that good? I dunno. It’s not bad. The Guardian review seemed to think so. But don’t be swayed. You’re watching from the safety of your home. DVR it and watch while you’re folding the laundry. Make up your own mind. Even so it’s hard for an old guy like me to let go of the music I love, and I missed Daltrey’s emotional raging on songs like “Love Reign O’er Me.”
If you are a Who person, and your public television offers the opportunity to catch this, it’s definitely worth a look, despite the many, inevitable pledge breaks. It was up against the misbegotten “Country Boy” about John Denver on KCTS–saw it, it’s predictably ridiculously horrible. Skip that and catch Classic Quadrophenia, go listen to your vinyl version, watch the movie. If you haven’t you’re missing out on some great, great music.