Zoo World -

Townshend Explains Quadrophenia by Pete Townshend

The first thing is, and probably the most important, is that it took a little bit longer than we thought it was going to, it took a little bit longer to write, it took a little bit longer to record and finally it takes quite a long time to talk about, so all get comfy.

 

The story is really very simple, it's probably the simplest story that you could ever come across. It's about one kid, and the kid is a sort of 1965, 1965 mod, the type you would have seen in your average Who audience, dancing the dances that used to be around then, the heel clicking dances, and everything that used to happen. Well, basically, in the writing of the thing, I tried to make the kid representative of his whole generation, and characteristically I've written the group in with major roles. The kid suffers from a rather curious form of mental atrophy, known as quadrophenia, which is rather than schizophrenia, he is, his motivations are four-way, and that's so that I could get all the group in. If he was schizophrenic, I'd only get two of the band in, you see, and it's not good like that, because you get arguments, and fights backstage, and all kinds of nonsense, so he's quadrophenic.

 

This might be a little bit the way we all were, or maybe still are, split four ways. One part of us very tough, and very determined, very ruthless, and that part is played by Roger. And one part very romantic and sort of, soft, I mean the fact that people who've taken a thousand LSD trips and still go to a film like 'Love Story' and cry their eyes out, that sort of situation, that surprisingly enough, that role is played by John Entwistle. When I say 'played' I must make this clear, what happens is, as in Tommy, we don't have people singing specific roles, because Roger's the singer and that's what he does best so Roger does most of the singing, but the actual basis from which I've written has been drawing the parts of the boy's characters from the characters I know so well of the guys in the band. The third facet of the boy's character is the insane, devil-may-care sort of I'll-take-anything, I'll-do-anything, I'll-go-anywhere sort of attitude, and that— surprisingly enough!—is played by Keith Moon! Well, that's the real shocks over for you, the last facet, and I think this is the most interesting of all, this is the one that I drew from my own life, which is obviously the one I know the best, and without really splitting any hairs about it, obviously it's the life I'm most into at the moment, and this facet is that the boy has a slight feeling deep inside that things aren't quite right, and that there must be another answer, and that he feels a certain sort of falseness to the way he's living his life, and perhaps a certain falseness to all the values that he holds most high. In other words, he's becoming interested in certain abstract things, even as a type of Shepherds Bush mod that he's portrayed as, he still has these feelings of, I suppose, spiritual insecurity, verging on spiritual desperation, and in a way the whole album is a study of spiritual desperation on the adolescent.

 

The way we've put the album together is it's a sequence of events, almost like a series of flashbacks. The album opens with the boy, whose name is—don't laugh—not Billy, it's Jimmy, and he's stranded on a rock in the middle of a raging ocean, and the actual album then starts to let you into the series of events that led up to him being there, and we start off with hearing the four themes that represent each facet. There's a song called "Helpless Dancer," which represents Roger's part, which is the tough ruthless part; there's a song called "Is It Me For A Moment," which is John's romantic angle; and then there's a song called "Bellboy," which represents the devil-may-care, sort of insane side, and there's a song called "Love Reign O'er Me," which represents the spiritually desperate side of the boy, and these themes are all heard in a song called "Quadrophenia," which is the title track, and they're all heard separately in a sort of synthesizer thing orchestrated to the point of film music. Vulgar decadence, I'm sure you'll like it.

 

Then there's a track called "Cut My Hair," which is when you're thrust into the depths of I suppose the boy's domestic bliss, which is watching his old man eat eels and pie, his mother, who looks suspiciously like the Queen, drinking large amounts of Guinness. He gets fairly disenchanted with everything, he gets disenchanted I suppose with his family and with his work, with his school life, with his girl friend, he even gets fairly disenchanted with drugs, he gets disenchanted with everything. The only flag which he can still wave, which I proceed to wave fairly vigorously throughout the thing, is the mod flag. In other words he feels that being a mod and the fashion involved in being a mod, and the secrets of being a mod are more important than anything else, and this is his last hope. He decided to go back to Brighton Beach where he has great memories of the mod-rocker riots that he was involved in the summer before, and we run through a whole series of events where he leaves home, he gets himself a job, he goes to see the Who, and he thinks we're all right, ("wish they'd use real gear though, smash up real gear, not that plastic stuff,") and he gets a job as a dustman, and all sorts of things happen to him. He ends up finally jumping on a train, going down to Brighton and walking about on the beach, remembering those great days as a mod, back when rockers were rockers and mods were mods, and rockers were bigger and uglier and tougher and always won, and when The Who were the group who used to play down the Brighton Aquarium, it's a very nostalgic album, you understand, but very forward looking at the same time!

 

Finally he thinks that he's got the key, he starts to improve, he's still tormented by lots of doubts and worries. He is a good old-fashioned kid, he still loves his family and he doesn't really blame them for the way he feels, he doesn't blame them for his melancholia, and he appreciates that he's not quite as glamorous as the guy that stole his girlfriend away from him, and he appreciates that the union is not quite as powerful as it seems as first sight. And this disenchantment with the world and desperation seem to fuse, and he starts to feel that maybe being a mod is really enough after all, as he walks up and down the beach remembering, and then in the distance he sees this lonely figure walking down the beach, and he recognizes him as the guy that used to lead the gang on the promenade, and he runs up to him very, very excited because he feels it's a fantastic coincidence, and he says to him 'Aren't you the guy that used to be the leader of the gang, that used to dance like Fred Astaire, and carry a sawn-off shot-gun and all that' and this guy says 'yeah.' And he says 'Oh fantastic, I was just thinking about you, what are you doing now?' And he says 'oh, I work in a hotel, don't I?' And it turns out that he isn't unfortunately the manager, he turns out to be the bell boy, and he's obviously very, very thick, and acts like a subordinate and seems to be resigned to it. Well, this is the last straw for Jimmy.

 

Actually the song "Bellboy," parts of it, are sung incredibly well by Mr. Moon, as the bell boy, in good old Lionel Bart fashion. The song following that is a song called "Doctor Jimmy" which is where the boy thinks about certain things that he's had, about the aggressive times on the street and romance and all that, and then next is one of the finest tracks that I've ever been involved in, in any music, and that's a track called "The Rock," and there's the four themes representing each facet joined into one, and this really the symbolic sort of thing where the boy's quadrophenia is, if you like, resolved, because he suddenly realizes a kind of a point to life, and symbolically the four pieces of music all join together into one theme, and the last thing you hear before a large thunderclap is the four themes joining into one and then the final track on the album is called "Love Reign O'er Me." I don't really know how I imagine that the boy walks away from the rock or whether he jumps in the sea, or whether he drowns or whether he wins or loses or whatever. I haven't really made up my mind about what happens, maybe I'll leave that to you.

 

Transcribed by

Brian Cady