I encouraged a friend to watch it, proudly, reverently handing over my copy to him. I was a bit nervous lending it to him, as I had literally searched the world for a copy of Quadrophenia. I’d looked at overseas DVD websites, auction websites both overseas and local, libraries – all manner of places, over a number of months. The fact that I found a copy of it at a video store about 15 minutes walk from my home lessens it’s value to me not one iota.
My friend returned it to me, a quizzical look on his face. I asked him what he thought of the film, did he love it? How much did he love it? Did it resonate with him?
“Why do you like this film?” he asked.
“What do you like about this film?”
What do you mean – didn’t you like it?
“No, not really”
“Is he you?”
“The red ones. The blue ones. Did you like to take the pills too?”
“Is he you? Jimmy. Did you like to take the pills too?”
That’s it. That’s it exactly. The reason I like – love – this movie, is that Jimmy is me. Confused, desperate to fit in. Sometimes the centre of attention, craving to be the centre of attention. The one that walks into the crowded lounge at a party, and cuts off a song half way through to put on something better, frankly. The guy that stands on the balcony and dives into the crowd, just to bring the focus back to him. The guy that drinks the most, swallows the most, experiences the most.
But also the fellow that feels the most alienated…
I am sitting on a train heading southwest out of London, listening to the Quadrophenia soundtrack on my iPod. These two occurrences are no coincidence – despite occurring co-incidentally – they are occurring by design. My design.
I’m heading to Brighton, to worship at the Quadrophenia altar. And listening to the soundtrack to this movie (rather the movie was the visuo-track to the album, as the album came first) is my genuflection before worship. I had spent much of the previous evening watching the film as well. I need to make sure my research is extensive, and wide-ranging. This trip is very important, a veneration.
On arrival, I walk out of the railway station, and come to a bus-stop. I am struck by the grottiness of Brighton (this train station is no tourist brochure advertisement), of the people sitting and waiting for the bus. There’s three or 4 of them, with open cans of beer, off their tits, looking like trouble, like they’re on the verge of a fight. I avoid them, because I am the type of person these people seem to be able to see, the person that somehow leaps out at them from a crowd, thereby committing them to giving me shit, getting in my face, threatening me. I don’t like them very much.
The bus comes, and I have decided to get a day-pass ticket, which costs £3.50. I only have a £20 note, and ask the driver if he can change it “Yeah, but it’ll have to be in ones”. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. Ching! as he counts out £16.50 into his little metal tray. Aahh – bus-drivers the world over, love to display their power, their little sphere of influence. I’ve always found it a bit pathetic – funny, and at the same time sad – that the only time they get to display their plumage is by humiliating their passengers in some small way. My wallet now weighs approximately 1.5 kilos…
To add insult to injury, I am on the wrong bus, or rather the not-quite-right bus. This one said it was going to town, to the marina, which I figured must be fairly close to the Brighton Pier, a good landmark to gain my bearings. We travel into Brighton township itself, turn, and I can see the pier out towards the right hand side. And the bus keeps going. And then the pier disappears. And the bus keeps going. And then the ocean disappears. And the bus keeps going. I pull the bell, and get off, back tracking toward where I last saw the pier. It’s only later during the day that I realise Brighton is kind of made up of two towns – Brighton and Hove – and the marina is actually in Hove, probably a good half hours walk from where I want to be. Me and public transport are not playing together very well today.
I finally make my way down to the Pier, and onto the beach. It’s not like a New Zealand beach, the kind I grew up with. Good firm sand under your feet is what a beach should offer. This one is made up of stones. You walk on it, and sink halfway up to your ankles. It’s like walking in snow, warm snow, and fearing that at some point you will fall into a crevasse, never to be seen again, an icy tomb. OK – so the metaphor is a bit strong, a little unlikely – but walking through this stuff is goddamn hard work, so don’t begrudge me the overstatement.
So why am I here? The beach is lovely – I am surprised I love it so much, that it’s so warm, so sunny. Since I’ve arrived here, the weather has been beautiful, the climate tropical. Here was me expecting dull and gray, mist and rain. Miserable people, miserable place, heads down, water dripping off macintoshes. I don’t know if anyone wears macintoshes anymore.
The water is a millpond.
Why am I here? To see a movie, but in the flesh.
Quadrophenia is set in 1960’s London and Brighton. It tells the story of James Michael Cooper – Jimmy – a Mod. A Mod is a young person, generally in their late teens or early twenties, possessed of an elegant sartorial style (a tailored suit with stovepipes, winkle-pickers, white shirt and thin black tie; accessorised by an over-sized army surplus parka). A Mod must be in possession of, or be paying off, or at the very least have a friend who owns, a Vespa. Not any Vespa. This Vespa will have been modified, by having it’s two standard rear vision mirrors supplemented by possibly six to eight extra rear vision mirrors mounted on the front of the bike. Many Mods choose to modify their bikes further by adding an extra headlight or two as well. Mods are also pill-heads, they love The Who, their girl-friends are exceptionally good-looking (a girl can’t really be a Mod. If she’s lucky, she’ll have a Mod boyfriend), and they hang around in large groups. These groups – gangs we’ll call ’em – like a bit o’ the old violence, innit?
The nemesis of a Mod is a Rocker, a dirty, filthy, smelly thing, tending to being a bit stuck in the past. Dress in leathers, ride motorbikes – big hulking things, their hair is far too long, and their women-folk are a bit – well… rough. Interestingly, it seems that a girl can’t really be a Rocker, either. As close as they can get is by latching onto a male of that species. Rockers too, seem to like a bit of violence.
Needless to say – and indeed, quite rightly – the Mods are the stars of this movie. The film centres around Jimmy, this troubled young man, and follows his story arc of embracing Mod-ism, rejecting the social mores of the time, rejection of and by his parents, alienation from his peers, and finally his rejection of the Mod culture, after a character defining visit to Brighton, where he gets the girl, very quickly loses the girl, and finds his Mod hero – the uber-Mod if you like – is nothing but a bell-boy in a Brighton hotel. This uber-Mod is called The Face, and is played by very youthful Sting.
I am walking along East Street. After traipsing around in an over-stated loop – actually a figure of eight I suspect – I discover the visitor centre. I explain to the woman at the desk that I am a Quadrophenia nerd, and can she tell me where the major scenes where filmed please, I’d like to know where these filmic moments are captured in perpetuity. It is coming up to the 30th anniversary of the film, there must surely be something monumental planned or commemorated? The visitor centre maps haven’t been updated yet, she tells me, but she has some familiarity with the film, so this is why I am walking down East Street. Most of the Quadrophenia locations in Brighton are within a couple of hundred metres of each other. This one, the one I am about to stumble upon, is the most important one. This is the crux of the movie, the point that everything hinges upon, the point where everything changes. This is the alley. The Alley.
This is the alley where Jimmy pulls Steph away from the riot, where they consummate their physicality. OK, it’s where they have a root, a dirty old, nasty, sweaty, out of breath, skirt-up-open-your-fucking-fly-quickly root. It’s where they bond, where Jimmy psychically and physically tells her how much he loves her, how he will be with her forever. They sweat, they groan, they take a deep breath, and go back out to the riot together. Within seconds Jimmy is picked up by the coppers , and Steph is chivalrously rescued by Jimmy’s friend Dave. Oh yes. Dave.
The alley is a shrine – hand painted The Who logos; statements from fans far and wide: “This is the alley”; “El Clan Mods Mexico: Keepin Burning The Tourch!!” (sic) “Happy Birthday Moonie 24/08/09”. Ah yes – this is the alley. I touch it, lay my hand on it. Unbelievable, that I am here, now. Drink it in, boy.
And now, back to East Street, . A couple of hundred Mods along the promenade, “We are The Mods! We are The Mods! We are, we are, we are The Mods!!!” Fuck yeah!! We sure as shit are! We invade a Rocker café; a pitched battle on the beach. How we – sorry, they – ever ran at each other on that beach I will never know. Tiring to say the least, then to pluck up the energy to assault each other with beach chairs and fists – determined, these kids.
I walk a mile and a half down the esplanade, trying to find the hotel where Jimmy discovers The Face working as a bellboy (“Bellboy!! Bellboy!!!!!”), and where he steals Face’s scooter. I think I find it, and take a few photos. In fact I think I find it about half a dozen times – the hotels look very similar, the hotels look like the one in the film. Sitting across the road, I go over and over this scene on my iPod, but just can’t figure it out. The woman at the visitor centre told me it was the Grand Hotel where the scene was filmed (this was also the hotel where the IRA let off a bomb in an attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet in 1984; while that scene is also etched upon my memory, I‘m not here to mix my memories up, so cast that one aside) – it still didn’t look quite right, but I dutifully took a photo anyway. only to get a tap on the shoulder from the local police, who asked me for my details. The Labour Party conference was being held here, and the place was crawling with security. I had to explain to the nice officer that I was merely a Quadrophenia train-spotter, and the photos were for my own personal use.
And that, I think, is the end of it. I’d expected to see more evidence of the great film about the place, for the visitor centre to run Quadrophenia themed walks, Brighton locals to dress in period costume, re-hashed scenes out of the film (a riot’d be great!) – or at least a map that could guide me around the locations. But no – Brighton seems a little inconsiderately oblivious to how much this film means to me. Rude.
I make my way up to the Pier itself. I’m disappointed that I didn’t see the cliffs that Jimmy drives The Face’s scooter off at the end of the movie. But ah well – that alley was a real treat, I felt I’d connected with a bit of personal history. The pier is really pretty tacky. It’s actually a gorgeous structure, somewhat rickety looking, but a certain sense of faded style. What resides on the pier is awful though – casinos and video parlours, all flashing lights and electronic noise pollution; a couple of bars with sticky carpet and unfriendly staff; and a dodgy looking set of fairground rides, upon which I would hesitate to put any child of mine. But it is something quite special, to walk on something so iconic, and so I love it more than I hate it.
And there they are… my God. Off in the hazy distance, the monolithic chalk cliffs. This is where the scooter goes over, where the film climaxes, where Jimmy, the Mod, comes to an end. A shiver goes up my spine, a tear comes to my eye. I put £2 in the slot of the binoculars mounted on the pier, and get a close up view. My day is complete.
And now back to the train. As I leave the pier, I realise there is one thing I forgot to do. There is a scene in the film where Jimmy leaves his friends, and goes to sit on the beach by himself. The spot is right by the pier, and I want to get a photo of myself, with the pier in the background, re-enacting that moment. I am a total Quadrophenia train-spotter.
And then I see him.
A young man about Jimmy’s age, squatting on the stones, in almost exactly the right position, staring morosely out to sea. Don’t move, you bastard, don’t you dare move. I struggle to get my camera out, just thirty seconds son, all I need is 30 seconds. He obliges me, and I get the shot. I can’t help wondering whether he is on a Quadrophenia re-enactment himself.
And that is the end.
Exit stage left.
Close credits, to the strains of “Doctor Jimmy” by The Who.
We are The Mods! We are The Mods! We are, we are, we are The Mods!!!