Can You See the Real Me? A Few Thoughts on the Advent of Quadrophenia

This one comes to us from local mod Lex Booth: Last fall, my older brother […]

Mockingbird / 12.2.13

This one comes to us from local mod Lex Booth:

sting+vespaLast fall, my older brother (25) kept bugging me to listen to The Who’s 1973 ‘rock opera’ Quadrophenia, a concept album which tells a story about a kid named Jimmy who took amphetamines and rode a Vespa in 1960’s Britain… What are you trying to say, bro? Although I have no special love for classic rock, I must admit that ‘I liked it’ even after a single listen and have revisited the album many times since. When the AV Club recently made the bold claim that Quadrophenia is “cohesive and triumphant in a way that makes Tommy seem like a trial run”, I was gratified but not surprised.

My drive back to school after Thanksgiving break afforded such an occasion for hopping on the “5:15” with Jimmy (no, not like that). For me and for fellow college-seniors everywhere, ‘tis the season’ for answering questions about your future, about your career plans, your ‘after-life’ (uh-oh). Thanksgiving is just a prequel. The real holiday season is still to come, and that means no shortage of time to really hash out who you will be after graduation. Each reunion gives you another chance to articulate your uncertain hopes for an uncertain future. Of course, this setting extends beyond graduation: ‘Are you still working at so-and-so? Still dating what’s-her-face? Oh, so you’re studying for the GMAT?’ I thought that I might escape the existential inquiries by punching my ticket for medical school, but now it’s ‘What kind of doctor do you want to be?’ A good one, dammit!

These questions are completely fair to ask, and furthermore, are usually borne from genuine love and concern. Yet it can be difficult to answer them without some fear of judgment, without slightly sweaty palms or a hardening of the heart. How do you intend to extract your personal value from the ether of opportunities and obstacles before you?  Another question lies therein, because you can’t really answer ‘what you want to be’ without also acknowledging ‘who you are’ already. Questions about the future are painful because of our familiarity with the past, because already, we are not the people we once dreamed we would become. We have fallen short in every respect, as friends, as students, as sons and daughters, as brothers and sisters, as husbands and wives, and so on. How can we speak of our future fulfillment when an honest assessment of our past begs the question, ‘Who are you, really?’

And who could be more sensitive to issues of identity than a band which ultimately agreed to call itself ‘The Who’? “Can you see the real me?” Jimmy pleads in the opening track, (once I’m safely alone in my car, returning to the ‘me’ of Charlottesville). In reference to schizophrenia, Quadrophenia recounts Jimmy’s struggle to pick out his true identity amongst the voices and forces that shape his identity: some garden-variety teenage angst, a fresh breakup, and the allure of the Mod-scene around him (whatever that is). The opera alternates between four different themes or ‘leitmotifs,’ one for each of Jimmy’s ‘personality extremes’: a tough guy, a romantic, a lunatic, a hypocrite.

We can all relate to Jimmy’s disjointed struggle for identity. The leitmotifs that define our own lives fail to add up to a complete whole, despite our best efforts to put together the bent and broken pieces of ‘me’ into a comprehensible and sustainable self-portrait. ‘I’ve had enough of living / I’ve had enough of dying, of smiling, of crying, of dancehalls, pills, street-fights / I’ve had enough of trying to love.’ In his resignation Jimmy experiences a moment of clarity: thunder and rain suspend the drum-roll of his life’s soundtrack as he cries out in prayer: ‘Love reign o’er me!’ For Jimmy and for us, ‘Who are you?’ only finds its answer when love interrupts our efforts to conjure up the words on our own. Perhaps this is why Advent is such good news. Perhaps part of why Christ came into our world, the world he made, was to answer this question for us. “Is it me, for a moment?” we ask now, straining to see ourselves as love might remake us, but only because he came first, shouting at the top of his lungs and dying on a cross to remind us who we are, really.

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4 responses to “Can You See the Real Me? A Few Thoughts on the Advent of Quadrophenia”

  1. older bro (25) says:

    Strange I had you pegged as a leather-clad rocker. MORE! ONE MORE SONG!

  2. Jay says:

    Good stuff.

  3. ceej says:

    lex you’re the coolest

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