This year marks not only the 50th anniversary of the Who, but also the 50th anniversary of the Brighton Beach battle between mods and rockers immortalized in Quadrophenia. To mark the occasion, England's University of Sussex is holding a weekend-long symposium on both the album and the film, from July 10th through the 12th. The schedule includes talks on everything from the "the Post-1960s Mod Diaspora" to "the sea and the scooter in Quadrophenia," plus an appearance by the film's director, Franc Roddam. (Pete Townshend has been invited, and has sent a supportive e-mail, but is not expected to attend.)
"Here by the Sea and Sand: A Symposium on Quadrophenia" is being organized by the University of Sussex's Centre for Modernist Studies, whose co-director Pam Thurschwell tells Rolling Stone, "I felt that by constantly focusing on Joyce, Pound and Woolf, we weren't taking full advantage of the 'Mod' in Modernist Studies."
Townshend may have been the Sixties rock star who most self-consciously positioned himself to one day become part of the academic canon (not to mention the operatic repertoire). As Thurschwell observes, "The album is a classic work about adolescent alienation — the desire to be safely ensconced in a crowd, cut through by the fear of having one's shaky identity sucked away. It's comparable to Salinger's Catcher in the Rye or Colin MacInness' Absolute Beginners as a story of adolescent development and what thwarts it."
It rewards close study, she's already found: "I'm currently fascinated by the history behind Ethan Russell's wonderful book of photographs that accompanied the original album. Russell did the infamous cover shot for Who's Next and then took the gritty, realistic photos that document Jimmy's home life around Battersea and his trip back to Brighton to try and recapture his happy mod memories of a few weeks earlier. During the photography sessions, the kid playing Jimmy, a local kid named Chad, was arrested for stealing a bus! Russell went to court and told the judge that Chad was a male model, working for the Who, so they let him off."
The symposium is supposed to end with a restaged rumble on the Brighton beach, although it's not currently clear how a gang of middle-aged academics plan on pulling that off. "I'm not certain how many of us have scooters," Thurschwell says. "Maybe we can hire the Jane Austen society to play the rockers."