He was sloppy drunk and it wasn’t from drinking. He’d been poisoned by eating a cookie baked with cannabis. His eyes wouldn’t focus and in a short time what began as a floating, integrated, stony feeling, pleasurable overall, had turned into a spinning, nauseous, out of control, terrible condition. Soon enough, vomiting became the only reaction his body would tolerate and rather than stand up or potentially fall down the dozens of greasy cement stairs to the bathroom, he just leaned forward and vomited into the popcorn bucket that probably helped cause all the trouble in the first place. He had skipped lunch and dinner (leading to the empty-stomached poisoning by the small quantity of cannabis cookie) — there wasn’t that much volume to the production. Neither was the audio volume of the act overpowering to his seat mates, after all, The Who was performing their watershed album “Quadrophenia” at tremendous volumes, only a few hundred rows in front of them.
Max had assumed the experience would be nostalgic, vainglorious, emotionally-charged, a teenage flashback and it was (incomprehensibly) all these things (even though he was in the midst of a what felt like a medical emergency, one that he only wished to die in order to end.) Perhaps it was this death-wish, this desperate out-of-control feeling of dread-blurriness and physical discomfort, that best re-iterated the teen angst of “Quadrophenia.” In The Who’s double-album rock opera follow up to “Tommy,” (an album Max had discovered as one of his first fetishistic rock attachments, these identified by his physically carting the vinyl and cardboard around his neighborhood day after day, to either show them off, study the artwork and lyrics or play them when they came to another kid’s house and turntable,) “Quadrophenia” was an experience designed for a slightly older teen, fifteen was probably ideal.
Where “Tommy” could be easily grokked by rock-listening youths, its helpless deaf, dumb and blind child protagonist, or even by its caricatured adult supporting roles, “The Acid Queen,” “Cousin Kevin” (a sadist), “Uncle Ernie” (a pederast), and various doctors, parents, etc. It also held clean leitmotivs such as the Mirror (a secret for self-knowledge) and the Rock-Prophet (a ‘60s-era Jesus/Jim Jones type identifiable with Roger Daltry), Quadrophenia offered a murkier concoction. Five years before the 1979 film which would make plainer the more playable themes in the story (that is, adolescent boy from fractured home seeks acceptance in street gang of mod bikers, meets a girl, takes drugs, is enamored of an older mod role model, loses girl, crashes bike, crashes on drugs, etc.) were well communicated to a film-going audience of Who fans (and Sting fans too), we young fans were left to the unexplained gestalt, free for artistic interpretation, these were pure emotions and ones we were well familiar with:
Outsiderness, geekiness, lack of proper male role models, pimpliness, seering, crippling anger which attached to everyone and everything, the feeling of having an inner greatness which was both undiscovered, ever-present, bursting to be released, recognizable primarily by a beautiful teenage girl taking notice of us, and would inevitably become our salvation (as in Townsend’s personal story) or our downfall (as in Townsend’s alterego, Jimmy’s story), or somewhere in between (my ‘70s cohorts became, among other things, filmmakers, minor rock stars, paint-store managers, software geeks, carpenters, drifters, suicides.)
The Technicolor yawn that was Max’s personal accompaniment to this rock revival by a sixty-nine year old Daltrey (looking like nothing so much as a velvetine-gray Reno lounge singer from the Tom Jones cloth) and a sixty-eight year old Townsend, looking his age and accomplished maturity, like Richard Thompson more or less, was a visceral, fully physical reaction to all those emotions, unexplained, explored unsteadily by thirty years of psychotherapy, and finally expurgated into a popcorn bucket that is: Shamanic.
Had Max (or I) been prepped in a ritual fashion for medicine work, under the care of a shaman, ingesting some plant helper from the rain forest, ayahuasca, psilocybin, we could not have had a more complete purging and “de-gaussing” experience (as Dr. Bob Johnson would call it.) The vomiting was actually choreographed to the music, long hard final powerchords of songs that had particular significance to us, would elicit sustained strangled regurgitation into the bucket. It was not just physical sickness, it was a replaying, a reliving of the psychic sickness of adolescence. We were returned to that original stage of vomiting, the one we can remember from being children with a virus, mom holding our head over a round silver bowl, a wet washcloth (if we were lucky) or as in the beginning of Eminem’s autobiopic “8 Mile” (which I viewed last night with my middle schooler, an Eminem fan,) just plain turning inside out in a hideous housing project bathroom due to nerves, a kind of primarium vomitus – the only reaction to psychic teenage nausea.
Max relived this for the entire length of “Quadrophenia” and arrived somewhere on the other side, purged, empty and free of all that psychic garbage and nostalgia. As his eyes came back into focus, the show continued with the band’s other greatest hits, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Who Are You?” and perhaps the greatest on-your-feet scream-out by this audience of advance middle age, “Baba O’Riley”. They audience yelled “teenage wasteland” from all the seats in the arena, and Max suddenly understood that it was frustration driven by the dream of something more, not the caved-in wartime pessimism gone self-flagellation that Roger Waters perpetrated (though Pink Floyd was the closest comparison that could be made . . .) It was the ire, the entrapment of a small creature, household vermin, that the 12-16 year old boy feels so much more acutely than others. It was not a cry out of rebellion — this burned from the inside and turned all it touched to ash.