The Twilight of the Mods
By R. D. Flavin

1-18-2013

     And though it's been clichéd many times, many ways: “Good news is no news!”  Turn head and cough...  No, I don't completely accept that we are media desensitized and only respond to tragedies, but such sad events as wars, natural disasters, and mass murders do seem to get more notice than peace, love, and understanding.  To coincide with his sixty-sixth birthday, ten days ago David Bowie released a single from the upcoming The Next Day, his first new studio album in ten years.  The single, “Where Are We Now?,” is a sullen self-reflection of Bowie's 1976-1979 Berlin years.  Götzen-Dämmerung!  The song haunts me like reading Zen on anti-depressants.  It's the twilight of the Mods and somewhere out there a BBW is getting ready to sing.

     The Brits have a hoary (sp?) tradition with nick-names and a very young Bowie may have been familiar with the Teds (var. Teddy Boys), a British teenager subculture which promoted the wearing of outdated (and outlandish) Edwardian-style clothes and who listened to American rock n' roll.  Toward the end of the 1950s, a new teenager subculture emerged, the Mods (short for 'modernists'), who were essentially a British version of American jazz loving beatniks.  As the 1960s began, “Mod” transformed itself through clothing (short boots and clever fashion combinations) and switched its musical preference from jazz to rhythm and blues (var. R&B).  Many of the early “British Invasion” bands displayed Mod styling, which perhaps ...ruined the movement.  It's argued that the Mod teenager subculture simply grew up and away from its angst, though some suggest the 'Mod' identification became passé when its styling became too popular with media and corporate support.  The Who were originally presented as a Mod band (see below), but by 1967 they'd ...lost that Mod-ish feeling.  Now, also in 1967, Bowie released his first album ...preserving that Mod-ish feeling.  Well, sort of...

     Going all Thin White Duke with the background skinny: “Bowie” is the pseudonym of David Robert Jones, who released five singles in 1965 and 1966 as Davie (and Davy) Jones, all flopped, and because the young public was fixated on Davy Jones of The Monkees at the time, he took the stage-name of “Bowie” after the really big American frontier knife.  His first release as David Bowie, “The Laughing Gnome” is variously regarded as mind-bending kitsch and ...an embarrassment.  A month and a half later, David Bowie, his first album was released (including, of course, “The Laughing Gnome”).  It too flopped, and that Mod-ish boy spent the next couple of years re-inventing himself through studies, a couple of significant relationships (culminating in a third, who he married), and expanding his musical horizons.  Yeah, the 1969 "Space Oddity" song couldn't have been timed better.  And, he's never let us down...

     Remembering that other London Bridge, the Mod movement changed rapidly.  The mid-1960's Mods versus Rockers moral panics seem more concerned with teenager gang-violence than disagreements of fashion and music.  Still, battles between new-style and changing versus old-style and unchanging emerge (and continue to do so).  However, it's peer-based and not generational.  The Who began their career with Mods in mind, but quickly went their own way.  Smashing instruments on stage was a successful gimmick, however little else compares to originality and artistic integrity.

     While themed and concept albums were offered in the 1960s (Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, The Who Sell Out, etc.), The Who explored narrative progression with “Rael” in 1967, "A Quick One While He's Away" in 1968, and introduced much of Tommy, hailed as the first “rock opera,” at Woodstock the following year.  The Who attempted another rock opera, Lifehouse, over-reached and then incorporated finished songs on 1971's Who's Next (and elsewhere).  Undeterred by the unfinished Lifehouse, Pete Townsend and The Who immediately set to work on yet another rock opera, 1973's Quadrophenia.  Mods versus Rockers...  Common classroom advice to aspiring writers that one should write about what one knows best retains pertinent resonance...

     Quadrophenia reached #2 on both UK and US sales charts, a career high for the band, a film version was made in 1979 (featuring Sting), the rock opera has since received many notices and awards, but more importantly has been revived by the aging band on and off since 1996.  Sigh, The Who are presently on a 2012-2013 tour, “Quadrophenia and More.”  Pete's nearly deaf, despite Neil Young's hearing (re-routing and masking) aid for tinnitus, and most would be comfortable with resultant deafness from a long-held Guinness Book of World Records' title of loudest band ever.  I'm not.  Sacrifice is noble, vanity is not.  My fondness for Pete is strongest when I remember his organizing efforts to accomplish 1973's Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert.   Physically kicked him in the butt, he did.  Good chap, that Pete, sorry about the pedo-porn research stuff, good is as good does, yet great ...rocks!  I wish Pete and The Who would retire from touring, “Maximum R&B” and all of that, and see ...what's next.

     The Mods apparently have morphed into neo-tribalism (“Hey, I put brown sugar in my latte, too!'), sociologists have warned of the passing of the Boomer Generation for some time, it's seldom pretty, though it can be graceful. Sure, Young's advice that “it's better to burn out than to fade away," is artistically (and practically) irrelevant, as everyone's different, and then there's the cow fearing ketchup, the fish dreading tarter sauce, and the sheep lying awake at night crying about mint jelly.  We all go and we all hope we have a say as to where, when, and how.

     I look forward to Bowie's The Next Day, announcements that he won't give interviews or live performances are ...part and parcel, and sunsets are preciously necessary, as tomorrow's another day.  And another chance...

Recommended Reading:
Cohen, Stanley. 1967. “Mods, Rockers and the Rest: Community Reactions to Juvenile Delinquency.” The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. 12: 121-130.
Cohen, Stanley. 1972. Folk Devils & Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Various printings and editions. London: McGibbon and Kee.
McRae, John. 2003. Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism. Berkley: University of California Press.
McRobbie and Thorton. 1995. “Rethinking 'Moral Panic' for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds.” The British Journal of Sociology. 46, 4: 559-574.

forsaking post-modernism and going for the gyro-pyre,

Rick

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