Something Meaningful About Youth in Quadrophenia (Specifically during “The Punk Meets the Godfather”)

“The Punk Meets the Godfather,” a lyrically provocative song, is a good example on the album so far of the disillusionment that seems to characterize the Mod youth. Having seen the film, and now having listened to the entire album, it is difficult for me to separate Jimmy from the the “I” in the album, and so I am making assumptions based on this. Hopefully these are not off-base.
The Godfather is a member of The Who, identifiable by the lines, “But I grew and I bent/ Don’t you know? don’t it show?/ I’m the punk with the stutter.” This, if not obvious enough, is followed by a synthesized rendition of the famous “My Generation” anthem. So if a Who member (probably Townsend) is the Godfather, is Jimmy the Punk? If so, since Jimmy identifies as a Mod, and not a Punk, then the moniker probably comes from the derogatory connotation of the word. A Punk is usually what someone from the older generation would call a younger person that is inexperienced and impudent. Using this word is definitely a nod to the genre of music as well though, since it came after the Mod movement, and was correlated with it. This exchange then becomes an argument between a founder of a movement that wouldn’t exist without the followers it had, and this has created a tension that points in both directions to the breaking down of a subculture. How fitting, since the film/ album is in large part about the death of the Mods? The last stanza makes a lot of sense in this context, the Godfather lamenting the cage he seems to have found himself in: “I have to be careful not to preach/ I can’t pretend that I can teach/ And yet I’ve lived your future out/ By pounding stages like a clown.” But he ends the song with a statement, “It all belongs to me you know” which seems both righteous and proud, and also a warning against the inevitable future of the Punk, the inheritance of the cage.

Youth in Quadrophenia through Tempo

“Cut My Hair” is just one example of youth in Quadrophenia.  The theme within the lyrics is a dilemma of Jimmy wanting to be a Mod but wanting to respect his parents with whom he still lives.  This dilemma is reflected in the alternating pattern of the first four stanzas.  In the first stanza, the tempo is slow and the vocals are reflective which signifies that Jimmy is pondering cutting his hair to fit in with the Mods.  Fitting in has always been a youthful dilemma.  The next stanza’s tempo is faster matching the excitement of being a part of the Mods which Jimmy wants.  The third and fourth stanza repeat the same themes respectively.  However, the fifth stanza has a different tempo and sound altogether to show that Jimmy is mad at the Mods for making it difficult, but the sound is also climatic giving the impression that Jimmy has reached a decision.  The climax is in the sixth stanza where Jimmy’s dad essentially turns his back on him, “My dad just left for work/He wasn’t talking”.  A radio broadcast of a report about a riot by the Mods and Rockers makes me think that Jimmy’s dad turned his back on Jimmy because he was involved in the riot, thus telling Jimmy’s decision.  “Cut My Hair” is an example of youth because it deals with the problem that most youth have with fitting in and being accepted by whoever will accept them.

Wanting to fit in or basically be accepted is a problem most youth have and I believe the root cause is the relationship the youth has with their father.  Perhaps the appeal that gangs have today would not be as strong if those youth had a good relationship with their father.  I think this could be why Jimmy had a tug to be a Mod because he felt he would be accepted by them since the relationship with his father was indifferent.

Endgame

Through the detachment from history and absence of time Beckett establishes in his play Endgame, Beckett is able to illustrate the meaninglessness found across Western Civilization post World War II. Just as Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land” emphasizes meaninglessness and numbness, Beckett’s play profoundly demonstrates that life post-world war no longer holds meaning. Both Beckett and Eliot’s works demonstrate that society found their means of coping with the emptiness left by the war through the mechanical routine of day to day life. Beckett’s characters’ actions and dialogue are almost painfully mechanical and minimalistic; yet it is so to exemplify the mechanical, numb routine society had fallen into. The play begins and ends with Hamm in the exact same position, “motionless,” demonstrating the play’s theme of stagnation and meaninglessness.

Beckett’s use of time or rather, his purposeful lack of time and place in history is a different approach than Eliot took in “The Waste Land;” yet both works equally communicate the futile sense of existence that hung over society due to the world wars. Beckett’s characters lack purpose and meaning in their lives to the extent they are looking forward to death, “finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished” but the future as well as the past is illusory (2579). The past, present, and future is illusive because of the absence of time, making it impossible for the characters to find hope in their present state or in the future because death is taking so long to come.

Beckett, Eliot, and the Futility of Words

Beckett’s Endgame gives a dismal view of Western Civilization. One of the critiques he makes is the futility of any individuals to have meaningful connections. He demonstrates this through the uselessness of words to depict anything meaningful.

The characters in Beckett’s Endgame speak past each other. There is a futility attached to words and the use of words. This is part of Beckett’s critique of Western Civilization: there is no connection and no meaning in anything that anyone says to anyone else. When Nagg begins to pray aloud, Hamm interrupts him, yelling “Silence! In Silence!” (2602). Hamm, who has lost the use of his eyes and his legs, has only his speech and his hearing as a means of communicating with anyone. Yet, he cannot even share his story. He has to lie to his own father, promising sugar plums that don’t exist, in order to get anyone to listen. Clov says that his story is: “The one you’ve been telling yourself all your days” (2603), implying that all he has ever said in an attempt to tell a story is meaningless because it has touched no one.

In addition to the lack of meaning and connection, Beckett examines the fragmentation that words cause in the isolated individual. During one of his monologues, Hamm says: “Then babble, babble, babble, words, like the solitary child who turns himself into children, two, three, so as to be together, and whisper together, in the dark” (2607). Because words can give no meaningful connection between individuals, they act within the individual, fragmenting him so that he does not feel alone. Denied a true dialogue with others, he begins a destructive dialogue with himself that leaves him “in the dark,” incapable of finding anything outside of himself. This is very reminiscent of Eliot’s The Waste Land.  Throughout the poem, Eliot uses different voices and different languages to depict the confusion and lack of cohesion in individuals coming from the tradition of Western Civilization. Both authors are aware of the harm that words can bring through meaninglessness, isolation, and fragmentation, for the individual.

BLAST, the Individual, and WWI

 

To me, reading BLAST was more heartbreaking than it was interesting or surprising. The magazine represents the beginning of a tenuous attempt to glorify the individual, to make every individual, no matter his or her class, into a human being capable of art and artistic feeling. These individuals are not isolated though; they are united in a community of other individuals while maintaining their own individuality. The last line of “Long Live the Vortex” reads: “Blast presents an art of Individuals.” This struck me particularly hard. I feel a certain kinship I had not expected to feel; these authors seem to share my own zeal for the right and the worth of the individual. And yet, in a terrifying irony, these men, who believed so strongly in the individual, who founded a movement devoted to the individual, were about to enter into a war that would destroy the individual. WWI was a time of machines and statistics that showed horrific human fatalities. The concept of the individual that started to blossom in this magazine was buried beneath the overwhelming mass of the dead.

The way the magazine focuses on the individual is also found in the Manifestos. I read the contradiction of “blasting” and “blessing” the same thing simultaneously as an acknowledgment that good and evil exist in all things, and it is up to the individual to piece out what is worthwhile from what is broken and suffocating. Again, these individuals are part of a larger collective of individuals who transcend sides: “We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours” The individual is even sometimes promoted over countries, to the point where the magazine proclaims: “Blast First… England” (later England is blessed). This is gut-wrenching when one thinks of the war that is to come, and how it shall bind people more tightly than ever before into nationalistic units in an attempt to survive the carnage. Clearly, the magazine wished to knock the individual out of complacency, out of the mechanized, divided, modern times, but all of this was undone by WWI. Such notions of the individual as an artist and as on no particular side became vulgar and contemptuous, divisive when the country needed to stand strong. I cannot help but wonder what this movement would have become, what England and European literature were building towards in this and other similar journals, before the war interrupted.

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and T.S. Eliot

“Hamm: We’re not beginning to…to…mean something?

Clov: Mean something! You and I mean something!…Ah that’s a good one!”

In this excerpt from Endgame, Beckett takes on the essence of postmodernism head-on, with a core of existentialist thought. His characters find themselves in a bleak, uninteresting room, where they are actors and their surroundings are as meaningless as themselves. This setting is truly “outside of history”, in that they may as well be captive alien species in a sealed zoo exhibit on Tralfamador, they are so removed from the past of the human race, and the context of human civilization. This seems to weaken their humans status, and bring them down to the level of lab rats in God’s cruel existential parlor game, where even the humans have awareness of the hopelessness and absurdity of their situation, as evidenced in this quote.

This is different from how T.S. Eliot critiques the history of Western civilization. Eliot takes direct quotes from the past, lines from major works and allusions to historical events, and ties them into an explicit narrative in which he is simultaneously bard, observer, and participant. Eliot’s method is explicit, Beckett’s method is implicit. Both arrive at similar conclusions by different means, and this concluson is the absurd status of the human, on a cultural as well as an existential level. Beckett’s critique of Western civilization is at once oblique and biting, which is what lends it its postmodern irony and wit.