A University of Sussex scholar has organised a symposium on Quadrophenia that she describes as a “nerdy academic tribute to an album that has meant so much to me, and to so many fans, over the years”.
May 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the Whitsun bank holiday clashes between mods and rockers on Brighton beach. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the formation of The Who, whose 1973 double album Quadrophenia – and Franc Roddam’s 1979 film – uses the story of Jimmy Cooper to explore the meaning of mod and the significance of the Brighton “rumble”.
It was this chronological coincidence that led long-time fan Pam Thurschwell, co-director of Sussex’s Centre for Modernist Studies, to put together Here by the Sea and Sand: A Symposium on Quadrophenia.
“Quadrophenia was unbelievably important to me from the age of 12 to 13,” she explained, “and helped me get through a horrible adolescence in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I became obsessed by The Who, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan – a lot of miserable men. When I cleared out my parents’ house, I sold off my whole record collection – Quadrophenia was the only album I kept.”
Declaring that she “would have been a rock critic if I had not become an English professor”, Dr Thurschwell added that she originally came to Sussex for her master’s degree not only because she was a “theory head”, attracted by an important school of literary theorists, but “because of Quadrophenia, so I could wander on Brighton beach, be depressed and remember listening to the music”.
The symposium, which takes place on 10 and 11 July, brings together academics, music journalists and James Wood, staff writer at The New Yorker who is also professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University.
Dr Thurschwell said there had even been submissions from those who define themselves as “original mod” or “1979 mod”. Speakers will explore how mod culture was taken up internationally, the continuing interest in the mods as a phenomenon, “the brilliant segue between [Quadrophenia tracks] Cut My Hair and The Punk Meets the Godfather” and new youth subcultures in the era of the internet.
The symposium’s Brighton setting, noted Dr Thurschwell, meant that participants could go on “a tour to the alley where Jimmy and Steph had it off”. But she is keen to quash rumours of plans to recreate the 1964 clashes, since “most of our speakers are long past our rumbling days”.