My life changed one winter night in 1982. I had recently started to get into music and I desperately wanted to go see a midnight showing of The Kids Are Alright, a movie about the rock band The Who. The only problem was that we were in Cleveland, and the roads were terrible. My parents were usually pretty good about letting me go out, but they knew that I was a terrible driver. It had taken me three times to pass the maneuverability part of my driving test.
Anyway, my mother was nervous about it, but she was an easy touch and allowed me to slide my way to the movie theater. I must have been driving about ten miles an hour the entire way, and I could still barely stay on the road. There were cars who had slid into ditches scattered along my route, but I was intent on seeing that movie.
Somehow I got there safely and saw the movie, which I immediately fell in love with. The Kids Are Alright is mostly a collection of old performances and interview clips of The Who, and I ate up every bit of it. The end of the movie showed the band performing the song Won’t Get Fooled Again, which contained a synthesizer break about three quarters of the way into the song. In the movie this section is accompanied by a intense laser show of intersecting smoky blue light beams, finally focusing on an incredible Keith Moon drum solo, which is climaxed with a blood curdling scream by Roger Daltrey, which is followed by the amazing sight of guitarist Pete Townshend sliding across the stage on his knees, through the blue smoky light directly into the lens of the camera. I felt this amazing chill run up my spine and throughout my body, and I knew from that moment on that I wanted nothing more in life than to be Pete Townshend.
And yet Townshend isn’t really the dominant figure in the movie. Coming as it did shortly after the death of Moon, the film shows the eerie rise and of fall of foppish jester who so often became this brilliant riveting demon madman. Flailing wildly against the world, his drumming, brilliant as it is, seems secondary and effortless when seen next to his cheek popping joy and goofiness.
The first clip of the band’s 1967 appearance on The Smothers Brothers show still looks revolutionary and sums up the band perfectly. Playing a slow and grooved version of My Generation are Pete Townshend, the windmilling violent guitarist with the huge nose, Roger Daltrey, the good looking tough guy swinging his microphone dangerously close to his bandmates, John Entwistle, the bored indifferent looking bass player, and Keith Moon, who paid the stage hands money to double the amount of explosives in his bass drum. The explosion permanently destroyed part of Townshend’s hearing as the guitarist was innocently smashing away at his instrument. Bette Davis is said to have fainted backstage.
The next clip is an earlier performance of I Can’t Explain from the show Shindig. It is amazing how much of the show is Moon. The guitarists are barely even noticed by the camera as they insist on catching every movement of the insane powerful drumming clown. These performance are a treasure of brilliant drumming and joyful fun. Sadly Moon’s performances ran out of steam along with his endurance and his fate can not be surprising after one has seen his decline especially in some hilarious interviews with an equally drunk and goofy Ringo Starr. They even let him try to sing Barbara Ann, a tremendous silly failure.
Most of the rest of the film centers around thoughtful Rock philosopher king Townshend, and his ambitious experiments with feedback, guitar wrecking, and pop operas. Between Townshend’s arrogant funny pronouncements and Moon’s lunacy the interviews are as enjoyable as the music. All in all a perfect tribute to a band that was as funny as it was dangerous and loud.