Hope You Die Before We Get Old

The reunited Who and Sex Pistols cheat death one more time

It's all very unsettling, this mixing of cultural icons. Where is the tribal unity that made punk rock so appealing? This evening the Pistols were introduced by two English football stars, Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce, the latter of whom swears that Never Mind the Bollocks is his "favorite band ever." I wonder aloud if this is someone's idea of irony--like, "Look, the same people who loathed us before now love us, 20 years later."

"No way," sneers Lindsay Hutton, editor of the fanzine Next Big Thing. "It's meant exactly as it is--as the worst kind of night out with the lads drinking, part of this whole ridiculous English nationalistic football fervor."

"But Rotten's Irish," I say, puzzled. Later on that week, Southgate utterly betrays England's hopes in the European Cup final by kicking the losing penalty shot that gets caught by Germany's goalie. Pearce, as it turns out, will also play a part in England's losing effort during the Cup finals.

The backstage area at the Pistols show is as large as any concert venue, and it's a madhouse, like something out of the Robert Frank-directed Stones movie Cocksucker Blues. It's full of minor pop stars, old punks and American record-label employees who yak incessantly through every band. Every time a band comes onstage, the guests stream through the guest entrance onto the field to watch the show "for real," but it's all very perfunctory. During the Pistols' ecstatic rendition of "Anarchy in the U.K."--which may be one of the highlights of the summer--I heard a label dude yell into somebody's ear, "So, how's Sleeper doing in the U.S.?"

The Punks Meet the Godfathers
Six days later, the mood of England has distinctly altered for the worse. Or, to put it another way, a heartbreaking loss to Germany in the European Cup finals and a sudden steady rain have returned the country to its normal gloom.

It's Saturday, June 29, the day of the concert for the Prince's Trust--better known as the tongue-twisting "MasterCard Presents the Masters of Rock Concert," which has been billed in the oft-erroneous British press as "the largest rock concert ever held in London," "the largest rock concert held in Hyde Park since 1976" and "the largest gathering in London since the Royal Wedding in 1981."

The newspapers here also keep asserting that this is the first time Quadrophenia has ever been performed, but this isn't true: In fact, Quadrophenia was performed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1974. My cousin, who accompanies me today, may be the only person in the 150,000-person-strong audience who can claim to have attended both shows. The night he went, Keith Moon passed out halfway through the show and was replaced on drums by a random member of the audience. Today, Moon is being replaced by Zak Starkey, whose greatest claim to fame is that he was Ringo Starr's strong sperm on one fateful night.

The MasterCard Presents the Masters of Rock Concert, which is being taped for presentation on HBO, features five acts: Jools Holland, Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and "Pete Townshend and friends"--Pete's friends being Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, 14 other musicians, numerous singers and six actors hired for the performance of the Who's tragic mod-rock opera in its entirety. The concert is a benefit for the Prince's Trust charity, but it is also a huge media event designed to occur in conjunction with the rerelease of Quadrophenia on CD. One can't help but suspect it's also a prerehearsal for the Broadway-ization of Quadrophenia à la the 1992 smash Tommy. Either that or Quadrophenia on Ice.

It's such a hype, in fact, that a clever press officer manages to get a rumor started that there will be some "special guests" at the end of the show--meaning an impromptu reunion of the remaining three Beatles. It's a rumor that, despite its unbelievability, keeps gullible journalists in their seats to the end of the concert. But that special guest turns out to be no one more than Stones guitarist Ron Wood, who plays along with Bob Dylan.

Inside the Hyde Park enclosure that houses the concert grounds--which is way too small to hold 150,000 people--things are not so pleasant. For one thing, it is a freezing-cold day, and huge gray rain clouds loom threateningly overhead. Much of the audience is not allowed out on the field, and, even more unbearably, we are being inundated by MasterCard cant--from the ads on the 12 Jumbotron screens that dot the enclosure and the giant blimp that hovers overhead.

When Prince Charles enters the arena, Quadrophenia promptly begins . . . and, alas, it is a mess. The staging, such as it is, is impossible to watch; the voice-over makes little connective sense; and, worst of all, the size of the venue means that the sound and the visuals are out of synch, so every character--including Phil Daniels as the Narrator, Trevor McDonald as the Newscaster, Gary Glitter as the Punk, and Adrian Edmondson (ironically, the man who played the faux-punk Vivian on The Young Ones) in Sting's role as the Bellboy--looks like he's been badly redubbed in a kung fu movie. The lips move, and the sound comes out seconds later. Theatrewise, it's a debacle.

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