THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (1979 USA)

the whoWhatever the hell it is the Who play, it isn’t rock. It’s not. The musical tapestry spanned in Pete Townshend’s song writing is far too broad and varied to pigeonhole it with a genre label. His father played the music of his time. Townshend himself fell in love with the R&B singles that made their way to Britain from America.

His mentor, Kit Lambert, loved pop but also carried the influence of his father, Constant Lambert, a composer who worked in film and theatre; all of which he passed on to Pete Townshend. Townshend has his own ideas. All of it shows. This is not music of any one genre-it’s a genre unto itself. But, when the Who plays it, it becomes rock. When they play it on stage it becomes the greatest and most powerful rock music imaginable. Even 21 years after this documentary the Who were still firing on all cylinders on the autumn 2000 tour. The three surviving members (not for long) were in their late fifties, but they played at a level closer to what they had achieved during their glory years when Keith Moon was alive. That was enough to put them back at the forefront in dvd sales of the concerts.

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The “Kids are Alright” shows what it was like in the first place. It was the oddest of musical relationships. With the exception of the friendship between Moon and Entwistle none of them really liked each other, at least not in the early days anyway. Townshend’s temper was enough to keep anyone away and everyone hated Roger. It reached a head in 1965 when they tossed Roger out for beating up Moon only to realize that they were throwing away something that might go beyond anything any of them could imagine. It was their Waterloo and it happened before any of them passed twenty-one.

It produced greatness. The Who had what it took to go places, always, everyone in the fold knew that: “Dylan and the Who are our main influences” (Paul McCartney, 1966). When they made that commitment they took it beyond what anyone could have dreamt. Throughout their (active recording) career they never followed a formula, never stopped pushing musical boundaries, and, in concert, always tried to do better than “last night”. They became the most astonishing rock band ever to step on the stage. This film concentrates on showing that.

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It doesn’t preach. There’s no orderly narration. There’s not even a chronological order to the piece. All it does is try to show the Who, and the ingredients that formed their magic to the world. The live footage is electrifying. The interviews are illuminating and fun. How could anyone (or anything) contain Keith Moon? How could an interviewer hope to step into the middle of the way the core group constantly challenged each other? Four strong personalities merged into something larger than life. Their relationship wasn’t harmonious but an outsider stepping into it found themselves confronted with the whole.

When they stepped onstage that “whole” was what audiences got. Jeff Stein has been criticized for just “putting what was around” together. That’s crap. He had the sense to let his subjects speak for themselves. That shows all the way through the film. You get the music, a sense of who the band are plus a great sample of why their performances are the stuff of legend. See it if you are a fan of rock music for the thinking person. It was not for nothing that the band used to be excused local taxes in Germany. Unlike England and America the Germans considered the Who a ‘cultural event’, not just a rock band.


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