Peter Townshend Christopher Petit - Essay

Christopher Petit

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Kids Are Alright, the cinematic equivalent of an authorised biography, is both monumental and fair evidence of the contradictions that have kept the Who going for nearly two decades: a mixture of the pretentious and the down-to-earth which was best summarised on their album cover "Who's Next?" which showed the band pissing against a monolith.

The film traces the band's development from deliberately remedial beginnings—the stutterings of "My Generation," the inarticulateness of "Can't Explain"—through "cultural" acceptance—Townshend talking fluently with Melvyn Bragg—to the fluid laser spectaculars of the Seventies shows.

If the band's mental development has always rested with Townshend's attempts to talk seriously about rock music and to display a conscience which he alone appears to possess among his contemporaries, its physical development can be seen wholly in terms of Daltrey's emerging self-confidence with the discovery of his own torso.

The film is a lavish tribute, a "celebration" rather than a history, but none the worse for it….

The Kids Are Alright ends up speaking for itself, though the conclusion is not perhaps the one intended: it shows the band trapped as survivors.

In their raucous beginnings, the Who sounded best on a Dansette with the volume turned up beyond the level of distortion. They are still singing the same anthem for a generation 15 years later; it sounds rather sad and empty these days.

If they had the strength of their convictions, they should be singing "Your Generation." They are probably the only band who could get away without sounding patronising.

Christopher Petit, "Celebration of a Generation," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), June 30, 1979, p. 44.