The Who: The Kids Are Alright (1979), or We’re All Wasted

4 06 2009

The Who’s rock documentary The Kids Are Alright is a chronicling of pretentiousness, stubbornness, inflated egos, and drug-addled stupidity that exists as a reminder that not only were The Who one of the best rock bands featuring some of the most middling musicians, but that I would probably punch one of them out if they were to come on my talk show (Friday nights at 10:00 CT on the SIZZLE Network. Catch it!). It takes variety show footage, festival footage, and interview archive footage to create a mural of what The Who was at its very core; angry, silly, and just plain mercurial in the face of some great and immensely stupid ideal of what rock ‘n roll should be. I cannot say enjoyed this as a movie, but it certainly has its memorable moments.

This film is famous for a number of its concert venues, including Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival. It shows the precise reason that the band is famous today, and that is their absolutely stupendous live shows. They had an energy and a love for the music that is rarely available today. When they break into tracks like “My Generation” or “I Can See For Miles”, rock music seems for a brief moment less like a dimwitted beast and more like something important, a force more powerful than any individual member of the band or the crowd. It’s one of the reasons the music is ingrained in our social consciousness, and not just because Clear Channel plays The Who 17 times a day on their classic rock stations.

The interview and variety show footage is where things get weird for me. It’s very hit and miss for me. It comes across as choppy and uneven, and while that might be considered part of “what rock is all about”, that also means that it doesn’t require any skill and therefore its power is diminished. I feel a sense of confusion from one-time director Jeff Stein with what to do with some of this admittedly fun footage, and it ends up being a string of unrelated vignettes about how cool The Who is, even when they’re not.

Which brings me to my main complaint about the movie. Our main characters are as follows: Pete Townshend, the smarmy and obnoxious ringleader, Roger Daltrey, the guy who really doesn’t have that much to say, John Entwistle, the guy who has even LESS to say, and Keith Moon, an alien sent to our planet who found out too late his immunity to Earth’s deadly fermented beverages was only temporary. Part of what I like about this movie is the band’s humanization, which is also what I hate about it. I like knowing more about the people that have made some of the music that is integral to the tapestry of rock music, but the problem is that they’re snide jerks. I honestly did not want to know just how self-assured and cool they thought they were. Some of the footage makes it look like they cared more about their wardrobe than about the music. It didn’t really endear me to them very much, and it strengthened my resolve to never learn too much about rock stars, as they will almost surely piss you off the deeper you delve.

It’s not ALL bad footage. Some of it is pretty funny. Keith Moon, in particular, made for some hilarious clips. When asked about his employment before joining The Who, Moon says half-serious, “I was a rust repairer. I was a rust repairer and full-time survivor. I survived all the major earthquakes, and the Titanic, and several air crashes.” And after looking at his Wikipedia page, I found that’s ALL TRUE! Another stand out segment is from the legendary Smothers Brothers performance, during the interview section before they play. Tom Smothers thinks he’s a slick cat talking to these rockers, but Pete, in his disgust for anyone older than him, ruffles his feathers a little when he dodges his questions (“And where are you from?”  “Oz.”). Good stuff, just not slick enough for me to not want to kick them in the chest.

The Kids Are Alright is compulsory for any serious fan of The Who, and voluntary for any casual fan. Don’t go in expecting a serious retrospect or anything of that nature. It’s really just a collection of good live performances mixed in with The Who’s Stand-Up Comedy Hour Featuring Pete Townshend and Keith Moon. But it’s certainly better than some rock-docs I’ve seen, so kudos for keeping it watchable, guys. I give The Kids Are Alright 5 1/2 full-time survivors out of 10.

Don’t forget to tune in again later today for my PSA! I’ll be back!

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