By its musical structure alone, The Who’s Quadrophenia opened my eyes and my intellect to the endless possibilities offered by the metaphor; add to that its compelling and challenging narrative structure, and you’ve got something that, to my mind, qualifies as a masterpiece.

Quadrophenia centers on a young kid in 1960s England named Jimmy. Jimmy comes from a hard-luck, working class family. He wants to be popular among his friends. He also wants to be a good son, a good worker, and a great lover. In the midst of trying to be all things to everyone, he realizes that he presents four very distinctive personalities to the world over the course of his days: the tough guy, the romantic, the crazy fun friend, and the troubled son. All of these separate personalities are represented by a distinct musical theme, and each personality encompasses only one aspect of the real Jimmy; none of them represent who he is in his heart. On top of all this, he’s saddled with having a deeper insight into the human spirit than most people think a person of his station is capable. He admits that even he doesn’t know who he really is. Being a confused angry young man with rampaging hormones, it doesn’t take long before certain aspects of his other personalities start bleeding over into the parts of his life where they don’t belong.

There’s much, much more to Quadrophenia’s story, but that’s the spine of it.

This sounds like a ham-fisted cliche, but hearing this album for the first time changed my life. On side 4 of the album there’s an instrumental piece called “The Rock” which remains for me one of the most amazing and moving pieces of music — and that’s music, period, not just rock music — that I’ve ever heard.

In Tommy, the central character’s epiphany is conveyed through words and music; but in Quadrophenia, it is conveyed solely through music. “The Rock” starts off by repeating each of the four themes separately, then, one by one, begins overlapping them until the four themes blend seamlessly into one, creating a fifth, unique, defining theme as Jimmy finally realizes who he really is.

That was a revelation — ahem … uh, er … discovery — for the 12-year-old me. Pete Townshend and The Who had pulled an incredible musical sleight-of-hand, created a musical Rubik’s Cube that I hadn’t even realized existed until the puzzle was completed.

I knew then that I wanted to someday create a piece or body of work that did what Pete Townshend had done with Quadrophenia’s music; present you with a group of seemingly disparate pieces/themes that in the end converged into a unified whole that was not only rewarding in and of itself (as “The Rock” most definitely is), but also enriched the sum of its parts.

“The Rock” is a perfect metaphor for what we as human beings strive toward during every moment between that first slap on the ass and the last handful of soil tossed on the lid of the coffin; call it the psychological equivalent of string theory or whatever you will: we strive to bring the various Selves together to form the whole that is uniquely ‘me’ or ‘you’, all the while treasuring the journey that has led to this time, this breath, this moment.

There will never be another you

An excerpt from the story “The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women” by Gary A. Braunbeck

This is our last dance together,
Tonight soon will be long ago.
And in our moment of parting,
This is all I want you to know…

I remember my mother used to love this one old 1943 Nat King Cole record. It was the only one she owned, as far as I know. She played a song called “There Will Never Be Another You” all the time; it was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was one of the sappiest songs I ever heard. I never understood why she liked it so much. But she loved it.

Our house was always immaculately clean when I was growing up. But give my mom even the simplest task–washing a few dishes or something like that–and she’d take about three times longer to get it done than almost anybody else. I used to think it was just her way of avoiding having to listen to my Dad complain about things, but the older I got, the more I began to notice that she didn’t really do anything else with her days. She got up, made breakfast, then set about her tasks.

There will be many other nights like this,
And I’ll be standing here with someone new.
There will be other songs to sing,
Another fall…another spring…
But there will never be another you.

I remember she used to have a few shots of whiskey after my dad went to bed, then she’d play that record over and over, until she got this dreamy look on her face, sitting there in her chair and listening to that song and pretending she wasn’t who she was. Sometimes I could see it in her face, that wish. She was someone else and the song wasn’t on a record, it was being sung to her by some handsome lover come to court her, to ask for her hand and take her away to a better life than the one she had.

There will be other lips that I may kiss,
But they won’t thrill me,
Like yours used to do.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be another you?

I used to sneak downstairs and watch her do this, and I’d laugh to myself, you know? I’d laugh at her because I knew that my life was going to turn out differently. I’d never be so stupid as to wind up marrying a man who didn’t really love me like a husband should but I stayed with him anyway because that’s what the Church told me I was supposed to do. I’d never do that.

I’d never spend my days working around the house, doing the dishes and the laundry and the dusting, having no life of my own, no hobbies, no interests. I’d never spend half the afternoon fixing dinner, then half the evening cleaning up afterward, only finding time for myself after everyone went to bed so I could sip my whiskey and play a goddamn record by Nat King Cole about there never being another me.

I mean, I was eight, I was just a kid in grade school, and even though Mom was only thirty-seven she seemed old and used-up and kind of funny at those times.

But now it’s twenty-five years later and here I am. I don’t know if my husband still loves me; all I’ve got now is my work. Instead of whiskey and Nat King Cole I have two weak cocktails on Friday night after work and Jane Eyre or well-thumbed collections of poetry or a ton of videotapes, most of them romantic comedies.

She had no real life, except the one she found in her shot of whiskey and listening to that song, and I realized all of this way too late. All she had was this one little dream of some imaginary lover singing a sappy love song to her, and she spent the entire day anticipating it. That’s why she took so long to get her work done; looking forward to her fantasy, to this dream she knew in her heart could never be, it was all she really had for herself.

She’s gone now, but here I am, just like her.

Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be…
Another you?

Italicized lyrics © 1943 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon