The Kids Are Alright (1979)
Directed by Jeff Stein
Wednesday, November 14, part of BAM's "A Quick One While the Who's in Town"
Rock at its best needs no ambassadors or missionary intermediaries. But if there were ever one film that captured, as if in amber, the winged, defiant exuberance of the mid-century bopping, headbanging, guitar-wrecking lifeforce that is rock and roll, it’'s this six-pack of canned champagne, Jeff Stein’'s historic archival record of The Who, released in 1979. I don'’t think the irreverent and back-biting law firm of Townsend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon has any competition as the greatest rock band of all time, for myriad reasons, but suffice it to say no one has ever rivaled their fusion of powerhouse personality, analog technical virtuosity, sincere folk ambition, reckless abandon, and famous in-person combustibility.
What'’s most important, though, is the simple fact that The Who were both fun and funny, a fire-ice-water-air donnybrook in perpetual thrash, a party band who played searching ballads and blues standards as if they were napalm strikes, and the most spirited exemplars of the rock-life aesthetic pop culture has ever known. They were uniquely made for movies, in other words. Stein, a mere fan at the time, culled 15 years’ worth of footage—there was no shortage, from what might be the most extroverted band of the pre-Internet age—and provided no commentary, allowing the boys to simply tell their tales and trash their stages. Moon, dead at 32 midway through production/compilation, is more than a movie'’s worth of irrepressible human tragicomedy all by himself, and Stein'’s film is the most pungent not-exclusively-aural record we have of his existence. It'’s a blessing.