One of my favorite albums is Quadrophenia by The Who. It is as cohesive as Tommy, although I wouldn’t consider it a rock opera. This is more like a concept album (case in point – the Quadrophenia movie was kind of a disaster, unlike Tommy, which was a successful movie and musical). What I find most amazing about this album is the thoroughness with which it explores the angst of a young man. Jimmy is described as having four distinct personalities (hence, “quadrophenia”), so the album is psychological in nature, and it hits right on concepts that weren’t quite fleshed out by evidence when the album was released, in 1973. I find many examples of this insight throughout the album, and I think that this work is one that I will return to in future posts. For today, I will discuss two of my favorite lyrics:
I went back to my mother
I said, “I’m crazy ma, help me.”
She said, “I know how it feels son,
‘Cause it runs in the family.”
- from “The Real Me”
We see the protagonist’s distress from the very beginning, on the first non-overture track of the album. He seeks help for his “craziness” from various sources, including his mother. In the verse above, we see The Who addressing one of the most important facts about mental illness – its heritability. Whether the boy is psychotic (possibly schizophrenic) and the heritability* of his disorder is at about 40%, or he is depressed, and the number is more like 20%**, it is true that the state of his mother’s health has a significant bearing on his own. This is not even taking into account the fact that growing up with a mentally ill mother will impact the boy’s function, regardless of genetics. The mother comforts him, telling him he’s not alone, although the reactions to the genetic underpinnings of mental health have varied widely in real life.
Doctor Jimmy and mister Jim
When I’m pilled you don’t notice him,
He only comes out when I drink my gin.
- from “Doctor Jimmy”
I love this line and this song! Mr. Jim is the side of Jimmy that lacks inhibition, morals, restraint. Okay, fine – you don’t need to have much insight into the human mind to figure out that alcohol can make one act this way. But what The Who have captured is a sense of an alternate personality that is revealed in a different context. The idea that we are not always consistent in our preferences, choices and characteristics over time or over context is one that is still being investigated by science, but that artists have taken as a given for years. Remember Walt Whitman? :
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
“Doctor Jimmy” is The Who’s “I contain multitudes.” I don’t think that Jimmy has dissociative identity disorder. I think that he is a normal, but troubled, teenager who, instead of accepting the various aspects of his personality, is constantly searching for “the real me.” Aren’t we all like Jimmy? After all, consistency is elegant; reality is messy.
Is it me, for a moment?
*Heritability – the variance in a trait that can be explained by genetics. Heritability estimates are usually determined by conducting twin studies.
**These numbers are most likely very off. I would do more research into them, but I think an estimate is good enough, since different sources will provide different figures anyway. *Sigh*.