I was never a mod. Too awkward, too uncertain, too utterly lacking in cool or style, too scared of my own shadow. But I loved The Jam. Absolutely bloody loved them. I remember thinking – and saying – and believing – that, in the late Seventies, Paul Weller was writing songs that I would write if I had, if I had… whatever it was Weller had. Their music – that first album and All Mod Cons particularly – made me feel alive, raw, real, certain, understood. And, just like someone in the film, Weller sticking a Shelley quote on an album-cover dug poetry – and politics – deep into the soil of the rest of my life.
Of course, when I say I wasn’t a mod, it wasn’t through lack of trying, at least for a few months. I bought a (terrible) parka in Second Time Around. I got my hair cut like Weller (only to end up with something that made me look more like Rick Buckler). I bunked off school and went down to the Royalty to try and get a part (unsuccessfully) as an extra in Quadrophenia. I once sang ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ live on stage, at The Pegasus in Stoke Newington (to what was almost certainly huge acclaim from adoring fans, I don’t know – I was too drunk on rum and black and fantasies of Whatsername being there to see my moment of glory).
There are those who would question whether Weller was a mod anyway, whether The Jam were really a mod band. I don’t know that either: I’m not sure what mod really means. I’m not sure how subversive, how modernist, how political it ever was/is. Or whether that matters. I do know it was proud and glittering and embracing and precious and exclusive and – sometimes – beautiful and it wrapped itself around some of the greatest black-and-white music ever made. I think it was/is important. And I know I wasn’t ever a mod, however hard I tried.
Which, in itself, may or may not matter. I wanted to cry at times watching this thing and I’m still not sure why. It reminded me of growing up, of course, of my parents, of my kids, of time passing. It reminded me of twenty-odd years living in Woking, of people and places lost, of dreams diluted or dumped, of hope kept alive by music and friendship and love and language and football and art. It reminded me of how like and how unlike Weller I am. And how the people who made the film (most particularly, Weller himself) couldn’t ever bring themselves to admit that.
Someone said the other day that Weller was ‘the man we all wanted to be’, because he was ‘more of a man’ than us. Well yes. And no. I watched the film and I could see why he enraptured us. I could see why I’ve spent half my adult life talking about him (have a look at http://somethingaboutengland.co.uk/…/soaked-in-treasure-a…/…). Watching this, I recognised the part of me that still wants to be him (or at least the 19-year-old him). And yet…There was no darkness in this: this was hagiography, a weird, cartoony panegyric. People like me, and (more importantly) people who should have been in it because they directly helped make Weller who he is, were airbrushed, in a Stalinist way, from the story. When my daughter watched it and said, ‘I suppose I never heard them chronologically, you just showed me the individual songs you liked, not the full albums in order. I’m jealous, honestly, that I didn’t grow up with it in the same way’, I felt hugely guilty for a moment. I envy her her distance from it all in a way. And I envied Weller. But he wasn’t a bloody saint. He was a projection, a screen, a mirror. He was a single-minded, selfish twat. He was a bully. He was charming and clever and I once watched him be hugely, unnecessarily kind to someone at a gig. He was utterly unlike me (apart from the selfish twattiness. And the charm, obviously). We’d probably hate each other if we ever met. I can only play the driven, sure-of-himself working-class hard man convincingly for about a second. (And, of course, that might be the point: I suspect without his slow-burning, finely-crafted public brand, Weller could only actually play the driven, working-class hard man for a few seconds. Because – yes – he’s ever-changing…)
Another friend said, after watching this, ‘he seems more comfortable these days’. True, perhaps – and her saying that emphasised to me that Paul Weller has never actually been comfortable, ever: his drinking, drug-taking, his entire life seems to have been one of seeking comfort and simultaneously spitting at it and running from it whenever it appeared round the corner. He’s written some fine songs (each one, interestingly, a straightforward love song) in the last thirty years. But his attempts at experimentation, to distance himself from The Other Two and his essential Sixtiesness, have seemed (mostly) clunky and self-conscious.
Paul Weller: completely unlike me. There’s a fabulous moment about 25 seconds into this post-Jam (but desperately/knowingly-nostalgic-already) Style Council video, filmed at Woking Football Club. Watch him leap off the scooter: and watch the car shake:
He’s human. Uncomfortable. A bit crap. It’s one of my favourite Weller things, that moment. Wonderful. And, oddly, not in this film.
Which is a shame. Because it’s almost – almost – as wonderful and telling as watching the power, hope, certainty and utter uncrapness of this: