My Generation(s): Half a Century of Unknowing Mods
Article by: Liam Shearer
It started with the modern jazz boom of the 1950s: hundreds of young working-class Englishmen forming a connection to Italian art films and French magazines. They spent their days decorating their blue-collar work with tailored clothes and shoes and spent their nights hunting down gangs of their rival leather-clad rockers. By the time the movement had moved into the ‘60s, the mods had moved into shop windows and caused controversy on the nightly news. They had become a bona fide subculture.
The mod subculture of the 1960s is one of Britain’s most enduring. It grabbed a generation of disenchanted British baby boomers and offered them something that their parents could not. It offered freedom – an alternative to the cut-and-dried – and allowed for the creation of an original identity. Through clothes, music, sport and attitude, it offered a uniform to young, lost men and women.
As the ‘60s progressed, the mod subculture temporarily dropped the ‘sub-’. Prolific icons of the ‘60s, such as The Who, The Kinks and the Small Faces, all appeared on television screens and magazines clad in Italian-style suits with moptop hair while riding Vespas. Even The Beatles, a pop culture phenomenon whose magnitude the world has yet to see again, adopted the mod look and its associations. By the mid-1960s, thousands of youths were identifying with the four pillars of mod culture: style, music, sport and attitude.
By the time the movement began to lose its momentum, the damage had already been done. As Britain moved into the heat of the Cold War, Vespas and moptops gave way to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. However, the mod image – and all it stood for – did not die quietly. Diffused into the living memory of innovators, for the next fifty years it would morph under the radar, always silently influencing, and every decade adding something new. It occasionally rearranged and remerged into flashy new trainers and a new take on the mod-rock sound, but to commentators in the know, it was never unrecognisable, and more importantly, it never lost its rebellious heart or appeal to young people.
This brings us to today. The influence of mod culture surrounds us and we don’t even know it. Adidas trainers and Fred Perry polo shirts litter the streets of every major city in the United Kingdom. Bradley Wiggins – Britain’s most decorated Olympic champion – is a self-proclaimed mod. All of the biggest British bands of the last 50 years have claimed a level of influence from mod-rock of the 1960s, or those which have come since.
The face of the mod movement may be fashion, music and sport, but in this case, the face is not a good window to the soul. All of these independent variables have come and gone over the last 50 years, but the heart of mod culture has never died. The true brotherhood comes not with how mods looked or what they did, but why they were doing it. It all comes back to the subculture’s initial inception in 1958: a rejection of the status quo, brother- and sisterhood in rebellion, outrageous new values, living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse.
The story of the unknowing mods is one which is consistent and enduring: 50 years of young people rejecting the identities of those that came before them. It is a rejection which, in some form, has since inspired every single innovation in pop culture.
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