Mods, Rockers, Teddy Boys & Britain’s Youth: Blame the Whole thing on Billy Eckstine
The British Invasion had a dark side to it’s moon that manifested itself in widespread violence that swept the island nation with thefury of a Viking raid of fierce Norsemen hellbent on pillage and plunder. This dark side resulted in scattered confrontations, and often bloody gang battles over the two decades of the Teddy Boy Fifties and the Mod and Rocker Sixties. Mods, Rockers and Teddy’s. A trio of street violence. turf warfare, and bloodshed. The British music and youth sub-culture scene was a Jekyll and Hyde hybrid that resulted in bashed in heads, broken faces, broken bones and blood red battles at beachside resorts, not to mention racial attacks on immigrants from the West Indies and others.
The Brits do have a violent reputation, let’s face it. Take soccer for example. Soccer games on the international stage usually have the Brit fans in the stands rushing to the field to pummel the other teams players and fan base. They get so violent in fact that they are referred to derogatorily as “Lagerheads” and have a pent up penchant for violence that must be similar to an orgasm. This blown inner fuse by wannabe arm chair athletes is not confined to the soccer fields or Britain alone. Just look at parents at a Little League baseball game in America where the “adults” get out of control, not in all cases of course, but often enough. It’s a fucking game people, that is all, sports is a game.. not life and death. I can see Ghandi now challenging the British Empire to a soccer game to decide if the Brits stay or leave…North Vietnam challenging Team Nixon to a round of golf (there’s a fucking dull game that I hesitate to even call a sport!) to decide which ideology will survive jungle warfare and boobytraps. It is the armchair quarterback syndrome of wannabes who never will be the hero on the field and have to live potbellied on the sidelines watching –forever watching and not participating– in effect the penis has been cut off at the pass and will never score a cheerleading goal.
Counter Culture, Youth Movements & How American Music Sparked the British Invasion
How does this visceral violence translate to aesthetics fostered and promulgated by The British Music Invasion? It was about music and fashion, right? Carnaby Street meets Seville Row, right? However, if you went diving in the pop culture dumpster of the times, you would have seen a decapitated head or two, figuratively speaking of course, (quite possibly literally too!) that was severed during a sociological gang rape of epic proportions. The youth culture of Sixties England was in full bloom, a virgin waiting to have her cherry popped by a Prince Charming. Instead she was thrust hard to her knees, mouth wide open and forced into giving head to a vulgar beast. A two headed, two sided, two faced, yinned-yanged beast of angelic good and pure evil. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had split their own atom, and had sprung to life as a youth sub-culture ensconced in a society gone quite mad, not to mention, quite Mod and quite off it’s Rockers!
The two heads of the beast were exact opposites. Mr. Hyde, was evil and bloodthirsty, Dr. Jekyll was quaint Quant paisley daisies, mop tops and pop music! The times were “fab” and “birds” were “gear” but there was an under current, an oceanic undertow of fear that Stanley Kubrick would encapsulate in the futuristic horror noir (if there is such a term, and if not, there is now) film “Clockwork Orange.” The main character, Alex and his Droogies, were the direct offspring and bastard children that had crept from the afterbirth of the Mods and Rockers of the British Sixties, and the Teddy Boys of the British Fifties.
The film, Clockwork Orange, like the book by Anthony Burgess, was rampant with rape and beatings as a gang of Kubrick-Burgess Droogies break into a couples home, kick and beat the husband near to death as his wife is held helpless in the clutches of a gang of Droogie youth hellbent on penetrating her one after the other as her husband is forced to watch the macabre scene unfold before him. She is raped repeatedly and forced to commit sexual acts on all the members of the gang with with a plethora of penis penetration in every orifice, her body bruised and beaten, her vagina numb to the ongoing assault. The room is filled with the scent of animal sex and is awash in bruised breasts and thighs, damaged psyche’s and an overflowing vagina of sexual lava left deposited by a gang of belligerents, that now drips and pools on the floor between her middle class, middle aged outstretched legs glistening with liquids deposited inside of her in great volcanic volumes of teenage orgasms.
The whole effect of the film was violence for the sake of violence, to make us cringe, as we, the audience were cinematically layered with gang rapes and beatings. The viewer, as helpless onlooker (and voyeur), becomes uncomfortably numb and is overwhelmed by it’s basic base theme, yet, excited, emotionally and sexually, places touched in corners hidden in us in a deep well that we didn’t know existed…the violence becomes a mere backdrop as we wiggle in our theatre seat during the rape scene, excited..the Jekyll/Hyde thing again I suppose. The book-The film was supposed to reflect the future..instead it was a mirror reflection of the past, the past of the Mod and Rocker Sixties, not to mention Teddy Boy violence of the Fifties. The past was presented in a futuristic almost expressionist style that made the past very real, very violent, and oh so British.
The Rockers on the one hand, and the Ted’s on the other, were junkies addicted to the heroin of Haley and the Comets, and the cocaine of Cochran, Eddie that is. Other influences included the film that help defined delinquency for the times, “The Blackboard Jungle,” along with the music and fashion style of ..gasp! Billy fucking Ekstine! No shit..Billy Ekstine, not Ozzie Osbourne, not Charles Manson, but Billy Ekstine! What the fuck?
Making Sense of How Most Youth Movements Don’t
The Ted’s first, and the Rockers and Mod’s later, were a part of the youth culture that ignited a violent explosion and clash of cultures in Britain for over two overlapping decades. The demarcation line of Beat and Hip were blurred in a slurry, and from the anthropological chemistry emerged three groups that were as different as day and night, where the street whore and the Virgin Mary had a lot in common as black leather hoods on Marlon Brando motorcycles and Edwardian Dandies on scooters mixed it up to a British beat reinforced with riots, bicycle chains, wooden clubs and razor blades and knives..slice and dice time,…Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! Give Peace a Chance for Christ sakes.
Mods and Rockers were at complete opposite ends of the youth sub-culture universe in the Sixties. Mods had their roots in the beatnik era of the 1950’s. More bohemian at first, with art and poetry as their aesthetic gravity. The term Mod was derived from the term “modernist” with heavy doses of jazz infused with existentialism. The coffee bars were attractive the Mods for a variety of reasons, but primarily, the traditional British pubs closed at 11 p.m. while the coffee bars were open well into the wee small hours of the morning with live entertainment of jazz and blues, all influenced by American pop culture. The Mods were also a product of London at the time, while the Rockers were more a product of the north of the county, Liverpool in particular.
The Rockers had their roots in American Rockabilly, and while the Mods preferred to scoot around on scooters (Vespa), the Rockers preferred motorcycles, rolled up Levi’s, peg pants, black leather jackets and sported towering Empire State Building pompadour high rockabilly hair-do’s in imitation the juvenile delinquent look and fashion of the 1950’s..instead of jazz, the Rockers preferred rock and roll. Mod’s on the other hand lived a lifestyle centred around fashion and music, wore suits and preferred soul and rhythm and blues. It was only a matter of time when the sub-culture atom would split igniting a near atomic reaction of cross cultural violence in brawls and fights with a variety of weapons designed for one purpose to maim or kill. Switchblades and chains, brass knuckles and razor blades were used to draw copious amounts of blood and to inflict broken bones and faces.
At first the melees were scattered and among small groups protecting their supposed turf. Most of these occurred at seaside resorts and of course, in true British lagerhead fashion, after football games! Media coverage only added gasoline to the fire of tension that was building among the two groups. Some of these outbreaks make the Hells Angels rampage in Hollister appear to be a social tea by comparison.
British working class people enjoy their time off and it was customary to head to the coast for long holiday weekends. On one such weekend, during Easter of 1964 the conflict came to a head in two towns, Clacton and Brighton as thousands of Britons, as well as legions of Mods and Rockers arrived for the holiday. Soon fighting broke out and mods and rockers were using every available weapon in sight. The worst violence ocurred in Brighton where the battling raged for over two days and spread to Hastings also on the coast. The media had a frenzied field day over this and referred to in true British fashion in blazing headlines as “The Second Battle of Hastings. At one point with police standing idly by, a group of trapped Rockers were overwhelmed and beaten to a bloody pulp by hordes of Mods.
On the lighter side of the Mad Mods was the colourful clothing as they gravitated to Carnaby Street to drape themselves in velvet jackets, ruffled shirts that had a pirate panache to them, tight fitting pants and and boots. To the Mod..the wethead was indeed dead, and the bushy long haired dry look was in. Perhaps the three most prominent Mod bands were the Small Faces, the Kinks and of course, the Who with Keith Moon leading the Union Jack “My Generation” fashion parade. It was London, it was the Sixties and the Kid’s Were Alright!
While the Rockers stayed with Rock and Roll, the Mods went through a transformation in the mid to late Sixties. The music at first that signifies the Mod sound was upbeat, driving drums and blasting guitars with a hint of Motown. As the Sixties began it’s Caraby Street beat descent, the Mods began revolving around the British garage-psychedelic sound which in time would be known as “freakbeat” while another faction went hip as the hippie phenom grew like a magic mushroom. Today the Mods have come full circle and there is a Mod retro movement afoot in the UK including a resurgence in vintage shops schlepping Mod clothing and sales are booming for Vespa and Lambretta motor scooters!
The Rockers have always been a fixture and even with many layers of societal evolution, there is a rocker underground that has
re-surfaced, although it has never gone away. The UK has paid tribute to it’s Rocker Roots of Rock and Roll with the establishment of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame that includes such American pioneer rocksters as Narvel Felts, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. There are rockabilly festivals and films and the Rock and Punk Bands of the 70’s and 80’s can claim rights to the Rocker Gene Pool. Most notably, although American, is Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats who pack the houses in the United States and the Rockabilly Garden of Eden in the United Kingdom
But…before the Mods…before the Rockers…before the Punks…there were the Ted’s! Rock and Roll spawn of the first R n’ R generation the Teddy Boys emerged in the Fifties in England, at first to skiffle and ska, and ultimately with Rock and Roll. Once the film “Blackboard Jungle” hit the British silver screen in 1955 the Ted’s began their rise to sub culture prominence and the new dieties were Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Eddie Cochran.
Evolution, Devolution & the Power of Soulful Sounds On Impressionable Youths
The Ted’s were the fashion pre-cursors to the Mods a decade later. They donned the Edwardian Period Duds of the Edwardian Dandy Dudes. Preening peacocks in in a rock and roll lather. One of the stranger fashion features included a high-necked loose collared white shirt known as a “Mr. B. because it was worn by jazz musician Billy Eckstine, whose music the Teds also liked among the avalanche or Rock and Roll… go figure? The hairstyles were greased up pompadours with the familiar duck ass or duck tail in back and cut square in the back. Strangely enough, my hairstyle today is loosely based on that look that was also popular in America at the time. No, my hair is not Setzerian in height but the back is duck assed and squared off at the nape. Somethings just wear well with time, eh?
The Ted’s began in 1950 and were a somewhat quiet subculture, until 1955 when “Blackboard Jungle” was shown in London. The audience, primarily Teds in attendance began to riot, rip up the seats in the theatre, and then, holy shit..they began dancing in the aisles! The stage was now set and every place in England that showed the film experienced the same violent outbreak…The Ted’s fought with each other as they formed rival gangs, and in 1958 Ted’s launched an especially violent attack on the local West Indian community.
If the Teddy Boys were badass, then the Teddy Girls were hardly Doris Day. They were referred to as “Judies” and affected the rolled up jeans look, lots of velvet clothing, tight ass fitting toreador pants and yep, those awesome ponytails that wiggled and wagged in the breeze. The Ted’s by an large were working class, not to mention high school drop-outs, (ok, another thing I have in common with them) The Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls would drop out of school by age 14 or 15 (15 in my case) and work at jobs all week and party hard all weekend long.
The Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls, Mods and Rockers, Skiffle to Rockabilly to Punk..it was all part of the British Invasion..the violent side of the invasion with self inflicted societal wounds and enough blood and violence that was the real Clockwork Orange, but you can’t blame the violence of the times on Alex or Droogies or Burgess or Kubrick..hell..blame it all on Billy Eckstine!!