The birth of the DIY movement, it could be argued, arrived when Christopher Stamp — the younger brother of actor Terence Stamp — and Kit Lambert stumbled upon each other and discovered their shared dream of becoming filmmakers. The pair hatched a harebrained scheme to make a movie: Why not find a raw and ragged band in the fledgling Rock & Roll scene, sign on to manage them and film the entire process of transforming them into a chart-topping group? If you’re going to dream, then follow the random logic of dreams — do the unexpected, meander down dirt paths that are decidedly less traveled (if at all) and hope that you never wake up.
The fascinating thing about this approach is that it could never happen in today’s corporate mind-think world where every decision must be market tested and focus grouped across several demographics before a team of executives can give even the most basic idea a greenlight. A creative business has evolved into a factory churning out product/content with no sense or desire for style and signature expressions of imagination.
To hear Christopher Stamp early on in Lambert & Stamp, James Cooper’s documentary about the partnership that spawned The Who, there was a proto-mythic quality to the whole affair. Stamp was a directionless kid, part of the post-war generation that dared to question authority, to look for their own way, willing to wander off a bit if necessary. He had no idea what he wanted to do, and his big brother was asked by the family to check in on him, to ask him what his plan was, which Terence did, and Christopher said he wanted to meet girls. That thread led to a backstage gig with the ballet, then a detour through the underground club scene, before Stamp found the early incarnation of the band that would become The Who.
Cooper’s film perfectly captures the same haphazard vibe of that age, gathering the living participants together, allowing them to share their stories onscreen — sometimes alone, other times together — but there is an intriguing curiosity in the pairings, especially when Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey occupy the same space. They sit back and listen to each other, often as if they wouldn’t dare to interrupt the other for fear of missing out on some key element of the unfolding events that they can’t remember. It is never about competing perspectives; instead, they seek the complementary details to fill in their own incomplete portraits.
The most obvious hole in the retelling is Lambert’s angle (he passed away in 1981). The film cannot replace his voice, although his spirit shines through every memory shared with the warmth of the mid-day sun.
What emerges is a highly talkative affair, a gaggle of talking heads spinning wild tales of wild times that will likely not connect with younger audience members. Watching Lambert & Stamp forced me to consider what life might have been like if social media had existed back then.
Would the freewheeling players of that day have been as free to be themselves if they had instant access to each other and global communities, the pressure to “present” news and content rather than enjoying the process of becoming artists and creating music?
Would Lambert and Stamp, the behind-the-scenes collaborators, the shapers of grand Rock dreams, have been able to discover themselves while discovering the band?
The day the music died wasn’t when tragedy struck, a plane crash and the resulting loss of collected talent. No, I hold to the notion — and I believe Lambert & Stamp proves as well — that music hasn’t died, but it has been hooked up on life support for decades now, drifting in and out of consciousness over that time.
The heartbeat might have been quite strong when these two dreamers concocted their scheme and willed The Who into being, and inspired, however tangentially, another manager/musician combination — like Robert Cavallo and Prince to team up with Albert Magnoli to create Purple Rain and later the concert film Sign ‘o’ the Times (Magnoli eventually went on to become Prince’s manager).
But very few remember the Cavallo/Magnoli days with Prince, and who wants to recall the corporate empires that packaged Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers?
We can generate Pop brands from nothing today, but the lesson from Lambert & Stamp is that to produce great bands and music, the producers themselves need to be much more than bean counters and bottom-line analysts. Only dreamers need apply. (Opens Friday)