Look, I don't wanna be the same as everybody else. That's why I'm a mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain't ya, or you might as well jump in the sea and drown.
-- Jimmy (played by Phil Daniels) in the movie Quadrophenia, 1979
It's hard out here for a mod.
Just ask Marcos Prado.
In the '90s, when he first became infatuated with the mod scene -- with all of its spiffy sartorial style, throwback soul sounds and roots in British pop culture -- he was an anomaly in exurban North Texas at Joshua High School in Johnson County.
"I think most of my friends understand it [now], but they didn't at first," says Prado over lunch recently in Dallas. "My parents [still] don't understand it.... I had a couple of friends in Arlington who were somewhat into it, and that became really influential."
He adds, "It's not a family but it's kind of a second family."
When you see the 34-year-old Prado around town these days, he might be rocking a slim-fit Fred Perry, John Smedley or Merc shirt, or maybe a Ben Sherman suit. There's also a good chance he'll be tooling around on one of his four Vespa scooters, the mod transportation of choice. Scooter rallies helped Prado feel less isolated. "When I got a scooter, my girlfriend and I would go around the country, do the rallies, and we'd meet other people," he says.
But his passion really came to fruition with The Smoke, the occasional club night he and a few friends co-founded in 2003. It celebrates the mod life with vintage R&B, classic reggae/ska and garage rock music. It was first held at Cavern Club on Lower Greenville, then Avenue Arts near Fair Park and now at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum. (The next Smoke is scheduled for Friday night.)
It was through the club night that he and his current business partner, Jason Harris, found others like themselves, men and women bent against the Texas grain, seeking out sweet solace in '60s soul music and a sharp suit. It might've been easier if they'd just packed up and moved to some place like L.A. or London, where mod culture has deeper roots, but they were hyped to do something on their home turf.
"I like that we're trying to do something here," says Prado. "Out there [in L.A.], with a lot of people doing things, you'd get lost in the mix."
'So young and beautiful'
Chances are if you're an American with just a faint knowledge of English youth trends, you're only dimly aware of mods. They were celebrated in the Who's epic 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, which was turned into a movie, starring Sting, in 1979. But beyond that, they've pretty much faded into the cultural woodwork.
In the U.K., though, it's another story. Mods emerged in the late '50s as part of a newly minted generation of British teens with free time and excess cash, standing in stark contrast to those who came of age a few years before them, who suffered through the Great Depression and World War II. Whereas some gravitated toward the '50s-rock/American-influenced teddy boys and rockers, mods -- who swiped their name from the term "modernist" that's also a salute to modern jazz -- cultivated a more urbane, European sensibility, complete with cool clothes and hipster haircuts. They displayed a fondness for jazz, new-generation garage rock from The Who, the Kinks and Small Faces, and American R&B, as well as ska, the music of England's then-recent wave of Caribbean immigrants. The giddy mood of the time was wonderfully captured in Colin MacInnes' 1959 novel Absolute Beginners, which was turned into a 1986 film starring David Bowie and Sade. It opened with this evocative narration:
"I remember that hot, wonderful summer. When the teenage miracle reached full bloom and everyone in England stopped what they were doing to stare at what had happened.... Nobody knew exactly why. But after so many dreary years of bombs and blitz and slow rebuilding ... with the whole English world dressed in gray, it seemed, forever. Suddenly life broke out in warm colors again, so young and beautiful that a lot of people couldn't stand to look at it. For the first time ever, kids were teenagers."
Mod got a reboot in the late '70s/early '80s, when some post-punk bands, like the Jam, led a revival of the style. This coincided with the more racially blended 2 Tone ska movement, with groups like the Specials, Madness, the English Beat and the Selecter, which many mods latched onto as well. In California and in the Northeast, where you can't swing a Union Jack over your head without hitting an Anglophile, the scene exploded with bands like the Untouchables and huge squadrons of kids on scooters taking to the roads.
Where there's Smoke
But it was lonely for these kids in the Lone Star State.
"The ska scene faded away pretty quickly here," Prado remembers.
But he eventually found a kindred spirit in Harris; the two shared a film class at UNT. While Prado was the lone mod at Joshua High, Harris was his cultural twin at Plano Senior. And, like Prado, he came to his affinity for all things mod through a love of reggae and its predecessor, ska.
"I hung out with the skaters and the punks," says Harris, 35. "There were a couple of other people who were sort of into [mod] and they eventually left. I was it."
He caught some heat from classmates.
"I'm mixed-race so actually I got flak from other black kids because I was involved in what they perceived to be this white scene," he remembers. "In reality, that white scene introduced me to reggae and soul, and I know more about reggae and soul than those kids."
Today, The Smoke guys have since been joined on the scene by the annual Rockers vs. Mods scooter rally -- the sixth one begins March 30 in venues in downtown Dallas, east Dallas and Oak Cliff (see sidebar) -- and the more psychedelic and "freakbeat" Lollipop Shoppe club night, which just celebrated its eighth anniversary. Taking place every other month, Lollipop paints on a wider musical canvas.
"Soul but nothing you would hear on the radio, some rock, mod, psychedelic kind of stuff," says co-founder Patricia Rodriguez, 35, of what might be played. "Even [blues singer] Muddy Waters, but the crazy, psychedelic side."
For all involved, the rhythms of the past are more invigorating than those of the present.
"In the '60s, it was such a time of discovery, and people were a little more expressive," Prado says. "It wasn't disposable like a lot of things today."
"I play bass, and I've always loved soul," Rodriguez says. "There was a lot of freedom going on, a lot of individuality. Everything was new and exciting."
Many North Texans may not agree -- events here pale in popularity compared with their counterparts elsewhere like Chicago's Windy City Soul Club and Seattle's Emerald City Soul Club, which reportedly can attract several hundred people -- but there is more visibility these days.
"It's growing in popularity," says Rodriguez, who's thinking of making Lollipop Shoppe a monthly event. "The scooter rallies brought a lot of attention to the whole culture."
Yet the scene is small enough that everyone goes to each other's events -- Prado could be found dancing at a recent Lollipop Shoppe, while Rodriguez and her DJ, Gabriel Mendoza, will be deejaying at one of the Rockers vs. Mods nights March 30 at the Bryan Street Tavern in Dallas.
And if North Texas mods are angry or bitter that most of their fellow Texans don't quite get them, they don't show it.
"It's never been big here in Dallas, so I've always been used to the idea that I could be the only guy in town," Harris says. "Me, Marcos and a few of us, we're flying the flag with our lonely little fort. That's what I'm used to, so I don't fear for that. It's been going on since the late '50s, and it's always going to have people who are interested in it.... It might die out in Texas but it will continue somewhere else."
Now, some old-school mods, with roots in the '70s and '80s, have discovered the local scene.
Craig Meadows, who grew up in West Yorkshire in the U.K. and now lives in Weatherford, spent much of his youth in the '70s as a mod dancing the nights away at England's storied Wigan Casino, one of the headquarters for what became known as Northern soul, a British term for any type of American R&B in the Motown vein.
But by the '80s, he was living in the U.S., in Houston, Hawaii, Los Angeles and, ultimately, North Texas, where he is in the business of metalworking tooling distribution to defense contractors. Three years ago, he wanted to reconnect with his musical roots and did an Internet search for like-minded people. That's when he discovered The Smoke.
"It was out of desperation," says Meadows, 53. "I said there's got to be some soul closer to home. I knew about California and New York, but I said there's got to be something in Austin or Houston."
As it turned out, he didn't have to go that far.
The same goes for Wendy Lumley, who's not a scooter fan, owns three motorcycles and concedes, "I was more a punk-rocker and rockabilly, leaning more to the rocker side" in '80s London. But now that she's in North Texas, working as a registrar at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, she appreciates what The Smoke is all about.
Lumley, 50, says she prefers "anything revivalist because modern-day culture kind of sucks. I like the mod-style dancing and the music.... I've been to all these events since they started."
Plus, Prado says out-of-towners are often impressed with the local enthusiasm, if not the numbers. "We've had DJs come in from overseas and they really enjoyed our night," he says. "They kind of compared it to the L.A. scene. I was very flattered."
Look back, move forward
Prado is married and studying to be a paralegal. Harris works in IT and is a cycling and Gaelic football enthusiast. Rodriguez is a visual artist. For all three of them, there's no plan to outgrow their love of all things mod, even as they get on with the rest of their lives.
But is mod just the domain of grown-ups not yet willing to bid farewell to their youth? Will the movement die out as soon as these folks start having kids of their own and disappear from the nightlife scene? Rodriguez concedes that the Lollipop Shoppe attracts older people but stresses that it also brings in "young kids who like to dance," and who could conceivably carry the movement forward.
For his part, Harris bristles at the notion that it's all about jokey nostalgia.
"I kind of cringe when people think of mod as being this '60s throwback," he says. "It's timeless. When you say 'We're mod,' people think of Austin Powers.... But, to this day, when you look at the clothing and the art, the resurgence of interest in scooters, mod is there in the background, has adapted and morphed but kept its style and attitude without totally selling out."
Besides, continues Harris, mod is the one youth fashion that ages well.
"It's a very clean sort of style ... but, at the same time, a hard look," he says. "It's a look where you set yourself apart from other people and stood out.... The style has always been geared towards more suits and dressing well, as it had influences from Italian fashion and Ivy League. You can have a guy in his 40s dress like a mod, and it doesn't look ridiculous. It's not like a 40-year-old guy with a mohawk."