Now, as promised, I shall tackle a subject of the utmost importance to music nerds everywhere: the Clash. Firstly (so I’m guaranteed to get published), I’ll mention a little known anecdote about the boys passion for footy, which I came across while reading the hilarious and essential biography of the band: A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash, by Johnny Green. In it Green recounts, in colourful cockney English, an informal game of footy played by the lads during the recording of their masterpiece London Calling, back in ‘78:
Joe (Strummer) was everywhere on the pitch, like a terrier after the ball. Battersea played as well, and it was a race between Joe and Topper’s dog for every stray ball. Joe always went straight for goal. Paul (Simonon) was lethal; if he was coming at you, you got rid of the ball fast. He was hugely enthusiastic, prone to big hoofs and long shots. Topper was good too. Well Coordinated, he could show people the ball, drag it away, go both ways round them then look up before playing the ball on a sixpence. He spotted openings. He was the first to be picked every time-followed by Paul: no one wants to play against Paul. Everyone took the piss out of Mick’s (Jones) football style, running up the wing with his arm in the air shouting, “To me! To me!” He could dribble and played a passing game. But Paul thought a pass was something received with a charming smile from women.”
What is it about the Clash that fascinates me so much? I could give you the official reasons (e.g. first band to mix rock with reggae and ska, first rock band to embrace hip-hop, etc.), but somehow that wouldn’t do my relationship with the group justice. No, there is definitely something more personal going on here.
I discovered the band, ironically enough, while rummaging through my folks old record collection (to this day, I suspect that they bought it by accident). It was their second album, the uneven Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Oddly, they had never introduced me to the band (they weren’t exactly pop music savvy). Here was an awesome assault on the ears. Terrifyingly loud and aggressive music, in parts, that dealt with the most exotic subject matter imaginable to a middle-class Canadian teen: a trip to Jamaica gone terribly awry, the perils of illegal drug use in London, etc. I was pretty much instantly smitten. From that point onwards, I would devote myself to consuming anything and everything ever put out by the band, both good and bad (anyone remember Cut the Crap? I didn’t think so!)
Being a political junkie I was, of course, drawn to the Radio Clash’s message of social justice and solidarity with our brothers in the third world. For a pithy 3 minute 31 second summary of American hypocrisy in terms of it’s of Latin American foreign policy, listen to Washington Bullets. Ditto for a lesson on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, for which I recommend that insanely catchy tune Rock the Casbah ( my favourite).
This band ,in my humble opinion, are the Beatles of punk music. In other words, they were the originators of virtually every trend in their particular musical genre. Mind you, calling them a punk band is doing him a bit of a disservice, since their influence, goes far beyond the world of punk rock.
But most of all, there was the outstanding charisma of their front man and main lyricist, Joe Strummer. Anyone who has seen Strummer on stage, as I had the pleasure of doing at his last concert in Montreal, can attest to his brilliance as a showman. I’ll never forget that raspy voice lamenting the fact that there was a physical barrier separating him from his fans. This boiled the blood of the old rabble rouser like nothing else. After all, wasn’t the Clash about tearing down barriers whether they be about race, class or music.