Given the parade of bio-pics flooding the big screen lately, it's amazing that nobody has tackled the Clash, also known as The Only Band That Matters (which might make a decent working title, actually). If it does, even money suggests that some director will tap Vince White's book, OUT OF CONTROL:: THE LAST DAYS OF THE CLASH (2007) , for source material -- where they'll find enough backstabbing, drugs, groupies and greed to fuel a mini-series.
Or, as Vince says, after the whole band watches the heavy metal mockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap”: “Spinal Clash would have made an even better film. It would have to be a black comedy though and it would require some skill to make.” While that possibility has yet to unfold, OUT OF CONTROL's black-humored recounting of the Clash's final two years– which produced the prematurely-titled CUT THE CRAP (1985) – has inspired plenty of tongue-clucking, online and off.
In that spirit, now seemed like a good time to run down what's happened since those initial press runs, as well as the proverbial Next Project, and if it's really possible to ignore the man behind the curtain...whether he lurks behind the mixing board, record label boardroom, or political backroom. See for yourself: the highlights follow. (For more information, see www.vincewhite.com/.)
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): It is our appointed hour, so...we'll just start with the general, and work our way outwards. What are some of the notable things that have happened, since it's (OUT OF CONTROL) come out?
VINCE WHITE (VW): I was quite surprised, actually, how good the response was. If you look on amazon.co.uk, there's a whole bunch of reviews up there. That's the only site I'm selling it on, apart from my own site. I thought I'd come in for a lot more stick than what I did.
CR: So, from that standpoint, were you surprised by any of the conclusions that reviewers drew?
VW: The message I've got is one that 99.999 percent of people don't wanna hear. They don't mind hearing that I was lied to, and ripped off, and it was all crazy, and out of control. But implicit in that [idea] is, they've been lied to, and ripped off. See what I'm saying?
People were sending emails (saying), “Great book,” but it seemed like they hadn't actually read the book, or at least they hadn't read between the lines. I think they just saw it as a bit of a rock 'n' roll story.
CR: Because it would be easy to take the rock 'n' roll story, and forget about the other subtexts going on...
VW: Well, I deliberately wrote it in that sense. I didn't want it to be some academic trawl through the history, you know? The idea of a culture industry brings up why this band has been separated from every other as being “the band that matters.” You answer that to me, because there's something implied in that statement.
CR: Well, I think – it's because they've (listeners) assumed there was an underlying intellectual edge to this (music) all along, and have sort of embellished on it.
VW: Well, I think that's fairly true – it's just that the intellectual edge isn't the one that people think it is. OK, the way I'd sort of sum it up is...consciously or unconsciously...we don't have a culture – it's an entertainment industry. It's a system, a business. It's all just phony. It's standard, manufactured, you know what I mean? I think people see the Clash as something separate from that, as kind of a street band – that it's authentic culture, it comes from the bottom up.
VW: You've got a band that's being backed by this giant conglomerate, corporate structure (in CBS Records, now Sony), calling itself anti-establishment. Something is a contradiction, don't you think? I mean, the band couldn't be there unless it's authorized to be there.
CR: You have the quote by (CBS executive) Maurice Oberstein, and I'm paraphrasing here: “I didn't see the Clash as a social phenomenon. I simply wanted to get on with making records.”
VW: Well, from being behind the scenes -- seeing how it was put together -- it was pretty orchestrated and planned. There was very little spontaneity in the whole thing. You can argue why they would push something like that so strongly. I mean, a band can't make it that big unless it's heavily promoted. That's just the facts.
CR: I think so, too.
VW: It's about promoting the illusion of a free society, “these rebels speaking up for you” -- the illusion of democracy, that anybody can get up and do it, and become successful.
CR: And, as you alluded to in one of your emails, you did an interview with the BBC, and they cut you off after a minute and a half...
VW: Well, it was an annoying interview, because they tried to steer everything into a very shallow area. You couldn't really get into anything, but I deliberately pushed the conversation towards talking about corporate media. I didn't swear, Ralph, you know? I mentioned Sony, and bang, that was it! I was off the air: “We got to move on.”
CR: What were they trying to ask that was so shallow? Give me an example.
VW: It was so shallow, I can hardly remember – I mean, just lightweight questions. The sort of questions they asked me when I joined (the Clash): “Were you a fan before you joined?” That sort of thing. Nothing of any consequence, but that's the way it is. You see that more and more these days.
CR: Did you have any other experiences like that?
VW: Well, there's the book itself. One of the first things I found is that the big publishing houses have all been bought out, the famous names like Penguin, and Granada. Well, they keep the brand name, but they've all been bought out. And then you have to go from there to independents, very small [publishing houses].
CR: And, as I remember you telling me last time, a lot of them said, “Well, great writing, but you're not part of the original band, and we can't compete with Redemption Song”...
VW: Yeah. Well, that's what my agent said.
CR: So, were you shocked by that, or figure that out after the first go-rounds of turndowns?
VW: No, they send letters. Everything goes very slow in the publishing business, you know? It's (taken) over a year to finally get all those letters through. But it should cause people some concern to know that things are being vetted, and stuff only gets out there if it's approved by the establishment.
CR: So, having said that – how well has the book done?
VW: Well, it depends. How are you gonna value it? In terms of response from people, sales, or whatever? Yeah, it's done all right. If you go through a publishing house, it ends up on the shelves in stores – but you're lucky to see a few pennies on the price. But if I sell it independently, I get to keep control of it.
CR: And you get to keep all the money, which is even better.
VW: Yeah, but – even Amazon, they take 60 percent. I'm not kidding. If you've got a £15 book, they take £9 of that. And out of the remainder, you have to make the books, you have to write the book, you have to do the cover – do all the work.
By the end of it, you're left with maybe £2-3 on each book. It's not that clever – everyone else is taking money except you. You know, they've got it sewn up. I mean, these people know what they're doing.
CR: Absolutely. I imagine this was why we didn't have any photos, correct? Because that would really have bumped up your cost...
VW: Well, I never really saw it as that kind of a book, you know – like a normal rock biog thing with pictures. It's written as a work of art, a piece of literature. If I do another print run, which doesn't seem very likely at the moment, I'll probably put cartoons in it. I'll draw them myself. You know, drawings that look cool.
CR: I would love to see that. So what's the next book?
VW: It'd be about my experience in the art world. I went to art college some years back. I wrote an art blurb for my website, and that triggered off a few ideas. I could expand on that quite a lot, do it in the same style (as OUT OF CONTROL) – but include some cultural markers, a commentary on what's going on, from my point of view.
CR: Well, my wife – being an artist – has commented that the art world often seems as manufactured as the entertainment world.
VW: Yeah, it's all part of the same kind of agenda.
CR: So, do we have an idea when this is going to come out, or are you simply just doing it as you go along?
VW: Well, I haven't started it. I've had a year off from doing any arty things. I've got a '65 Mustang, and I've been restoring it. I've put a new top on it, new carpet, and it's looking pretty good – you have to come over, dude.
CR: Oh, absolutely. I really want to see how things have changed in London, and the UK...
VW: Oh, man, it's incredible – it really is off the charts. I got thrown off the tube the other day...
VW: (For) drinking a beer! Well, they have their little wars, you see? They've started on the smoking – you can't smoke anywhere – now they're coming down on the alcohol. The thing is, they didn't put any signs up.
If they're going to change the rules, I think people need to be told. It's not that I couldn't have a drink. I wasn't bothered. If anyone didn't want me to drink, I won't.
CR: At least let folks know...
VW: I started to argue with them – I pulled my ticket out, paid eight quid, or whatever...and the (transit cop) just grabbed me by the arm -- big guy, you know? He just started lifting me up the stairs, and threw me out of the Baker Street tube station, out on the street! I couldn't believe it! This is the new freedom in Britain, man.
CR: Right. Of course, that's been their “get out” clause to expand all this massive federal power.
VW: Well, yeah – just a lot of surveillance, and police becoming more high-profile everywhere. You're seeing police powers being given to lower and lower functionaries. You've got a whole new bunch of people called community service officers walking around. They started up a few years ago, they're more arrogant now, and they can stop you. Even the traffic wardens are gonna get police powers soon...
VW: Yeah – everyone's gonna be spying on everyone else soon. It's just like the fucking Soviet Union. Because effectively, we're now in the EU, and all the directors come from that, which is a bunch of bureaucrats – they're not even elected. Don't worry, you'll have it in the U.S. soon (laughs). Was there anything else you want to know about?
CR: I'm assuming, this (book) is your way of moving on (from the Clash) – yet they're (fans) always going to put that association in front of your name. Do you see that as a hindrance?
VW: No, no! I'm never gonna say the Clash didn't rock! I mean, that was a great band to play in. The music and the songs were good. My interest is in the business around it, how that kind of fits together, the way people perceived it, and how the whole culture industry works.
It's the same, like you said, with the art thing. You've got something like Damien Hirst, or one of these artists that becomes really successful – you really think they're making it on their merits? I can't believe that. See, I just see that they're put there.
CR: Yeah, because you see their name mentioned a lot of times, and somebody else's not mentioned as much – or not mentioned at all.
VW: Well – all the art of the last century has been systematically taking away any kind of inherent aesthetics. They're just trying to make things more debased as possible. I mean, you can't make it in the art world, unless you're doing something really disgusting. That's what I see –a debasement of the whole thing.
CR: Is there a particular school (of art) that you're drawn to, more than the others?
VW: No, not really. I mean, one of the things I like doing is just experimenting, and playing with a whole different bunch of things. I don't really have what you call a style. When I went to the (art college) interview, there was a panel, and they dismissed it: “Well, this work could be made by a whole bunch of different people.” I wasn't manufacturing a style, do you know what I mean? That's the way they think.
CR: Well, you've done a couple of your own shows, haven't you?
VW: Yeah, but in terms of the book, I'm more interested in looking at it from a cultural perspective – rather than, “This is my art.” You don't make it in any part of this system unless you're funded heavily in one way or another. Nothing comes from the grass roots. It just doesn't. People need to understand that – it's like the Guggenheim Foundation. They pick you. They decide who they're gonna make stars, who they're gonna make famous...
CR: Right, who's going to be worthy...
VW: They don't make it on their own merits. And I think you can apply that right across the board – through the music industry, and everything. And that ties in with the Clash. You can enjoy the music, but I wouldn't take it too seriously, because it's not what you think it is – that's all I'm trying to say.
It's even more pronounced in the art world, because it's even more subjective. At least with music, you can listen to it, get an immediate feeling about it. Art is a little bit more intellectual – you can bullshit with it, basically. The more educated and cultured people are, the more they get taken for a ride, it seems to me.
A pile of bricks in a gallery, what the hell is that? You can pontificate about it for hours: the joke's on them. That guy who bought the Damien Hirst skull – that was his most expensive piece. It's worth millions. Diamonds on a skull? (Note: check out Hirst's Wikipedia entry for a juicy discussion of this piece.) If there's a massive depression, and the supermarket shelves are empty, he (the buyer) can sell it, and get his money back.
RH: Hopefully, he took all that stuff into account...but, going back to the Clash – the tone was set from the first audition...which was an “American Idol”-type audition, wasn't it? So (Clash manager) Bernie (Rhodes) was ahead of his time, I guess.
VW: Well, Bernie – that guy is just so incredibly secretive. I mean, there are very few photographs of him. You've got to ask yourself, what's this guy got to hide? I'd like to know what organizations he's affiliated with.
My point (to listeners) is, just think a bit outside the box – what they're putting in their heads, as far as music and culture goes, and question it. When you're young, you don't wanna be bothered with stuff like that. you just want to enjoy yourself. You don't think about what's going on behind this...like you say, it's who's behind the curtain, pushing the levers.
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