(Please note: this project is a separate entity from the "Clash Book Dispatches" section, which I intended to showcase material that can be used for different projects concerning the band.) There will be more to say, in due course, but for now...this press release should suffice.
JOINT COMMUNIQUE FROM CO-AUTHORS MARK ANDERSEN/RALPH HEIBUTZKI
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the fall of 1983, the Clash's lead singer, Joe Strummer, set about a daunting task: refashioning Britain's “Only Band That Matters” without two key members: guitarist Mick Jones and drummer Topper Headon.
With help from three twentysomething replacements – drummer Pete Howard, and guitarists Nick Sheppard and Vince White – Strummer aimed to revisit the first album's stripped-down martial urgency, and blow away the era's prevailing trends. “Pop will die,” he vowed “and rebel rock will rule.”
Just two years later, the “Clash Mark II” lineup would dissolve amid a critically panned album (CUT THE CRAP), internal bickering, and managerial mind games. With rare exceptions, however, the whole story has only been told in bits and pieces.
Now, Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki will join forces to tell the definitive account of this era in WE ARE THE CLASH: THE LAST STAND OF THE ONLY BAND THAT MATTERED, due out in summer 2013, on Akashic Books.
Andersen is best-known as co-author of DANCE OF DAYS: TWO DECADES OF PUNK IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL (2001), and co-founder of punk activist collective, Positive Force DC, while Heibutzki first appeared in print with UNIFINISHED BUSINESS: THE LIFE & TIMES OF DANNY GATTON (2003).
Both were originally working on separate but parallel tracks, until they decided to join forces – and produce a book that will speak for itself.
"I was a Clash fan from 1977 on, and the band was a tremendous inspiration for me as a teenager," Andersen recalls. "But this period of The Clash -- for all its failures -- actually may have had an even bigger impact on the work I've done with Positive Force and other community projects since 1984."
“This is not only a great musical story, it's a compelling human interest saga,” Heibutzki said. “The issues that 'Strummer and company' faced during those two turbulent years – notably, the struggle to regain '77-era idealism in a hyper-commercialized environment – are relevant for any reader, musician or not.”
"Too many folks simply dismiss this era of the band," Andersen agrees. "This book will not only challenge some conventional musical critiques, but also place The Clash's drama in its proper political context: Reagan, Thatcher, the defeat of the miners' strike and the subsequent ascendancy of right-wing economics and politics."
The authors welcome all contributions, including anecdotes, flyers and graphics, plus whatever recollections that people wish to share, whether they saw the band live, or had any dealings with them. To contribute along those lines, contact Andersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Heibutzki at email@example.com.
For additional information, keep visiting this website.
Just when you think it's safe to hang up your amps and microphones for a little while, a different project comes along -- in this case, revisiting the Clash's much-maligned much-maligned swan song, Cut The Crap (1985). In this case, the momentum came from the regulars at If Music Could Talk (IMCT), the major board dedicated to The Only Band That Matters.
One of the most eagerly-awaited occasions on the board is "EET Week," which takes its title from one the odder lines that Joe Strummer utters in "Play To Win," Cut The Crap's strangest, least understood number ("Yeah, and the piranha got EET!"). With that in mind, I figured -- having spent my share of time chronicling this era, and preparing to do so again -- why not contribute myself?
So, on Saturday, I summoned my longtime comprade Don Hargraves to the Chairman's nest. Not having had much time to grapple with the intricacies of recording on Cool Edit Pro 2.0, I figured it was best to let him deal with that issue, so I could get the musical side down. (Technically, we could call these songs "Instant Artifacts #4-7," since they're in keeping with the anything-can-happen, warts 'n' all spirit of that particular series.)
We managed to get three tracks down, starting with the chorus of "Play To Win" itself – which was to be combined with other, similar efforts into one truly wigged-out number. Anyway, in that spirit, Don and I quickly laid down a four-track section, 15 seconds long, with two vocals from each of us.
We then moved on to "North And South," which I've played before, and have always appreciated -- to my mind, it's one of the few places where Crap's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style actually, dare I say it, works -- and put five tracks down, just me, my guitar and vocals (lead/backup).
However, Don and I decided not to recreate the "kitchen sink" for this version -- I had an image of people singing these lyrics ("And so we say, we ain't diggin' no grave/We diggin' a foundation for the future to be made") out on a campground somewhere, late at night...so that's what we ended up doing.
However, we needed to put a sock over the microphone to eliminate the impact of those plosive "p" and "b" sounds that were spoiling the earlier takes. By the time I did the fifth (and final) vocal take, my mouth was getting like cotton, so I was happy to hear none of those exploding plosives on that one!
For "Movers And Shakers," we decided to go in a totally different direction. We started with a football-style chant of the infamous grammatically-challenged "communique" that Bernie Rhodes, the Clash's manager -- and, it should be added, Cut The Crap's creative overseer -- decided to include on the inner sleeve ("Wise MEN and street kids together make a GREAT TEAM...but can the old system be BEAT??...no...not without your participation...RADICAL social change begins on the STREET!!...so if your looking for some ACTION...CUT THE CRAP and Get Out There").
Why not, we figured, since the song seems to style itself as some kind of Elder Statesman of Punk Rock rallying cry?That's what went on tracks 1-4: for track 5, Don and I decided to play together, as if we were on that legendary '85 busking tour, trying to work out the kinks of this song in downtown Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Yorkshire...which is it's why one take, with all the mistakes deliberately kept intact.
That's why we added, on the spur of the moment,some mock insults for our remaining three tracks. That was the basic concept -- the illusion of a live performance, achieved by playing live together, and adding selected elements on top of it. If we'd had more time, we might have experimented with adding found or ambient sounds...but Don couldn't stay overnight on this occasion, so by 10 p.m., we called it quits, roughly four hours after we got started.
I just need to post the actual URLs for these MP3s on the relevant thread, and that'll wrap up another interesting one-off project. After hearing all the various takes on these songs from my fellow IMCT'ers, such as Heston's "We Aren't The Clash," or '60s-ish take on "Cool Under Heat," or Kory's hiphop rendition of "Are You Ready For War," and thinking to myself, "Given all these possibilities that got unleashed here...
...it's tantatalizing to think about what might have been," especially given the prevailing consensus that Cut The Crap amounts to a bad case, of, well...Clash shitty rockers. As Don observed afterwards, the '80s had arrived, in all their highly buffed and polished glory, "and Bernie was trying to reposition The Clash as elder statesmen, get a more modern sound, with everything and the kitchen sink."
"Whether he got there," I responded, "depends how you define the term ('modern sound'), and whether 'the tyranny of choice' (to use one of Don's favorite terms) is truly a good thing."
But that's half the fun of recording, isn't it? There's always one more (or less) track that you can do, which is why Don and I enjoyed this particular exercise so much. We'll do it again, I'm sure.
FOR THE DOWNLOAD LINK, GO HERE:
FOR LATEST IMCT DISCUSSION, GO HERE:
From Milan (...To Munich & Beyond)
With no immediate commitments anticipated after the American tour, life in Clash City unfolded at a leisurely pace during the summer of 1984. For the fans, nothing seemed amiss; obviously, until Mick's wicked injunctive blizzard finally lifted, no new album seemed likely to emerge before autumn. Only then would those keyboard-wearing, kilt-waving electroppers learn if the mighty three-chord Clash blizzard had finally put them out of work.
Of course, the Clash needed more than the handful of songs that they'd road-tested so painstakingly in Europe and America. Presumably, that wouldn't be a problem, if Strummer and his merry men stuck to their publicly touted bang-'em-up-knock-'em-out blueprint. That's how the best-loved albums had happened; what other approach made sense? Nobody could argue with the results of The Clash, or London Calling, versus the painfully protacted births of Give 'Em Enough Rope, or Combat Rock.
Behind the scenes, however, Clash City's newest recruits were experiencing a regimen that lent an ironic slant to "The Call-Up"'s central query: "Who gives you work, and why should you do it?" For Vince, Nick and Pete, the summer blurred into an unforgiving 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. rehearsal grind, at "a little dungeon" -- as White describes it -- that he'd found in his north London neighborhood of Finsbury Park. Although Paul came down occasionally, Joe was nowhere to be seen, leaving the new boys to fend for themselves.
The routine tuned truly surreal after the boys received their next assignment: "arranging" yet another crop of Strummer originals, working from tapes of chord structures that lacked lyrics or vocals. "Yeah, seriously, it was very boring -- weeks and weeks of playing those chords!" White recalls. "Joe had written out all the chords, but how can you arrange them, if you don't know what the song is about? I tell you, most of the situation was total madness."
Crazy or not, such piecemeal working methods were supplanting the all-in-this-together vibe being put out in the press. Behind the scenes, however, Joe had seemingly changed his mind -- yet again. "Me and Vince were told, together, we weren't going to be on the new record, by Joe," Nick Sheppard said. "Just like that. It started to get really nasty, pretty uncertain, pretty insecure, basically. Attempts were made to explain [the situation], but they weren't convincing."
On this matter, at least, all avenues lead back to Bernie Rhodes. Running such a closed shop suited his managerial temperament, as Clash associate, The Baron, points out: "He wasn't as respectful of individuals as one would think. Just like any prick boss: 'You can be replaced.' That's the stance Bernie took: 'Fuck you, you're gonna be along, or not? You're gonna divert, you're outta here.'"
"You can forget Joe, you can forget Paul, you can forget everybody," White agrees. "Bernie was the man with the controls, the one dictating. I was in a situation where I had to listen to him."
That isolation seemed especially pronounced in August, when The Baron caught up with the new band for a party at Vince's Finsbury Park flat. "It was an all-nighter, for sure," chuckles the Baron, "and those guys could drink, I tell you, Paul, Nick and Vince. I think we left about five, six in the morning. I had to go back to my place, and crash. They kept goin'. I don't know -- those guys were like iron men." There were two notable no-shows. "They invited Joe, and they were [grumbling] that he never showed up. Bernie never showed up. He was conspicuous by his absence," the Baron recalls. "They were both invited."
Two bursts of activity finally broke the summer's crushing boredom. The first moment came with the announcement of an Italian mini-tour for September 7-11. Instead of promoting new product, however, the Clash would provide the backdrop for an Italian Communist Party celebration of its lately-departed leader, Enrico Berlinguer. Hardly the stuff of pop dreams, but it certainly beat bashing out those same chord patterns week after week, as White recalls: "I remember Kosmo comin' in: 'You're off to Italy,' and we were just [saying], 'Thank God we're goin' away and doin' something, instead of fucking around in a studio all day."
Outwardly, Strummer remained as brash and brassy as ever. At the September 8 Fiesta Del Unita (Unity Festival) show, in Reggio Emilio, Joe playfully chided the promoters for the lack of toilets -- then and now, a common nuisance plaguing outdoor shows -- and why the audience seemed ready to accept it. As always, he answered his own question: "Why? Because they're making all the money!"
Such quips found their way onto the inevitable audience tapes, which captured their share of sloppy and compelling moments. For snapshots of both, look no further than the last night's show at the Palasport (Genova, Italy: September 11) -- where a sputtering, disjointed "Are You Ready For War" collapses of its own weight, amid Joe's frantic shouts for Peter Howard to stop playing the song. However, none of these traits manifest themselves on the next song, "White Man In Hammersmith Palais," which showed the funk and dub elements re-emerging in full force.
Despite those glitches, the preponderance of old favorites -- including an odd, gruffly-shouted, one-off version of Nick's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" vocal cameo -- ensured a warm response from the crowds, even as the backstage mind games raged unabated. By now, the gulf between lead singer and band could no longer be ignored, in White's view: "Oh, yeah, when we were playing Italy, he would turn up at the last minute -- I mean, he had no contact with us. There was no contact with Joe through most of it. He was on his own fuckin' planet."
A veil of silence fell once more until the announcement of a two-night stand on December 6-7, 1984, to benefit striking British miners. Here was a chance to soundtrack a life-or-death struggle at one of the Clash's London strongholds -- in this case, the 4,500-capacity Brixton Academy. For much of the year, the National Union of Miners (NUM) had been locked in a brutal, prolonged showdown against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her aggressive monetarist policies. One result had been the numerous pit closings that triggered the strike.
Authorities clamped down with massed arrests, bail restrictions and seizures of the miners' assets -- leaving the benefit concerts as one major way to get around that problem. The strike divided Britain's bands as much as its citizens. While the Culture Clubs and Duran Durans stoutly insisted that such social convulsions were none of their business, a glittering array of names were playing fundraising shows for the miners -- including Aztec Camera, Elvis Costello, New Order and a young, up-and-coming, Clash-influenced troubadour named Billy Bragg, who was arguably channeling The Only Band That Matters more effectively than Strummer and company. "It would have been very odd had the Clash not done them, I think," Nick Sheppard suggests of those affairs, which marked the last major UK gigs.
Perhaps Strummer could make all those "Pop will die, and rebel rock will rule" vows stick, perhaps not. On the first night (December 6), the Clash came out blazing with a stripped-down "One More Time," as Strummer reworked lyrics for the occasion ("Outright, outright dyno-mite/Just a little warning for the miner's strike"). In Nick's and Vince's hands, the Sandinista!-era dub style fell by the wayside. Instead, they kicked off the sonng with an ominous incantation of its E-D chord intro, which built into a clipped, midtempo gallop -- while the tapers struggled to capture it all, jostled back and forth in a screaming, sold-out house.
Never one to miss an opportunity, the Clash showcased a generous helping of new material. Besides the statutory inclusions of "Are You Ready For War," "Dictator," "Thank You, Chief" (also known as "Ammunition," or "Thanks, Chief") and "Three Card Trick," the boys also unveiled "North And South," another bulletin of Britain's growing social divide, and the buzzsaw punk boogie of "Dirty Punk," and "Fingerpoppin'." The second night closed with the one-two punch of "White Riot" and a revamped "This Is England," -- a short-sharp-shock valentine, shorn of its haunting extended bridge, and stripped down to three taut verses, but powerful all the same.
More technical gremlins crept into the second night, to Sheppard's dismay. "I remember having a big run-in with Bernie on my guitar sound. If you listen [to the December 7 tape], most of it is one guitar at the beginning [on 'One More Time']," he said. "Vince walked on, and his guitar didn't work, so he went off, and I was left to cover it. I play a bit of the 'James Bond' theme, as well. I remember looking round when I did that, and Joe being horrified!"
The hometown music press mostly remained unmoved. Led by New Musical Express -- whose own headline read, "Jail Guitar Bores" -- the resulting writeups slammed the Clash on familiar grounds (fatuous rebel posing; sloppy, overloaded guitar sounds; too much self-congratulatory razzle; and so on). Such comments undoubtedly failed to faze the true believers, who'd seen their heroes dish out a vengefully stripped-down brand of rock that -- onstage, at any rate -- sounded more compelling than all the tamped-down New Romantic posing being promoted in the press.
For these enraptured souls, Strummer's second night boast reassured them that the Clash meant business: "We've got a record out, and it's coming out in the new year, and we're gonna be back! We're gonna make a comeback!" Naturally, some fine points got lost in the shuffle, including Joe's doubts of whether he was doing the right thing with the new band, and how much input his longtime manager deserved.
Never lacking in self-confidence, Bernie Rhodes had no such doubts. "He had us all backstage, and said, 'What would you do if you had a million dollars, or a million pounds?" Sheppard recalls. "I looked straight at him -- Bernie, at one point, had quite a big nose, and had [had] it remodeled. So I said, 'I'd have my ears done,' and that shut him up...the idea being, he'd rubbish whatever answer you gave, for whatever reason, I don't know."
To White, the situation had degenerated into a mindless stalemate from which there was no way forward, but no easy way out. "Bernie said, 'White was black,' as far as whatever happened," White scoffs. "Joe agreed, and we all followed suit. I didn't wanna go back to the warehouse!"
Recording Cut The Crap
The piecemeal blueprint picked up steam during the new year. Sessions began in January and February 1985 for what became the Clash's final, troubled album, Cut The Crap -- whose painstaking, piece-by-piece construction in Munich, Germany, could hardly have felt further removed from the group's traditional operating methods.
Then again, many different people made Sandinista!, as Nick Sheppard points out. However, until he got called into the Clash's Lucky Eight studio on Christmas Eve 1984, Nick had no idea if he'd have anything to do with the proceedings.
After all, Joe had floated the scenario of recording with Pete, keyboardist Mickey Gallagher and bassist Norman Watt-Roy -- ironically, two of the many people who'd helped create Sandinista! -- but the concept didn't get far. "No other guitarist was mentioned, although they had to use someone," Sheppard said. "I remember hearing it -- they'd been rehearsing with Pete, Norman and Mickey, and it sounded like a pub rock band, and that obviously wasn't what Bernie wanted. Obviously, Bernie was trying to decide what record he was going to make."
Gallagher apparently didn't survive the war of attrition, either. Previous accounts have suggested that Gallagher graced the finished product, but according to filmmaker Daniel Garcia -- who began working on a documentary about the post-Jones Clash period in 2009 -- everything changed when the keyboardist caught Rhodes messing around with some settings on his instrument. A furious argument ensued, and Gallagher stormed out. The Clash would have to make do without its resident "fifth Beatle."
Paul only played on a couple of numbers, his absence chalked up to lack of interest, or assurances that the definitive recordings would occur later, leaving Watt-Roy -- a core member of Ian Dury & The Blockheads -- to fill in those particular four-stringed blanks.
Given all these factors, Nick reckons that his presence finally became more desirable after Rhodes felt the original game plan being strained to the limit. By then, he had other concerns. "I was taken into the rehearsal rooms and played the demos a couple of weeks before they went into the studio," Sheppard said. "I joined them [in Munich] after they'd done the drum programming, and some rhythm guitar. Norman went on the same flight -- a very weird way of making a record, in my opinion."
Yet the Rhodesian game plan proceeded as outlined, apparently with his singer's unilateral backing, while Sheppard found himself relegated to a lesser role of fleshing out arrangements, doing rough mixes and completing assorted minor production tasks.
The first weeks were largely devoted to programming drums, with assistance from Michael Fayne, later of Roachford. However, despite an avid courtship by Rhodes -- or, more likely, because of it -- "the lucky bastard got out of that [situation] before Bernie had anything legal with him," Howard said.
Once in Munich, Sheppard found himself learning songs that hadn't been played live before ("Cool Under Heat," "Life Is Wild," "Movers And Shakers," "Play To Win"). Still other numbers, like "We Are The Clash," were being revisited in radically different guises, while a handful ("Glue Zombie"; "In The Pouring, Pouring Rain"; "Thank You, Chief") would languish unreleased.
Unsurprisingly, Nick quickly grew disillusioned with the whole business; "by the time I actually heard them [the newer songs], I didn't really have a critical faculty in my body left," he sighs. Asked to elaborate, Nick responds: "It was more a question of, 'Right, let's try to work out what to do with these.' I didn't consider whether they were good or not -- it wouldn't have made an ounce of difference, anyway, because no one would have listened.'"
(Ironically, the notorious massed backing vocals that so markedly defined the finished product -- and cited as its most contrived production touch -- provided one of the few pleasurable diversions, according to Nick. That moment occurred in London, where additional post-production work proceeded at several studios -- how many, he's not quite sure. "We got a great big crowd down to a studio in West London, and shouted the backing vocals, out. A funny night," he recalls. "I think it was about 30 friends, acquaintances, fans, and people like that.")
Pete and Vince were eventually allowed to join the sessions, but only after driving across Europe in subzero temperatures. "The radiator froze, everything froze, the van was totally freezing, and we arrived there in six feet of snow," White said. Unfortunately, "most of the album had been recorded," he adds, with a bemused laugh. "I'm serious! Maybe that was one of Bernie's punishments, or something."
Like Nick, Vince had done his share of preparing for the recording sessions. "I worked very hard on the guitar playing that I did," he recalls. "I remember staying up all night, one night, with Joe, in his place. We spent all night, till the dawn. We had these little demos, rough tracks with some singin' on them."
As best as Vince remembers, the notorious backing vocals and synthesizers weren't in place yet. "It was mainly just guitar and drums -- well, we're talking about a drumbeat off a machine! I remember, Pete went in and played some fills around the drum machine. The whole thing was orchestrated by Bernie," he said.
Days stretched into weeks, as the sessions dragged on without a clear resolution. Most of the sessions involved just three people -- Bernie, Joe and Nick, who had begun wondering where all this hard work might lead. "I think Vince's playing is great, actually, what you can hear of it," Nick asserts. "We had 48 tracks, and it was like 48 tracks of punk rock guitar. I was trying very hard to arrange things, I did rough mixes, and got very involved. Gradually, it was like a war of attrition -- you just kind of gave up. I was [saying], 'I did my bit,' and I wasn't asked back."
“Well, I would have parted company with anybody with like him, anyway,” Haynes laughs, when quizzed about his reactions to manager Bernard Rhodes – often considered “the man behind the curtain” in Garageland. “Well, I said at the time, 'They remind me of the Monkees, but the Monkees had got better songs.' I met him a couple of times in the early days, at the Roxy Club, and I couldn't possibly have spoke to him – the guy's too bright.
“He's a businessman, comes from a business background – they're [those types of people] opportunistic, they're well-educated. I would have come across as someone who cleaned his house, y'know? I was very much aware of that, as well.”
Indeed: for all the blather about freedom, spontaneity and (lest we forget) “being yourself,” 98 percent of rock 'n' roll grunt work occurs behind closed doors, before the masses ever see or hear it. In this respect, the Clash were not unique: every major band undergoes some type of woodshedding during their career. In Rhodes, the boys certainly had someone willing to push their buttons along those lines – a wee bit too much, perhaps?
“You know the situation – the guy was a sharp businessman, wasn't he?” Haynes says. “He had his eye on the movement, fashion – he had a much better overview of the school system in this country. I wouldn't have had a clue. Really, also, I'd never met anybody like him, as well. He was trendy, of London, it was the arty crowd – we were the boys from the suburbs, you know? We weren't hip. But I remember looking at him, listening to him speak, and I just thought, 'Oh, well, you know, I don't think he's any different from solicitors, or something.'”
From Rhodes's standpoint, any discontented rumblings could be chalked up to the Standard Issue Torchlight-Wielding Puristic Mob – the same sort, one imagines, who'd be writing long and winding screeds like these: “On their last tour I saw [Mick] Jones climbing over amps, holding the guitar behind his head, [to] play a solo all the way through 'Spanish Bombs,' (Anarchy?), dry ice, a Who-style light show, revamped versions of 4-year-old songs and cowboy boots. Thank you Clash for keeping punk rock alive.”
Not having any quarrel with the Clash's live alchemy (“I saw them right at the beginning – I saw them down [at] the Roxy, and I thought they were great”), Haynes's ambivalence about his rivals' political leanings – fact or fiction, real or imagined – inevitably spilled over into the public arena, in the messiest possible way.
“I've got a big mouth,” Haynes laughs. “I'm better than I used to be, but I had an interview in Sounds. I said something like, 'Joe Strummer? They'd [the other members] shove their grandmothers down the escalator if there was something in it for him,' and going on about, 'They're bored with the USA, and they wanna go there – they're bullshitters, anyway,' and that was it.”
What happened next, as Haynes details nearly 30-odd years later, is the stuff of grainy knockabout '60s flicks.
PETE HAYNES (PH): I got a phone call about two days afterwards – well, our managers did. We were based in Fulham. We used to rehearse in the basement of a shop, which Beggars Banquet owned. Beggars Banquet used to own record shops.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR):: Right, that's how they started...
PH: They hit the student end of the market, where people would bring in their old albums, and swap them. Anyway, the Clash were rehearsing in this old, disused cinema – and one of our two managers says, “Oh, you've got to be careful what you say, Pete. I had Joe Strummer's people on the phone today, saying, that your drummer's got a big mouth.”
I said, “Oh, well, did they? Well, I'll go down and have a word with them, then.” And they said, “Funny enough, they were asking if you could go down, 'cause they wanna talk to you.” I said, “Yeah, definitely.”
So I went down there – it's ex-squat hippie grunge blokes who've now got their heads shaved, you know what I mean? Not my kind of thing. Anyway, those guys were like, “Who are you, man?” I told them, and Joe came up to me: “You know what I mean, man, we're in all this together, you know what I mean, like...” And I can't really understand what he was saying, his accent was so weird...
CR: What they called “Mockney” at the time, I think...
PH: It's a bit of that, and what I'd call hippie, this squat-land kind of thing. I said, “I haven't got anything in common with you boys – good luck to you, but you're speaking bollocks.”
And he [Joe] said, “Why is that?” And I says: “Well, listen, because I'm not bloody Chairman Mao, or Karl Marx, but I work as a concrete layer – and I think it's bad to lie to people. Now, you've used it, fair place, great. Do what you do, that's good.”
I pissed them off, because I said, “I know you wanna sound like the Rolling Stones, good luck to you,” but it's lying to people. People get lied to all the time – they get lied to by politicians, lied to by teachers, so they shouldn't get lied to by people in groups.”
I said, “That's why I like people like the Dolls – it's camp, it's great, it's decadent, it's rock 'n' roll. They're certainly not telling people how to rule their lives, y'know: 'Let's have a revolution, you know, let's do this, let's do that.'” They all dressed like little fucking puppets from their master's shop, designer revolutionary look this year, as modeled by Joe and the boys – it's just all choreography bollocks.
Anyway, I gave them my rant – and it was just left at that. I'm a pretty decent bloke. So we shook our hand, I said, “Well, best of luck, I'm sorry if you got the wrong end of the stick, boys.” There you go, that was it. That was my meeting with the revolutionaries, who went out to change society.
CR: Looking back on it all – when you wrote the book [GOD'S LONELY MEN], did you feel any resentment that they got so much attention, and you guys never got much critical respect?
PH: No, no it didn't bother us in the slightest. They were playing the game better than we were, you know? And that's what people do, isn't it? I mean, you've got supermodels who are best-sellers in this country – they can't read and write. This is what popular culture is. It wasn't as bad then, as it is now. But these guys are multimillionaires!
CR: Well, that's the thing: do you ever feel a twinge of “what might have been”?
PH: No. We didn't have the songs as a group, and also, you've got to admit that the Clash were a better group – I think we had the edge when it came to whacking it out. But they were more a sort of professional group, and they had a set of songs, they had a performance, and knew what they were doing – they had a business plan, they had a business manager, and it's no surprise, is it? So I wouldn't get upset about it, it's just the way it is.
The November 1999 gig was packed to the gills and I was lucky to get a spot on the floor where I could see and hear the band. The soundtrack to THE HARDER THEY COME played, and built up anticipation for the return of Strummer. Joe strode onstage casually despite the crowd's rabid anticipation. The first surprise of the night was “Island Hopping,” from his 1989 solo album (EARTHQUAKE WEATHER). After that it was full steam into the purposeful “Diggin' The New.”
The Mescaleros seemed even more confident than they had been last summer. They got rockin' on “Techno D-Day,” funky on “Tony Adams” and intimate on “Nitcomb.” The band dipped into the past, playing “Trash City” from Joe's mid-'80s recording with Latino Rockabilly War (PERMANENT RECORD). Alongside the expanded Clash songs, the audience was treated to “Safe European Home,” “Rudie Can't Fail,” and Clash-era cover “Pressure Drop,” by Toots & The Maytals.
We may never see the reunited Clash play live again (although, as Joe might say, “The future is unwritten”), but Joe Strummer has the intensity and willingness to deal in the here and now that his punk-era intentions, and more importantly, the present, provide.
HANDS UP, EVERYONE: WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST?
ANSWERS ON A BEER-STAINED POSTCARD, IF YOU PLEASE...
I'm not sure how Tony planned to round off his review of the Mescaleros' fall '99 return to Cabaret Metro, but this is the version that occupies some real estate in the yellowing manila folder dedicated to my Fanzine That Never Was ("FRIDAY STREET: GUTS AND CONTENTS"): hence, I kept his original title. Somehow, though, it feels complete to me, and definitely in keeping with Tony's punk rock sensibility: short, sharp and to the point, thank you and goodnight.
Still, Tony's concert review raises an interesting question: what becomes a legend most, especially when it's the glorious past that seems to excite the public more than the faint-praised present? The press bio for Joe's album, ROCK ART & THE X-RAY STYLE, made that issue plain from the opening bell, as follows: "Learning to live with legendary status can be daunting, the temptation to wallow in the past always being the easy option to follow."
Yet the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES's man on the ground, Jim DeRogatis, took Joe to task just for that reason. Reviewing the Mescaleros' inaugural show at the Metro (July 5, 1999), DeRogatis pondered how Joe's set opener, "Diggin' The New," could rest so easily beside the Clash nuggets that everybody expected to hear: "Unfortunately, he spent most of the rest of his 15-song set reveling in the old."
In DeRogatis's opinion, renditions of Clash classics like "White Man In Hammersith Palais" and "Tommy Gun" seemed jarring, "because they were so firmly linked to the punk past."
DeRogatis drew another line in the sand with the opening act, Jon Langford -- another Class Of '77 graduate, saddled with that damning "ex"-prefix in front of his name, that is, "ex-Mekon" -- whose set struck him as more appealing: "It was passionate and of the moment, with no sign of the time machine that Strummer laboriously hauled behind him."
Indeed, these are all valid points; however, in the decade since the above-named review ran, it's equally apparent that popular culture has never been more resolutely stuck in rewind. The 2009 pop landscape has already seen the Specials doing business without founder Jerry Dammers; the Jam, without a certain P. Weller, on guitar and vocals; Sham 69, without its Yob Of All Trades, Jimmy Pursey (who maintains, "I play for today," as he launches his new band)...and that's just on the Brit side of the pond.
In America, the Baby Boomers seem more firmly in charge of the asylum than ever, with megatours running in meganormodomes, with megadollar gate prices to match. (Summed up succintly, the line of defense might read: "We didn't start the fire, culturally speaking, but damned if we're going to sit there and let somebody else put it out...and that's why we'll never shut up about it, and why you'll never stop hearing it from us!")
Now, clearly, none of this circumstances happened in a vacuum; on the most mundane level, this business is driven by bodies of music that the consumer wants to hear again, and again, and again...to the exclusion of any newer ideas, no matter how raw or unformed they appear on first glance. Surely, The Only Band That Matters would have been subjected to that din, had they only reformed...right?
Indeed, it's tempting to ponder what Joe might have made of all the endless reunions and recyclings of back catalogs, but one irony seems to have eluded his most critical appraisers: what struck many of them as laziness may have been carried a whiff of hard-won wisdom. In hindsight, one quote from that official bio stands out more than most: "I realize I could cool it. Many performers don't realize the public gets sick of you; they could do with a rest from some of these seriously ambitious people. The machine grinds on, so there's no hope of that happening."