All seems quiet lately at the We Are The Clash corral, even though we're nearing a year after publication. As the old saying goes, however...appearances can be deceiving. In reality, the various reviews and related activities are carrying on without letup, so I'll take a moment to sum them up here.
The critical praise continues to roll in, from some surprising quarters, like the Johns Hopkins alumni magazine, JHU HUB, whose review ("Clashing Opinions") offers an appropriate wide screen thumbs up: "And for a band like the Clash that so explicitly tied political activism and organizing to its music, ignoring its final incarnation, however challenged, cheapens an understanding of what the band aspired to do."
Of course, that's exactly what Mark and I aspired to do, not only within the context of how the music industry worked then, but the world at large, and the various events shaping the Clash's audience at the time. In doing so, as JHU HUB correctly notes, "We Are The Clash becomes a vital political history as much as an account of an underdocumented portion of the band's career." The reviewer closes with a nice capsule summary of Mark's connections to the university, and activist background, which really puts across our big picture approach.
Tim Stegall, writing for UGLY THINGS, makes a similar point in his epic review for issue #48: "It was a brilliant reflection of the times. Sadly, these events helped build our modern world. This warm, even-tempered book snatches the Clash’s final act from the shame even Strummer felt before his death. They were still The Only Band That Mattered."
What a beautiful sentiment is contained in that last sentence! As a fan who saw them during this era, that's exactly how I felt, in an age awash with thudding electropop and shrill, overproduced poodle hair metal (to name two of the more questionable trends that hogged attention spans and airwaves during this period). Then and now, I feel the same way: if not The Clash, we definitely need a Clash, or something along the same lines.
As Stegall accurately suggests, in many respects, the ill-fated Clash Mark II lineup proved equally deft as the classic one at soundtracking the march of Reagan and Thatcher's aggressive monetarist gospel through the world at large, whether it meant writing harder-hitting fare like "Are You Ready For War" and "Three Card Trick," performing to benefit striking miners, or scouring northern UK and Scotland on an impulsive free "busking" tour for anyone caring to listen, without the benefit of agents and publicists doing damage control. This sentence nails it:
"Andersen and Heibutzki have woven a complex, cinematic tale with a lot of heart in We Are The Clash, simply by rescuing the unwanted stepchild ending of the story of one of punk’s greatest bands from ignominy. The Clash Mk 2 acted more directly than its classic lineup, and inspired more activism in its fanbase, acting as a bridge between 1977 and the anarchopunk scene they’d inspired before swiftly rejected them as rock star sellouts."
Suffice to say, these guys get it, and it's rewarding see it in print.
OTHER TAKES (AND RESPONSES)
Kirkus Reviews: "When did the Clash quit being 'the only band that matters"? This fascinating book faces a challenge: documenting the final years of the British band that its record label had promoted with that slogan...The band may have no longer have mattered, but its legacy mattered to the authors, who make it matter to the readers. More than a footnote to the rise and fall of one of the last great rock bands."
I'm not sure if the reviewer grasped our premise, that the band did matter -- despite the behind-the-scenes skulduggery that interfered with the revamped Clash's potential. How so? By soundtracking the noxious social ills that we grapple with today, including the legacy of Reaganomics, and Thatcher's reckless, nihilistic monetarism. Just ask those who caught the Miner's Strike benefits of 12/6-7/84, or the "busking tour" that followed, in the spring of '85. They'll tell you how much the band meant to them, and still does. For further specifics, though, you'll have to get the book.
Library Journal: "Coverage is specialized, extending considerably beyond mere behind-the-scenes reportage and deeply explores the sociopolitical context in which the band operated; as such, the tone can be intense (read: punk) and professorial. In all, Andersen and Heibutzki's examination of the band's proletarian stance in light of its (of) its commerical (sic) striving is immensely satisfying."
Typos aside, kudos to the Journal for nailing what we tried to put across. At its core, We Are The Clash isn't solely devoted to the usual rock 'n' roll goings on, although we examine them, like all the other issues associated with the band.
Looking back on the live reviews and pieces from this era, it's interesting how many writers questioned how a band with two remaining founders (Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon) could still claim some measure of legitimacy. Ironically, this issue probably wouldn't raise a peep today, when you've got bands touring with two (The Who), one (AC/DC) or even no original members (One Way System). To my recollection, I haven't seen people demand their money back.
Those are the times we live in, I suppose, and we move on. Or have we? This is one of the central questions we hope that readers will ponder, especially in today's blighted political environment: plug Donald Trump and Boris Johnson into their respective US and UK corners, with all the hard right rhetoric to match, accompanied by various initiatives that will damn untold millions to miserable lives, if left unchecked...and you've got a climate that feels like 1984 all over again, minus all the catch iconography. But if our words become part of the soundtrack of resistance, we'll have done the job.
THIS IS JOE PUBLIC SPEAKING:
THE CLASH AS TOLD TO THE FANS (By Anthony Davie)
Now that I've finally had a chance to get this book, I'm surprised that no one thought of one like it sooner. As the title suggests, you get memories and experiences of The Only Band That Matters, through those who encountered them, from fans, to former support bands' members, journalists, and everything in between.
For example, Mark and myself are only some of the fourth estate alumni who contributed; Pat Gilbert (Passion Is A Fashion), Chris Salewicz (Redemption Song) and Tim Satchwell (Combat Ready) are just some of the big names represented here, as well as The Baker, the band's legendary roadie.
As Davie explains in his supporting blurb, This is Joe Public grew out of working with the BBC last year for a series of podcasts and short films. Davie, who himself is responsible for Visions Of A Homeland -- widely considered the definitive resource on Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, his main solo ensemble -- was tasked with editing and collecting the various anecdotes and memories that came pouring in.
Inevitably, the BBC wound up with many more of these nuggets than its various projects allowed, which is how Davie hit on his idea: "Some contributions were indeed used but so many of these great stories/memories would have just gathered dust. So, I decided to put them into an ebook for the whole world to read." Initially planned as a e-book-only affair, This Is Joe Public quickly gained steam as a traditional paperbound book, due to demand -- and is all the better for it, in my view.
Like the band and its music, the emotions represented here truly run the gamut. You feel the sting of Brook Duer's disappointment, supporting his heroes during the Combat Rock era ("Terry Chimes was the only one who spoke to us. He was totally separate from the rest"). You cackle along with Rudi's Brian Young, who dishes out respect ("The best thing the Clash did in their latter years was NOT reforming") and irreverence in equal measure ("It probably won't get me on the Christmas card lists of any of the diehards/true believers").
You admire the enterprise from fans like Johnny Hauesler of Germany, who blags his band onto a bill in Dusseldorf in 1984, with one phone call to consigliere Kosmo Vinyl ("I would hardly call you in Stockholm and ask you to let us support the Clash if we were a fucking heavy metal band with fucking Flying V guitars"). Same for Frank Moriarity, author of Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix, who overcomes his doubts about taking up the guitar after talking with Mick Jones, who suggests: "Why don't you, then? I'm no better than you are." This, in a sentence, is the Clash ethos.
I could go on forever, but as these brief examples suggest, This Is Joe Public brims with the best sort of history -- not the same anecdotes recycled over and over again by the same talking heads who have trouble hearing the sounds of their own voices over the same stream of questions. More photos would have been nice, but that's down to money, and the ones that we do get definitely do the job. Get your hands on a copy of Joe Public, and hopefully, we'll see more efforts like it. From start to finish, it's a first-rate effort.
ASHES TO ACTIVISM:
A POETIC CELEBRATION OF JOE STRUMMER
Here's an equally inspired idea. As one of the '77 era's top lyricists, Strummer often got tagged as a punk poet or troubadour of some sort or other, a characterization that he slyly encouraged, or did his best to play down, depending on his mood of the moment.
So it makes sense, then, that the Joe Strummer Foundation would take this route, through just 37 pages. This characteristic ensures a short sharp shock effect not far removed from the original Year Zero era itself, one reinforced in John Cooper Clarke's four-line opening salvo, "Armagideon Times (Special Edition) From The Clash": "The stiff neck, the casual slight/Rebellion off the cuff."
Other big names checking in here include ranting poet Attila The Stockbroker ("Commandante Joe": "You wrote a soundtrack for my life"), Johnny Green (who gets two brief excerpts from his memoir, A Riot Of Our Own, which is really prose, but hey, who's keeping track, right?) Jah Wobble ("Air"), and former Selecter vocalist Pauline Black, whose "LA Calling" recounts a brief meeting on the road with Joe ("We sat and talked of topical things/Blacks and whites in total thrall/A cross-over kingdom, where all stood tall").
That slice of life nitty gritty makes Black's effort one of the best here, along with "Planning A Comeback," by David A. Ross, who recalls an older, but wiser Joe ("A ballroom crescendo. A familiar scene"), yet one who proves no easier to pin down than his youthful counterpart ("We talk about going missing in ’82 – cryptic, jousting, he offers no clue").
Their unlikely bonding,which follows a jab in his face from the singer's elbow, is punk rock in itself ("Consequently, he spent more time with me than I suspect would otherwise have been the case"), like this miniature collection.
Best of all, you can get it as a free download, simply by filling out your e-mail, like I did, by going here: https://joestrummerfoundation.org/ashes-to-activists-a-poetic-celebration-of-joe-strummer/.
Which brings me to my final point: if there's one quality running through all these efforts, it's the activism. As Mark has often mentioned to me, at various times throughout the process, it's really about the activism, one that may well be driven by guitar and drums...but if all we've spent all our time just dishing out happy talk, then not much has happened. Take note, and proceed accordingly.