THE SECRET MUSEUM
Jim Webb wrote:
Thanks for sending me the unreleased Clash cd - Rat Patrol From Ft. Bragg, I few thoughts on what happened to The Only Band That Matters
The Clash- The Unreleased Combat Rock Sessions
I could have just as easily subtitled this the Final Mission, because after guitarist Mick Jones was sacked the band was never the same. Plenty of ink has already been used on describing The Clash’s rock n' roll fury that burst onto the U.K. punk scene in 1976. Two guitars, bass and drums - that's the basic template that caused so much havoc, with songs that were shouted from two mouths that told of the pain and anger of living in a society that didn’t care what happened to them. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were a classic British Rock tandem in the tradition of Lennon - McCartney, and Jagger - Richards. Joe had the swagger, Jonesy had the riffs, and with Paul Simonon on bass and eventually Topper Headon on drums their classic lineup was complete.
Combat Rock was an official release in 1982 and had two of The Clash's most radio friendly songs in Should I Stay or Should I go, and Rock the Casbah. The rest of the LP mostly showed a continuation of the neo-funk sound that was first born on their 3 LP Sandinista effort in 1980. Rat Patrol From Ft. Bragg was from the original Combat Rock sessions, but with material that was never released, and different mixes on songs that did make it to Combat Rock. I think this hybrid sound shows the band continuing to experiment in a variety of styles. The Beautiful People Are Ugly is a really catchy tune with nice keyboard work, I can't figure out why it never made the final cut. Ft. Bragg also has a couple of instrumental only takes on Overpowered by Funk and Rock the Casbah. Either you are a fan of listening to works in progress without vocals (I am), or these tracks might bore you a bit. Car Jamming, Cool Confusion and & Atom Tan all have an unusual groove that has grown on me through the years. Ghetto Defendant isn't bad with a guest appearance by poet Allen Ginsberg, it just reminds me too much of an earlier Clash tune called Bankrobber that I prefer over this. The only total disaster in my opinion is Red Angel Dragnet with Paul Simonon on a half spoken / half chanted dopey vocal that never seems to find its way. Straight to Hell is simply a great song, and one of lead vocalist Joe Strummers strongest efforts in a life that ended prematurely with his death in 2002. This tune has a haunting melody that is set against a tale that emotionally describes various injustices that have occurred around the world. I was under whelmed when Combat Rock originally came out, chiefly because I was let down with the variety of musical hats that they continued to try on. It seems a little fresher now never having played it to death like London Calling or their first LP from 1977.
The bigger problem for me is why The Clash kept drifting away from their strength as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Their 1977 debut was an incendiary mix of thrashing guitars and burning vocals. Give Them Enough Rope in 1978 and The Cost of Living E.P. both continued with a big guitar sound. London Calling (1979) is an unqualified success, but their further branching out beyond two guitar rock was evident in Rudie Can't Fall and Revolution Rock among other tracks from that release. The brief diversions into new territory that were enjoyed on London Calling, started to be called into question by the faithful on Sandinista. Here was a sprawling 3 LP meal that had large helpings of funk, rap, soul, dub reggae and beyond that really should have been condensed into just a single record, and that’s not even addressing the bigger issue of its overall thin quality. Combat Rock picked up where Sandinista left off with a loose funk hybrid that was sometimes interesting, but ultimately frustrating again in its small doses of what they did best - rock n' roll.
The Clash got increasingly addicted to a musical cocktail of urban funk and experimentation. That ongoing hangover wound up leading them onto a road where they became trapped in a large traffic jam with hundreds of other groups. We didn’t need them for funky tales from the inner city, George Clinton and others were already on that corner. What we did need them for was blazing away on stage with a redhot intensity, playing as if their life was at stake. The Clash at full throttle was like no other, and showed the audience what it meant to be truly alive, and that was a rare and beautiful thing to be part of. After Mick Jones got fired he took the recipe for their urban funk cocktail, put a new olive in it and called it Big Audio Dynamite. Joe grabbed a couple of young kids and tried to call it The Clash, but we all knew it was in name only. For the next ten plus years Strummer entered his wilderness period before resurfacing with another multi – cultural sounding group - the Mescaleros.
Here’s a novel thought, why doesn’t someone just make straightforward rock n’ roll. In the last twenty- five years (if Mick’s new group Carbon/ Silicon is his answer, pray that Jah sends him more songs) only the U.K. band Wire has for me sporadically reached that same blast furnace intensity that was The Clash’s calling card. Everybody’s so obsessed with experimenting out on the fringe of electronica, funk, rap, and world music that we forgot about the template that has never failed when done right: two guitars, bass and drums. What we are still desperate for in 2008 is a real rock band. We need a group that could invent their own I Fought the Law, a group that plays every night like it might be their last. I read Mojo, and have listened to Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs and all the other latest Next Big Things that they trumpet about each month. What eventually happens is that they all wind up swiggin’ Dom Perignon in St. Bart’s with a supermodel on their arm, that’s the only thing you can learn from The Mick Jagger School of Rock. You can have U-2 with all their managers and accountants, I’m looking for something real, something that doesn’t have a marketing plan in place before they even plug in for the recording session.
I understand that The Clash needed to grow musically, and it's not up to me to decide where their Muse should’ve taken them. I don’t go to bed at night wishing that when I wake up it will again be the first day that London Calling was originally released. Some might say I’m a greedy, thankless bastard for wanting more than what Joe, Mick and The Boys gave us. To this day I still can't understand how The Only Band That Matters got so lost searching for new sounds that they could forget where their musical home base was. In the great tradition of the Bermuda Triangle, Area 51, and British crop circles - who really knows exactly what happened out there between Joe and Mick in the foggy marshland known as personal and musical differences.
The only thing we do know for certain is that after putting on their Combat Rock fatigues and leaving Ft. Bragg it all collapsed. They got lost, collectively and individually, and it’s been surmised that after being stressed out from too many drugs and living in each other’s pockets on the road for years they couldn’t even think straight. The sad truth is The Clash broke apart, and like any rare, one of a kind piece of art that is irretrievably broken, it is irreplaceable and gone forever.
Combat Rock is a good listen, and if you’ve never heard it, you should take the time and check it out. Look for Rat Patrol as well, you can find it at any of your better download sites. Even when not in a pure rock n’ roll mode, The Clash were still better than most bands.
Forget about all the accepted insider wisdom that claims to know how and why it all shattered at the end. Maybe there’s a much more simple answer as to what really happened. They were just overpowered by funk. That’s all. Funkpower over and out.
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