From Notting Hill to the Five Points Riot
The Clash: The Clash
I don't know why this record (UK edition) did not immediately resonate with me when I first heard it in Jim's room that Year Zero summer- too dole-queue English in outlook? Too harsh and trebly? Not enough hooks? Was it Joe Strummer's one-dimensional croak? Or a message I just wasn't ready to hear? It’s difficult to say. As a more-typical-than-I'd-hoped-to-be 19 year-old barely coping in the Teenage Wasteland of suburban Philadelphia, I certainly had enough distractions to keep my increasingly short attention span occupied. In any event, after several spins of Jim's copy (apparently it worked for him), I decided to give a pass on The Clash. But when CBS released a re-sequenced domestic version two years later (replacing four original songs with seven non-lp single tracks), I bought it (in tandem with Give 'Em Enough Rope), and suddenly everything clicked. THIS was MY music.
By the summer of 1979, I'd spent a few miserable post-high school years living the very things the Clash sang about- being bored, working a series of go-nowhere jobs, loving rock 'n' roll, feeling alienated, getting stoned, lacking social status, and (most-profoundly) jail guitar doors- just like, except for that last one, several million other dumb American kids (so why were they all listening to Toto, Benatar and Breakfast In America and not THIS?). The contrast to Give 'Em Enough Rope (released six months prior) was extreme, and not just because of Sandy Pearlman's big and slick production (someday we'll need to take a closer look at that one; it definitely isn’t the Sophomore Slump). A comparison of the two puts the former into perspective, but requires it's own juxtaposition with the original UK release.
Stated simply, I didn't realize what I was missing. While the US version is the meatier prospect, song for song, and displays to fuller effect the humanity, humor and reach of the band (adding the excellent- and free- bonus single, it sets the stage for London Calling), The UK edition is the one for me. There's an immediacy here that is unparalleled in the annals of Rock, a low-fi fury of tightly wound working-class frustration, sulphate-driven riffing (Mick Jones- guitar HERO), and the rabid bark of THE quintessential acquired taste in Rock vocals. The Clash is an attestation to the disaffected, a permission slip to act up (which I took literally for the next twenty years) and ask questions (ditto- plus ten). And the hooks were there all along. When I listen to this record now, I can see the boy who became the man, and hear the voice of Strummer reminding that boy that he is not alone.
I bought the White Riot 45 at Plastic Fantastic in Bryn Mawr, Pa. It sounded like an ambulance racing by at 90 miles an hour, sirens wailing. The power and fury were extraordinary. The Ramones had led the way, and The Damned's New Rose was one hot track, but The Clash were serious from start to finish, and were on the Front Line. Listening to the first Clash LP was like a radio transmission from Mars that suddenly came blasting through my stereo speakers. Certain words and phrases jumped out of the distortion... “I'm So Bored With The USA”, “Career Opportunities, the ones that never knock”, “We come from Garageland”, “Hate and War- the only things we got today”, “London’s Burning with boredom now”, “Monday’s coming like a jail on wheels”…
It felt like a nuclear blast when you consider the weak crap Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Frampton were pushing. This wasn't just a music group; it was the complete package. Clothes, style, music, political beliefs all rolled up inside that ambulance heading past your house at breakneck speed with the windows rolled down, flames and massive sound pouring out. The raw power and style of Punk was an earthquake that forced major changes in our lives. Mike and I left for London Town on October 31, 1977. Nothing could stop us from being part of that scene.
December 13, 1977, Rainbow Theater, Finsbury Park, North London: The Clash, Sham 69, The Valves. The electric jolt of Complete Control short-circuited every brain cell. I had found the actual center of the Universe. “The Only Band That Mattered”- true for a while. No wonder the sheer force of Punk Rock buried all the 70's dinosaur bands like ELP and Yes.
Rest in peace, Joe. Mission accomplished.
The Clash: The Clash (Epic UK, 1977; Epic US, 1979)
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