Friday, August 15, 2008

I Dreamed I Saw The Clash Last Night…

In Dreams

It began mid-set. The re-united Clash were playing at the Walker, a turn-of-the century theatre restored to a trace of its old glory. There, in the orange-red glow, beneath ornate arches stood what remained of the old heroes. Their bruising volume threatened to bring down the third balcony (“the Gods”) and my plush seat with it.

Somehow, the hulking, throbbing stacks completely obscured Mick Jones but his guitar roared. Joe Strummer was resurrected as a shaky CGI projection of his barking ’77 incarnation. Paul, I squint to reconstruct it all, was dressed in his modern retro gangster mode, complete with fedora. Let’s assume Topper was on drums because an illusory Clash reunion needs a good drummer.

Even unconscious, the whole spectacle felt disconcerting.

After a few songs, the curtain, a giant fireproofed creation that crossed a Persian rug with a Group of Seven landscape, drew shut. Paul Simonon, his bass slung low, came out and posed in front of a single microphone stand. It seemed inevitable that a The Good, The Bad and The Queen song was coming. Instead, Paul played “This is England” to a now almost empty room. I wondered if Mick Jones insisted that this song, created after his firing, be performed in isolation.

Paul tore though the song, hammering his bass and spitting out those words - “I got my motorcycle jacket/But I'm walking all the time – and it seemed alive and raw enough to bleed. Up in the rafter, the few of us left yelled backing vocals – “This is Ennng-land!” in camaraderie with this genuine moment.

As the song ended, I descended from the Gods. I tried to get closer to the mirage but as the ancient curtain pulled back and the digital Joe Strummer et al broke into “White Riot” the place filled back up like a hole in the sand. The crowd surged. Instantaneously, I was squeezed out the door and left, bewildered, in the cold night air.

This is England (Dub Mix)

In Reality

In Reality I never actually saw the Clash but in Vancouver in 1991 I did witness the Joe Strummer led Pogues (whom a co-worker seethingly dismissed as the ‘Gues for being Shane McGowan-less). I arrived in time to hear them break into a gut-belting “Straight to Hell”- a defiant Strummer pinnacle. My fists clenched, a wave of andrenalin rolled over my insides- it was the closest I’ll come, awake, to seeing the Clash. That performance confirmed a stubborn faith in Strummer as some kind of modern minstrel spreading songs from far away places and times.

In Defence of Folly

The dream itself is attributable to my second reading of Pat Gilbert’s “Passion is the Fashion”. That book captures the ego, the pettiness, the thievery and the resulting brilliance that was The Clash. However, the appearance of “This is England” cannot merely be attributed to its recent canonization as “the last great Clash song”. No, I bought Cut the Crap on vinyl from Records on Wheels the day it came out. As a good obsessive (who savours the hardscrabble rewards uncovered in awkward and ill-conceived albums) I listened to it compulsively.

Cut the Crap was lambasted upon arrival and remains an easy mark for critics of all stripes, “it’s the After M*A*S*H of rock n' roll,” in the words of 2000 Man from whammoblammo.

Kosmo Vinyl claimed this last version of the Clash was going to be done “without any of the excess or the bullshit.” Bollocks! Excess and Bullshit were the Clash’s stock-in-trade, with Jones being in charge of excess (he loved the pageantry of rock n’ roll) and Strummer bringing the b.s. (an inspiration as a fighter but as a political thinker he was no Orwell). However, on this album manager and commissar Bernie Rhodes loaded up on bullshit and excess. That he he failed to disembowel the whole work is a mighty testament to the guts of Joe Strummer The knocks on Rhodes’ gimmicky, synthetic production are well-founded; the biggest knock being its burial of some taut Strummer song-writing. You can hear him pounding on the wall-of-synths, as he bellows near-incomprehensibly on “Life is Wild”. While the lyrics he shouts can descend into weak sloganeering (“Yes I am the dictator I satisfy the US team”) when Strummer returns to recklessly slamming words together the results glow: “Patriots of the wasteland torching two hundred years Dragging my spirit back to the dungeon again Bring back crucifixion cry the moral death’s head legion Using steel nails manufactured by the slaves in Asia” Critics dismissed anthemic tracks such as “Three Card Trick” and “North and South”, as bad oi! songs due to the hooligan chants added into the mix. Strummer, (no fan of oi - “No, not Sham ‘69”) had, I propose, merely dug back into one of oi’s own antecedents. You see, secretly, oi!, at its best, is folk music. By which, I mean that oi! is uncomplicated music with direct messages designed for full-blooded audience participation – like a thuggish Pete Seeger. There is, similarly, a steady folk undercurrent (as in “Something about England” from Sandanista) on Cut the Crap, fitting for a version of the Clash that, in extremis, toured as acoustic buskers. It’s the raw palpable humanity beneath the mechanical sheen – just as so many of us live and breath here underneath all this digital chicanery.

In Conclusion

Closing statement, your honour? I submit that Cut the Crap, faults inclusive, is better written than any post-Clash project. The grit beneath the fluff trumps the discographies of B.A.D., Carbon/Silicon, Strummer solo and Havana 3.a.m. (each with a valid claim to the contrary, unlike Topper’s solo album or the Cherry Bombz).

Is all this revisionist? Hell, yeah. We are all revisionists; forever fiddling with the narratives that steer our lives. As technology imbues eternal life on antiques it ends up rendering history ever more contestable. The old Walker Theatre was re-named the Burton Cummings Theatre and Cut the Crap got touched up with a bonus track. Even history isn’t forever.

In the future maybe some blistering folk-punk band like the 241’ers or the Filthy Thieving Bastards will remake the whole damn album! Or, perhaps, Clash man Bill Price will strip the tracks naked and show us the skeletal remains of that music from another time.But that’s another dream all together.

In celebration of yet another Clash Post I’ve scoured for some boots – thanks to the always-inspiring If Music Could Talk for help. Most bootlegs are for obsessive (and if you’re here, you likely are as such) and these are no exception. Incidentally, Berkley Place is a good place for Clash-talk and boots and check out this boot idea

First is Give ‘Em Enough Dope a set of late-era live tracks from the Jones’ Clash through the Crap Clash.


And here's Out of Control, which are the demos (but more like rehearsals) for Cut the Crap. It’s a fascinating excavation – happy digging.


Here's the very live Clash of '77.

Here's more live Clash with Pearl Harbour and then with a scorched earth version of "Police on my Back".


  1. Great, great take on Cut the Crap, and i wholeheartedly agree. I definitely identify wit ya, as my dream from when i was 14 or so was to see the Clash, and the closest th ing i got was to see Joe Strummer w the Pogues in NYC (alas, trumping my wish to see Shane Mc G)..

    Since his death, my dream has been to have met The Man, Joe, as i do believe we would have been the best of pals (as all Joe fans believe i am sure), seeing as his favorite music in the last years was Colombian CUMBIA (of all things!!).. anyway, good writing, good memories, enviable dream.

    Greetings from Medellín,


  2. Fantastic article. I'm not a huge Clash fan, but your enthusiasm will have me searching for some 'Crap'.

    I do respect Strummer quite a bit and was frankly blown away to see him having to practically beg people on the streets to come see him in the Mescalero days.

    I mean, in the world I inhabit, Clash are Led Zeppelin in the new orthodoxy of rock. They blast out of every bar, pizza joint and record store on the east coast along with Sex Pistols and Ramones.

    How did that happen that he was in that situation? Mystifying.

  3. You've got a great site. I'll be adding you to the blogroll.

    Thanks for the link.


  4. just remember that the clash where a bunch of public schoolboy bandwagon jumpers. who claimed that they would change the world with their political pop songs. in the uk they said they would build youth clubs so "the kids" would have somewhere to go and then they signed to CBS. Hmm. the world is still crap and now they are being compared to led zep a band that punk was supposed to destroy.
    lemmy from motorhead said i never liked the clash the 101ers was a better band.

  5. Thanks Juan
    A friend of mine (and a very attractive one - she also shows up in my Art Bergman chapter) said that she hung out with Strummer at the Commodore in Vancouver where she worked. She said he was a gentlemen though he said to her "Y'know if I were younger..."

    Maybe she was dreaming too(my ex sure as shit thought she made it up) but it still made Joe seem like the good guy

  6. Mars thanks for the good words.

    Yeah Strummer disappeared for along time - he told a story in an interview about how he had to stage a protest outside Sony just to get them to meet with him "I'm a living legend" he shouted.

    Though I was not a huge Mescaleros fan I miss him.

  7. Ekko

    Thanks for the add.


    Hey you forget some traditional Clash disses like how "Rock the Casbah" became a Gulf War(s) anthem.

    P.S. where did you get that Lemmy quote - I can't find it. Lemmy is a pretty funny guy (and probably would prefer the 101'ers) so I'd like to see the quote in context.

  8. Joe Strummer would choke on your verbosity and bellicose verbiage.

    I respect your love for The Clash, but your penned thoughts about them left me feeling as if you were an apologetic Flock of Seagulls fan trying to be a writer.

    Let Fury Have the Hour


  9. Verbosity, verbiage and Flock of Seagulls?

    You, sir, honour me!

  10. my last Strummer's souvenir is divided in 2 :
    1) his performance in a "F.J Ossang" movie
    2) a pal confident who told me "awesome, isnt'it?", later, i realized it was "JS & the Mescaleros" playing in the background. I bought the record afterwards.
    thank you
    I've always been half-seduced / half-upset with the Clash. But Strummer was a good person.

  11. nice write-up. strummer is missed. although, i think once they hit sandanista, they completely fell off the boat. and my memories of disco zipperheads dancing to rock the casbah will never vanish, no matter how much i drink.

    i got to see the clash at the bonds nyc june 1981 fiasco.

  12. Cosmo

    While I'm passionate about all things Strummer those mixed feelings you describe are inevitable with the man.

  13. Nazz

    Yeah, things get problematic around Sandanista. I suppose that's where you get Clash-o-philes like me digging deep.

    P.S. Fiasco? I've always heard high praise for the Bond's shows (unless you're referring to the ticket mess).

  14. If anybody has the live track boot collection Cut the Crap Revisited could they please post it somewhere? Ten dollars for a CD boot in the mail is so "20th century".

  15. I miss him so. Had the privilege for seeing him twice with the Meskys, in which Joe never, ever, not once, and on any song, phoned it in. His passion was evident until his (very fatigued-appearing) end.

    I've never given "Crap" a chance and am inspired to do so now. Thanks - d.

  16. Jeffro

    I'm looking for it but no one seems to have posted it - when I find it up it will go.


    I passed on a chance to see him the Mescaleros in Minneapolis and I regret it now.

    Hopefully I've warned you about the bad side of CTC enough for you to find the good in it - either way let us know what you think

  17. jeffen,
    understand your passion for the book. 'Passion' is I think probably one of the best written music biogs ever. I love the piece where he gives us an alternative track list for 'Give E'm Enough Rope'
    It works with 'Sandinista' as well. There's a great album in there.
    Rebel Waltz/Washington Bullets/Somebody Got Murdered/
    Before you get to the singles & 'Bank Robber' which should have been on there anyway.
    It would have made a great double, on at least a par with 'Combat Rock'.

  18. Yeah now I'm wondering if I should bother with Last Gang in Town since I gather it's mostly overlap (and not just the obvious part about covering six years in the life of the same band).

    Yeah my stock answer about Sandanista is: one great record, one record of serviceable b-sides and one record of shit so odious that it should never have been recorded.

  19. I was referring to the ticket over-selling fiasco. The show was indeed great.

  20. Nazz

    Yeah hence my guess at the end.

    Might make a good post someday - I'd sure as hell read a time-damaged review of a Bond's show.

  21. One of my greatest wishes is to hear a Bernie Rhoads-less Cut the Crap.
    Someone has to make those songs shine.

    I like your blog and your writing.
    Thanks for the shares.

  22. Roger:

    Keep dreaming - weirder bootlegs/re-releases have happened (though "Having Fun With Elvis on Stage" remains undigitized!)

  23. I saw the Clash several times, including twice at Bonds, and they were a group that had "it"--that undefinable quality that seperates them from the pretenders and phones. I am glad they distributed Sandanista as is. It is wonderful document of a moment in time. Yes, one album of the best cuts or another double with more cuts may have sold better, but isn't that why we love the Clash? They went against the grain. And I was thinking about Combat Rock today. I think it is downright subversive that if kids listen to Should I Stay or Should I Go or Rock the Casbah, they also get a healthy dose of "Know Your Rights" and "Straight to Hell."

  24. Anon,

    Amen and amen.

    I do still dream of compiling a 'live' Sandinista, to show what could've been but the album does stand up as pretty fearless document of the Clash and their understanding of the times.

    I also agree that Combat Rock is a pretty strange record to be labeled a sell-out - I mean those songs you mentioned are not commercial.


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