Nobody called my high school punk rock group “the only band that matters.” That was the Shock. We were the ones who played ditties like “She Eats Razors” and “Beat Me, Whip Me, Make Me Feel Cheap”.
Dave Vogel introduced me to The Clash when he brought a copy of “London Calling” to the newspaper office at the high school where I was working. I was struck by the cover: Paul Simonon of the band smashing his bass on stage. Impressive. I borrowed the album and recorded it on a cassette. That low-quality tape that Dolby suffers from made its way into my head, heart, and soul. The Sex Pistols made me notice punk rock. The Clash, made astute but political punk rock, raw yet musically sophisticated, personal in spirit but global in scope. It soon became my favorite band.
A week after listening to London Calling, I wrote my first political song: “Salvador Death Squad Blues,” a shocking commentary on the atrocities of the Reagan administration in Central America.
The Clash concert at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom in 1982 began to change my life, even before the first note was played. I bought a t-shirt in the lobby, but instead of the usual wizards and dragons on heavy metal t-shirts that I was used to, the Clash t-shirt had a single phrase stamped on the heart: “the future is not written.”
When I saw them play, I knew exactly what that meant. The Clash acted with passion, purpose, and unwavering political fire. They identified themselves as a band of the people, as humanist socialists. You can hear his unwavering intention in “Know your rights, ” “English civil war, “ “Straight to hell” and “Professional oportunities. “There was such a sense of community in the theater that it seemed like anything was possible. I was energized, politicized, changed that night. Yes, the future was not written, and the fans and that band could write it together.
At the center of Hurricane Clash was one of the greatest hearts and deepest souls in 20th century music, the band’s guitarist and rhythm singer, Joe Strummer. At the Aragon, Joe played on the same amp that I had in high school. That showed me that you don’t need Marshall stack walls to make great music. All you had to do was tell the truth, and really, seriously.
When I first went on tour, Clash tapes and bootlegs were the most important part of my music collection on the road. They were an inspiration and a comfort on those long, icy European bus trips.
Listening to even shitty bootleg tapes, Topper Headon’s unmatched percussion could be heard effortlessly leading the band into fluid realms of genre that no other punk band could handle. You could feel the cold rumbling rhythms of Simonon’s bass reggae demanding justice from Kingston to Brixton. Mick Jones, Strummer’s McCartney to Lennon, shone as a brilliant arranger and tuner, always looking forward musically and pushing the boundaries of what was possible for a punk band, or any other band. And you could always hear it in Joe Strummer’s breathy, passionate voice that he truly believed the world could be changed with a three-minute song. He wasn’t there for the ego or for the glory of a rock star. He was toying with a determination to change the damn world.
The band would have countless meetings where they would discuss their lives, their opinions, their political views, what they meant to each other and what was important for them to say in their songs. You could feel that commitment in every note of his music. And as Joe says near the end of the great Clash documentary “Westway to the World”, band chemistry is everything. He gives a tearful speech lamenting the eventual firing of Headon and then Jones. There’s a power to that classic Clash lineup that reminds us that there are some bands that people like, some bands that people love, and then there are some bands that people really * believe * in. The Clash was without a doubt one of those.
When I was with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and as Nightwatchman, journalists would ask me sarcastically, “What the hell is someone doing with your politics at a big label like Epic Records?” While he usually responded with flowery sermons about spreading an important message around the world, he could have responded with two words: The Clash. I wasn’t a cool kid rummaging through record cases in hip Chicago indie stores. The reason I listened to them was because Dave Vogel bought the Epic Records release. “London callingAt Musicland at the Hawthorn Mall in small suburban Vernon Hills, Ill. I didn’t find The Clash, The Clash found me. The Clash chose a path that was not elitist, a path that was crucial in getting their message across, a path that was crucial in reaching me.
The influence of The Clash, and its ability to turn the personal into the political, and vice versa, resonates in songs throughout my own career, from Nightwatchman’s “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine,” for “Maria Celeste, “From my EP The Catastrophists a”Save our souls“From my last album. If any of the songs I’ve been involved in have been able to energize or politicize a person in the same way that The Clash affected me, the decision to sign with Epic was worth it.
I had the opportunity to play with Strummer in his collaboration with Johnny Cash. “Redemption Song, “And in his song”It’s a rock world. “I have never been more nervous in my life than when I was introduced to him. Very few recordings were made, but many narratives about quickly swallowed bottles of red wine. I took the opportunity when Joe was in court to pick up and strum his famous Telecaster with the label “Ignore Alien Orders” on it. That guitar launched a thousand bands and was the reason I play a Telecaster on songs like “Night guard. “Holding that historic guitar, on which Joe had written and performed my favorite songs over the years, was sublime.
The last time I saw Joe was when he and his band the Mescaleros played at the Troubadour about a year before his death. He played with all the passion and intensity that he had in the heyday of Clash. He was a vital artist to the end.
His idealism and conviction gave me the courage to try to make a difference with a guitar.
In the great hymn of Clash “White riot, ”Joe Blood:
Are you taking over?
Or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards?
Or are you going forward?
I have answered those four questions for myself every day since I first heard them.
They personify what The Clash was all about, a band that combined revolutionary sounds with revolutionary ideas.
For me, they are still “the only band that matters”.
Previous trials in this series It can be found here.