Friday, April 15, 2005

A Post in Which I Genuflect to Pay Homage to The Clash

I promised I'd rave about The Clash and then I took a vacation from this blog-thing-y (although nobody bitched about it, okay... hippie@toast.com or whatever, your attachment didn't open...) - forgive me. If the number of words on the righteousness of The Clash's induction into the R&R Hall of Fame exceeded what's been written about Iraq, this would be a happy planet. So, here's to showing my absolute devotion to St. Jude....

I'll try not to masturbate with the bi-blography hand-cream while inevitably exposing myself - a bit - in order to explain why The Clash were, for a time, The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.

Back in High School, I was rather amorphous, not a Jock, not a Stoner, not a Brain... I just didn't fit in anywhere - and I kind of liked that. Although I carried a card for membership in the Revolutionary Communist Party, I never got involved in anything except griping about the sorry state of music in the 70's. Everything sucked and Tom Wolfe was on the money with "The Me-Decade". My radical aspirations languished in that patchoulli-soaked polyesther atmosphere of apathy and mediocrity.

The only saving grace of the first half of that dismal decade was found in the columns of Lisa Robinson and Lenny Kaye in "Hit Parader" and Lester Bangs in "Cream", chroniclers of the brewing revolution in music. Through those monthly reports from the underground, I learned that there were other outsiders, other malcontents, other seditionaries waiting for the call to revolt.

I guess what I was waiting for at that time was a bigger and better MC5... Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Iggy and the Stooges, The New York Dolls... and later, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie... well, yeah, they sure as shit spoke to me, louder and more articulate than, say, Fleetwood Mac or Bob Seger, but these were not bands that challenged us to "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!". They just wanted to shoot out the windows for the sake of being heard, shred the canvas for the need to be seen, a Dada sensibility with definite anarchist overtones but more art-student than activist.

Nothing wrong with that - it was a welcome relief from the self-indulgent rock and mindless booty-shaking obsession of disco that dominated the airwaves. However subtly subversive those bands were (well, that sells them a bit short), they weren't actually articulating the potential of their "Termite Art" (to cite Manny Farber) as they slowly ate away the foundations of 1970's "White Elephant Art". To paraphrase Marx, the revolution wasn't an economic struggle (much less an artistic struggle), it was a political struggle; but no one took up the vanguard to declare that the revolution would not be recognized (apologies to Gil Scott-Heron).

And so, when I first heard U.K. Punk (and I differentiate here because, in my mind, Punk existed loooooooong before the Sex Pistols made it a fashion) I busted a nut, the sound was so new, so invigorating, so in-your-face-cuz-I'm-so-pissed-at-your-middle-class-bullshit, it was so right for a 17-year old who saw the suburbs as a cultural sewer and society as anethema to authenticity. Still, the politics of nihilism in UK Punk, "You suck, I suck, everything sucks," was somehow, ummm, insufficient*. Wave the black flag all you want but if you're not offering any alternatives, you're just a vandal. The attitude was liberating, the sound was intoxicating... but I had to hate myself in the morning, like getting drunk for the first time, forgetting how I got home, and then an excruciating burn when I wnet to take a pee.

The Clash (a year late in the first wave) saved my life. Exciting and anarchic as the UK Punks were, they had a general lack of a political consciousness that was at the very least, disheartening, and when flashing swastikas for shock value, disgusting. Adolescent angst can only endure so much negativity before suicide or selling out seem to be the only options and The Clash showed me another way out: rise and resist.

From the opening chords (and gracious nod to The Who) in "Clash City Rockers", with it's promise that the band would call us to arms ("...Or burn down the suburbs with the half-closed eyes/You won't succeed unless you try..."), to the declaration of independence in the anthemic "Garageland", the first Clash LP was a manifesto as well as a challenge - give up the bag of glue and man the barricades. More importantly, the LP proved that The Clash refused to be defined (and limited) by the music: "Remote Control" states that in no uncertain terms while the brilliant cover of Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves" provides unequivocal proof. I was awestruck, I was amazed, I was....saved.

Listen. This is becoming something I didn't want it to become and now I have to stop myself but I refuse to go back and start from scratch. Now I have to resist the urge to pontificate like some lame nabob writing a review for Amazon.com by indulging in some pedantic band biography. I fear I've stooped to the maudlin excesses of rabid fandom and I didn't want to go there. But it is not an exageration to state that at a crucial point in my life, The Clash were my salvation and I still retain the fervor of a born-again Rock-n-Roll fundamentalist.

Nonetheless, I would not be guilty of hyperbole to claim that "London Calling", if it was the only album that The Clash ever released, was more than enough to earn them their place in the R&R Hall of Fame. It's one of those "desert island albums" ("Hack! Hack! Hackneyed!" - and I'll give that list soon, with an invitation to share yours), expansive and complex, one never tires of hearing it. Just when punk/new wave had painted itself into a generic corner, LC showed us all that The Clash were, indeed, The Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.

I figure I've said enough (maybe I've said too much but not said a tenth of what I want to say). I'll take a line from a song from "London Calling", one that says, in 3 lines, so much more about how The Clash transformed me than I have said in this long and incoherent rant:

"I went to the market to realize my soul
What I need I just don't have;
First they cursed then they press me till I hurt (they say),
Rudy can't fail."

4 comments:

BreadBreaker said...

The Clash were a great band! I had the same experience you did -- I hated all the music from the 1970s, and I spent most of high school listening to bands from the previous decade that were already history by 1976. Then a local band called "The Rotters" came out with a one-hit wonder called "Sit on My Face, Stevie Nicks" and my friends & I laughed for days. But you're right, without some kind of political focus it all would have just amounted to a "Can-You-Top-This" of gross-out, a freak gong show with no emcee. The Clash gave us intelligent direction.

Now I can't get "Revolution Rock" out of my head!

Heathen said...

My sociology professor thought he could teach us everything through different Clash songs.

... I miss teachers like that.

lu said...

One of my best friends in HS, Lisa M (where the hell are you now?), was a kick-ass punk rock chick and she turned me on to The Clash. Now that I think about it, she was the *only* Clash fan I knew but then, we were living in Arkansas. *groan*....

Sadly, my exposure to the Clash was limited to Train in Vain, Should I Stay Or Should I Go, and Rock The Casbah.

I think I need some private tutoring.....

GraceD said...

Richard Hell and the Voidoids! Tom Verlaine and Television! Translator! Dead Kennedys! The Cramps! Sex Pistols!