Hello, my name is Ed, and I am a Clash-a-holic… (In my mind you are calling back “Hello Ed!”)
Today is International Clash Day. We should give a shout out to fellow DJ John Richard at KEXP in Seattle who initiated Clash Day in 2013. Yay John! Really, it should be called International Clash FAN Day. We celebrate not only the Clash themselves but the brother/sisterhood of Clash fans worldwide, and here in Nashville. In the teenage recesses of my mind, I still think the Clash are somehow on the edge—weird, marginal—and I’m still kind of shocked when I run into other passionate Clash fans. So cheers to us! Passion is the fashion!
Personally I came to the Clash, I’m sure like many of my generation, overnight. One day it was Yes and Rush and 20-minute rock concertos; the next it was Year ZERO, laser focus on what matters, and London’s burning AND I’m SO Bored with the USA. The Clash gave us bullshit detectors!
To borrow from Duke Ellington, there are three types of Clash music: early, middle, and late. And I love them all. The fury and pure punk of early Clash with “White Riot,” “1977,” “Jail Guitar Doors,” and “Garageland”; to the expansiveness and cinematic quality of middle Clash with “London Calling,” “Spanish Bombs,” “The Card Cheat,” and “Death and Glory”; and finally to the experimentation of late Clash with “Magnificent Seven,” “Washington Bullets,” “Lose This Skin,” “Ghetto Defendant,” and “Straight to Hell.” It’s all fantastic!
The Clash broke up in 1983; Mick Jones was fired in September of that year. So that’s where I mark their end. To hell with post-Jones Clash! Wait, back up. Even I can learn a thing or two about the Clash. This year on WXNA I interviewed Kosmo Vinyl, sometimes known as the fifth member of the Clash, about his time with the band. He mentioned that a new book about Clash 2.0 had just come out and that I should check it out. Mark Andersen’s We Are The Clash covers the band from Mick’s ouster to the finale. This book radically changed my view of this period of the band, and I highly recommend it. It may challenge your likely derisive view of the band during this era. (You can listen to Kosmo’s interview here: https://www.wxnafm.org/broadcasts/7776.)
Regardless, the Clash came to an end over 35 years ago! And here we are, celebrating International Clash Day in 2019. What’s going on here? Perhaps the Clash, their music, their example, their inspiration persist because we need them to. These times require deep reserves of musical, artistic, and spiritual sustenance. The Clash really only existed from 1976 to 1983. In those six years they put out six full length albums (two of which were multi-disc) and many EPs and singles. Digging into that output, you will find much that speaks to us today. What I’m struck by is the deep humanism of the band and Joe’s lyrics in particular. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t the best musicians, they didn’t invent punk, but they were true believers for a time. It was and is true rebel music.
The Clash were not Joe Strummer’s band. They were a collective unit: Joe’s lyrics, Mick’s arrangements, Paul’s pure style and chutzpah, and Topper’s solid drumming chops came together to create a unique sound and sensibility. In ways not true for other punk-era bands, they continue to spark our imagination and our collective will to resist. And to rebel in the Albert Camus sense of the term—or as Joe had slapped on his battered Telecaster, “ignore alien orders.” They were sincere without being goofy, they were ironic without being distancing, and they believed what they were saying even if they were at times naive. “I think people ought to know that we’re antifascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist, and we’re pro-creative. And we’re against ignorance.” Tell it, Joe!
The Clash and the spirit of Joe Strummer are still with us. In 2016, after what seemed like a calamity, Henry Rollins put it as succinctly as I’ve ever heard: “This is not the time to be dismayed, this is punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.” Goddamn, I can hardly say that without tearing up. WXNA, the DJs and the volunteers, are proud to be on the side of our community and when necessary to be part of the fight to make this community open to all. That is the spirit of the Clash, and that is what Joe Strummer taught us. “Without people, you’re nothing…”
I’m a collector of Strummer quotes. There’s one for just about any situation. Here’s one for right now: “If I had five million pounds I’d start a radio station because something needs to be done. It would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something that didn’t make you feel like smashing up the kitchen and strangling the cat.”
The creation of WXNA in 2016 gave us a chance to re-enchant our love affair with music, and through music to connect with each other: My long love for this band has been reawakened. And I am heartily grateful, because, damn, I needed it. So let’s raise a glass to St. Joe Strummer and to The Only Band That Matters. Cheers and Solidarity.
Friday, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.