David Murray + Lev Laffayette on Joe Strummer and the Clash

DAVID MURRAY dmurray at studentmail.newcastle.edu.au
Wed Jan 1 15:18:35 MST 2003

Just thought Id add my ten cents to the Clash thread. I haven't got much to add. I was a late comer to the clash, not really my fault, I was born in the wrong decade. My personal favorite is either Give ém enough rope or the self titled one. They in my opinion are what rock and roll should be. Clean, quick and with a message. As well as being easy enough for even the least musically talented to play. As for the legacy of the clash, i think they will for generations turn people towards leftist ideas, even if politically indeterminant at the start. As well, I'm glad that the clash did not reform for tours after they had broken up. Otherwise they would be something like status quo.

Anyway heres an essay by a friend of mine Lev Lafayette. He was in the Australian SWP (now DSP) for some years and these days is in a left ALP faction, the pledge unions.

Dave Murray

Thoughts on Joe Strummer's Death

The man responsible for a pop culture gateway to punk for me via 'Rock
the Casbah' waaaaay back in 1982....

At the not-so-tender age of 17 ('twas 1985 by then) and living the
life of the streetwise The Clash became my favourite band. I was
completely taken by the Sandinista! (triple LP) album (released 1980)
as myself and fellow homeless and semi-homeless played it old tapes of
it over and over under whatever version of housing we had each night.
To this date it remains my favourite album of all time. "Somebody Got
Murdered" was a particularly important tune when life was pretty
marginal and hunger pains were depressingly regular (besides, yea
verily it rocked). "Something About England" remains one of the most
pivotal and lyrical statements against racism. I've even had the
opportunity to use it a poetry readings. As an opening track "The
Magnificant Seven" had superb flow and aburdly true and extraordinary
lengthy lyrics (try reciting these withuot a breath). As for "Ivan
Meet's GI Joe"? What can you possibly say about a song about
thermonuclear war backed with a disco beat and space invader samples?

When I actually found housing that year I found "Up In Heaven (Not
Only Here)" a grimly appropriate tune. Mind you I was in a 10 story
with 200 tiny flats squeezed into a single block). I didn't mind the
inclusion of lyrics from Phil Och's "United Fruit" either. Later in
the year I even convinced my year 12 Politics teacher to play and
distribute the lyrics to "Washington Bullets" on a lesson on foreign
relations. He was a little surprised that I knew who Victor Jara was.
"If Music Could Talk" is a great effort in experimentation with two
conversations/lyric streams occuring on each channel. The third LP on
that album has received, I think, unfair criticism. "Lose This Skin"
is an excellent piece of existential fiddling (I kid you not),
"Charlie Don't Surf" is a grim comment on the Vietnam war, "Kingston
City" on Jamican impoverishment (and with classic narrative flow -
something rare in popular music) and "Silicone on Sapphire" as an
instrumental a feel which I can only describe as "drunken-electronica"
and with lyrics that put The Clash as possibly the earliest computer
savvy band in existence.

Of course, now I was completely convinced that I had discovered the
one true music for me. Having been introduced to the punk aesthetic
combined with music with latino and reggae influences and a lyrical
commitment to principled, radical politics the Clash could do no
wrong. I enthusiastically purchased all their material over the
subsequent two years and with the exception "Cut The Crap" (1985)
(although 'This is England' was a superb single) I was not
disappointed. Their first album, The Clash (1977) remains possibly the
most energetic, ethusiastic and groundbreaking debuts of all time.
Sure, in terms of musicianship it's rough and ready, but it has power,
energy and that's what it was about. "I'm So Bored with the USA",
"White Riot" (based on band members participation in unemployment
riots), "London's Burning", "Police and Thieves" and "Garageland"
remain to this day remarkable and memorable tracks. Indeed, each track
on that LP is memorable. This is simply not a wasted second on it; and
I must say I was charmed by Billy Bragg playing "Garageland" as an
encore at one of his Perth concerts.

This album is stylistically grouped by their second album, "Give 'Em
Enough Rope" (1978). Shorter (10 tracks) and slightly less energetic,
it still has an incredible first three tracks with "Safe European
Home", "English Civil War" and "Tommy Gun", and is nicely complemented
by "Last Gang in Town" and "All the Young Punks".

In the following three albums (London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat
Rock) the musical style of The Clash became more influenced by Latino
and Reggae sounds with equivalent changes in lyrical content. The
Clash now were interested in third world politics and the
international order - politically a more mature approach and certainly
one for which they are deserving of high lyrical acclaim. This of
course matched with tours to the United States where hispanic and
afro-american communities have borne the brunt of social
impoverishment, official and unofficial discrimination. The title
track "London Calling" (along with "Guns of Brixton" and "Clampdown")
remain transitional examples with all three representing a cynical
preparedness and recognition of environmental and social catasrophe.
Four sequential tracks on the album ("Jimmy Jazz", "Hateful", "Rudie
Can't Fail", "Spanish Bombs") flow together with a hispanic beat and
speed to the point of perfection and the last of the four provides a
not-so-gentle reminder of the great tragedies of modern times, the
Spanish Civil War and the subsequent fascist regime of Franco.
Finally, "Train in Vain" is an interesting "love song" of sorts and a
lyrical content that I could certainly give to a few people in my
past. But that's all par for the course in this life.

Sitting somewhere it between all this is "Black Market Clash".
You can't really call it an EP with nine tracks, but it isn't an LP
either. It doesn't overly impress me, with the exception of the two
excellent tracks "Bankrobber" and "Justice Tonight".

Having already discussed the Sandinista! album, I'll move to 'Combat
Rock', which kicks off mightily with the cynical "Know Your Rights" and
includes of course, the big hits "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and
"Rock The Casbah". I find this album most memorable however for it's
more reflective tunes "Straight to Hell" and "Ghetto Defendent" (with
Alan Ginsberg lyrics!).

I'll skip discussing the excellent singles collection and compilation
albums that followed and will quite happily admit knowing nothing
about Joe Strummer's solo album (Earthquake Weather, 1989). Further, I
have only minimal knowledge of the work of Joe Strumemr and The
Mescaleros, despite having seen them live. Damn impressive those young
guns, I must say. All the enthusiasm and style of yesteryear. I hope
they keep the radical edge as well. Time will tell...

By way of a conclusion....

>From here to eternity, I remain your loyal and dedicated fan Mr.
Strummer. You _did_ change my life.

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