Joe Strummer & The Clash
Joe Strummer has made his career by being different. The son of a British diplomat, born John Mellor in Turkey in 1952, he stood at the forefront of the punk rock movement as the front-man for the Clash, dubbed "the only band that matters." One of punk's most recognisable bands, the Clash's image, politics and sound administered a much needed kick in the teeth to a bloated and lethargic rock and roll establishment. While their punk contemporaries either imploded (Sex Pistols), kept making the same record (Ramones) or made music that had virtually no commercial appeal (Crass), the Clash expanded their boundaries and won over more fans. And although all these bands have had a lasting impact on punk and hardcore, the Clash added the right amount of abrasion and vitriol to pop music to produce hits. When the group disbanded in 1986, Strummer stepped out of the spotlight, doing soundtrack work and the occasional acting gig. In 1999, he returned to the spotlight with his first solo record in a decade. And now he's back with another called Global A Go Go, which although considerably different from his Clash-era material, still stands on its own.
Joe Strummer is the front-man for a moderately successful pub rock group called the 101ers, named after the squat where they lived at 101 Walterton Terrace. After playing a gig with the Sex Pistols, he decides to leave the band for punker pastures. The Clash are formed with the help of manager Bernie Rhodes, who introduces Strummer to Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the art punk group London SS. The other members of the now-disbanded London SS morph into the Damned.
Their first record, The Clash, is released in the UK in April. (Judged "too crude" for American tastes, it isn't released in the U.S. until two years later, although it initially sells well as an import). It features an explosive mix of songs that further the notion of the group as a counterpoint to the Sex Pistols' nihilism. An incendiary aural attack, the record stands as a blueprint for the punk aesthetic, setting a standard that still resonates to this day, with songs like "White Riot," "Career Opportunities," and "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A." Their fusion of punk and reggae is another important element with a six-minute cover of Junior Marvin's "Police And Thieves" and the Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced track "Complete Control."
The seminal book on the early days of the British punk movement, The Boy Looked At Johnny: The Obituary of Rock And Roll by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, is published. The authors attack the Clash as "the MC5 of the new wave; the credibility hustling manager, the six-figure recording contract, the revolution for fun and profit." They go on to posit that the Clash "were the first band to use social disorder as a marketing technique to shift product."
"They were in a bad mood," responds Strummer now. "That book is pure fashion, it doesn't have any intellectual rigor to it at all." Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the sophomore LP comes out in November. Rock intellectual Greil Marcus writes of the band: "the Clash is now so good they will be changing the face of rock'n'roll simply by addressing themselves to the form — and so full of the vision implied by their name, they will be dramatising certain possibilities of risk and passion merely by taking a stage." Give ‘Em Enough Rope is produced by Sandy Pearlman, an American best known for his work with Blue Oyster Cult. Strummer is quoted in the same Marcus article, saying Pearlman had "been trying for six months to turn us into Fleetwood Mac."
Perhaps somewhat more mellow with age, he now says "That's unfair. Did I say that?" He admits: "We presented him with quite a difficult thing to capture, a sort of raucous rock and roll group and we weren't smooth around the edges or anything." Strummer believes manager Bernie Rhodes chose Pearlman from a short list provided by the label "because I reckon he liked [Blue Oyster Cult song] ‘Don't Fear The Reaper.'" The record is slightly more polished in an attempt to make their sound more palatable to American listeners. Strummer thinks Pearlman "had some pressure from Columbia to deliver something coherent." Even though he feels "it wasn't our easiest session," the result still has the same energy as the debut with tunes like "Safe European Home" and "Tommy Gun."
Over the course of the year the Clash film Rude Boy is made. Directed documentary-style by Dave Mingay, it features the trials and tribulations of the band as seen through the eyes of a fan-turned-roadie. Released in 1979, the film was called "visual record of a lost era" by Jon Stewart in the book England's Dreaming. The film brings them to the attention of Martin Scorsese, who plans to cast them in Gangs Of New York. When the project is shelved he eventually gives them a cameo in 1983's King Of Comedy as a band called Street Scum. (The long delayed Gangs is due at the end of 2001.)
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