We Are The Clash
Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki
Publication Date: July 3, 2018
Generally dismissed, even reviled, as an embarrassing misstep at the end of an otherwise stellar career The Clash Mark II have been historically swept under the punk music rug. Proof? Even the official “complete” Clash mega-compilation Sound System is missing Cut The Crap, the group’s true last album. With the publication of We Are the Clash (Reagan, Thatcher and the Last Stand of a Band That Mattered) authors Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki guide readers through this nearly forgotten era with an in-depth examination of the band’s attempt to renew their relevance.
US and Them…
Approximately 7 years after professing their utter boredom with the United States The Clash played to 250,000 attendees of the US Festival in sunny California. Rock festival ritual certainly had more in common with a tail-gate party than a political rally. The 80 minute set earned them $500,000. The Clash were a long way from the London squats of their origin in more ways than one.
Manager and group founder Bernard Rhodes’ vision of band was that of physical manifestation of political manifesto. His mandate to “be bigger than anybody else but still keep our message” was a tall order. An impossible conundrum. Success appeared to be blunting the message so a purge was in order. Like a Rock N Roll ouroboros the band attempted to recreate itself stronger and smarter based on what were considered the “mistakes” of the past.
The book’s Forward, written by road tech and “loyal Clash foot soldier” Barry “The Baker” Auguste, describes this event as painful, akin to a death in the family or even a murder. Mick Jones and Joe Strummer as Cain and Abel. The insoluble question of punk “anti-star” ethos is how to stay relevant and antiestablishment in the face of mass popularity. It was answered by the sacking those who supplied the hits.
Splitting the band into its disparate elements didn’t yield better separate experiences. It could easily be proffered that Jones’s Big Audio Dynamite and Strummer’s Clash II each had too much of their particular “good thing.” The creative tug-of-war or actual clash of The Clash that fired the band went missing. But that is not what this book is about.
We Are the Clash details expunged history, unreported until now, with a grounding in the socio-political events of the time. It fills in the blanks with a cohesive and well researched understanding of what Joe Strummer attempted and, in many instances, did accomplish.
Chronicling these struck-from-the-record final years the authors of We Are The Clash prove Clash MkII to be neither the nadir it has been purported to be nor the revival it was meant to be. Along the way we are provided a revelatory slice of musical and political history that makes for a fascinating read.
I found the story of Strummer’s “detoxifying from England” in Granada Spain (as related by local compatriot Jesús Arias) to be of particular interest for its view inside the songwriter’s hypercritical (self-torturing) creative process.
The audio for many of the concerts outlined in the text, in varying states of sonic quality, can be found on YouTube, and it is fun to follow along, listen, and form your own opinion.