Saturday, 14 August 2010

Clash City Rockers

Several months ago, I had the idea of producing and presenting a radio show based on historical tales of different late 20th century music movements. The idea began from reading England's Dreaming, by Jon Savage, which chronicles the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols alongside vignettes from other seminal figures in the British punk scene of the late 1970s. I decided that it would be awesome to get the music for a show based on the book -- some Sex Pistols, some Clash, some Siouxsie, some New York Dolls, etc. -- and then find some good anecdotes and historical facts and put it all together into a 2 hour special.

From there my idea grew to include episodes with other times and places, again based on books about music I either have read (the first two) or want to read (the latter two):

1. Rip it up and start again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds: Talking Heads, Joy Division, Public Image Limited... though I feel that with me at the helm, this show would be about 70% Talking Heads

2. Britpop: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock by John Harris: One of the first books I ever read about rock and roll, we'd hear Pulp, Suede, Elastica, and of course Blur and Oasis

3. Our Band Could be your life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad: Haven't read it yet but I've heard it's one of the best books about music ever, so I really need to get on this if I'm to make this radio show happen!

4. Same goes for Can't Stop, Won't Stop
: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang

I like each of these books because they don't just talk about the music -- they're not biographies. They're also about the wider social and political happenings, and how the music and musicians related to that. England's Dreaming is not just about the Pistols -- who made some really crap music -- but about how some clever (and not so clever) people managed to tap into a sense of public anger and outrage and react against it in a very fraught time in English history.

And then at the end of each episode of my little radio show idea, I would have 15-20 minutes of more recent (say, last decade) music that was inspired by the movement.

This is all a roundabout way to start talking about The Clash, in my opinion one of the top five greatest bands of all time, and, in terms of personal preference, tied for first.

I first discovered The Clash via No Doubt -- one of the latter's many bootleg live mp3s that I downloaded in the early days of file sharing on the internet (back when ftp sites were cool, even before audiogalaxy!) was a cover of "Hateful"*, which is originally from 1979's London Calling, an album that a few years later I would literally wear out from listening to so much (the cd actually warped from the heat in my truck's cd player).

The summer of 2004 was when I finally, truly, fell in love with The Clash. I can't remember what spurred it but I spent the majority of that summer sitting at a desk job, trading emails with N, headphones on and "I'm So Bored with the USA" drowning out the sounds of the printer behind me.

I was 20 years old, and super bored with the USA -- leaving in August for four months in the UK, a serious Anglophile's first trip to the Sceptred Isle. There was definitely that aspect of it -- getting ready for the journey -- but the Clash's lyrics totally captured me. A few decades too late for me, they had channeled their anger into brilliant songs about politics, culture, art, society... I won't go on about it too much, but just take a look at either "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" (written in the aftermath of the Brixton riots) or "Lost in the Supermarket" for two of my favorite examples.

To be fair, the Clash can be difficult to get into nowadays. There's the songs that get played on oldies stations -- "Train in Vain", why? -- and then there's this nebulous body of work beyond London Calling that's full of strange, experimental styles ranging from dub to Beach Boys parodies about the Cold War. You won't be able to understand the lyrics -- you'll definitely have to read them. And they a two-part album, Sandinista, that is often described as a "brilliant but failed experiment" that I think has some of their most important music.

It's also important to me to note that I once tried to claim ownership over a page torn out of an NME with a picture of Joe Strummer lying on a bed with his trousers unbuttoned by saying that I owned Sandinista and had listened to the second half.

So back to the radio show: I'd still really love to do something like that, but I'd like to make an episode specifically devoted to the Clash, and in fact I think I could fill up maybe two or three episodes with them. Unfortunately I don't think that Oxide Radio is exactly the format for it -- the station would probably explode, and my five listeners would just want to be in the chat room talking about Yo Dawg graphics rather than listening to me blather on about musical social history. I'm definitely still thinking about it, though.

*There were a number of covers No Doubt had that led me on to other bands/songs -- from Sublime to the Beatles' Ob La Di, Ob La Da -- and to all you haters out there, I'm never going to regret how much of my teenage years was spent in my room with Tragic Kingdom on the stereo.

1 comment:

  1. you earned that picture, my friend!