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Clash Blogging

Rob Salkowitz of Emphasis Added has a nice post up about The Clash, making the point that they still come across as modern and relevant, despite the fact that their best work is over 20 years old at this point. That's something that's hard to imagine saying about earlier acts, even when you shift the time frame proportionally. Check out Spencer Ackerman's re-write of "Complete Control" regarding the current situation in Najaf, similar to my August 16 opus "Lost in the Imam Ali Shrine." On one level, it's a pure coincidence that two of the five major left-of-center magazines (I'm thinking TAP, TNR, Washington Monthly, The Nation, and Mother Jones) have Clash fans under the age of 25 blogging about Iraq. Officially, of course, it takes three to make a trend, but that's a journalism rule, and blogging is only sort of journalism, so I'll say two can be a trend for our purposes.

We're talking about songs that were written before we were born (or at least before I was born, Spencer may have been out of the womb for the release of "London's Calling," but not by much). It's hard to imagine folks our age sitting around in 1969 waxing enthusiastic about the enduring relevance of music from the early 1940s.

August 23, 2004 | Permalink


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Matthew...I enjoy reading your thoughts, altho I think you missed the boat on this one. We folks in 1969 DID sit around and talk about music from the 40's, and we're still talking about, singing about and still playing the BLUES!

Posted by: Bruce | Aug 23, 2004 3:49:29 PM

Was just studying and listening to Phil Ochs last night. The music changed with Dylan, Ochs, and Seeger in 1963-64. If you don't think I could find lyrics relevant to our current situation out of the sixties....ah well, you don't need it, but it is there.

Phil Ochs was as angry and cynical as any protest singer. The famous line:"The movement died at Altamont, but the music hanged itself in 1976."

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 23, 2004 3:51:09 PM

Still the only band that matters. London Calling was the album I cut my musical teeth on as a 12 year old, and it's still one of my all time favorites.

Posted by: trox | Aug 23, 2004 3:52:53 PM

I saw Ackerman's rewrite of Complete Control and found it amusing, though I am not sure why setting virtually all new topical lyrics to an old tune makes the Clash particularly relevant. Though I am certainly not here to slag The Clash, who were one of the great bands of their era and their work still stands up well IMO. (Of course, I should confess that I can barely name any performers whose work does not predate the '90s.) I was already out of law school when I bought my import copy of London Calling. I was lucky enough to see the Clash play twice--a great show at NYC's Palladium and one of their famous shows at Bonds. The latter show was a little lackluster, finally catching fire around halfway in--kicked off by a rousing version of Complete Control as I recall. One moment I remember clearly: a crew member put a small TV onstage so Mick Jones could watch the band perform on the Letterman show, pretaped earlier in the day. Joe Strummer was obviously annoyed at this, finally kicking the TV in.

Posted by: Marlowe | Aug 23, 2004 3:54:07 PM

Well, this is one old dude who in '69 was rocking out to Kweskin's covers of 20s-30s jug band tunes, jazz and 'race music'. 20-year olds today should be so lucky!

And if you haven't listened to Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues or Highway 61 Revisited lately...well to grab a line at random-

Johny's in the basement mixing up the medicine, Pa's on the pavement shouting at the guvvamint...

Ring any bells?

Posted by: serial catowner | Aug 23, 2004 4:01:25 PM

Don't want to seem too much the bitter old fogey. I am a bitter old fart, just don't want to seem one.

London Calling and Sandinista are on my hard drives, in regular rotation. Along with Costello and Television. And Patti Smith.

Sex Pistols, Pretenders, Blondie, even Talking Heads haven't worn as well.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 23, 2004 4:02:53 PM


and the Talking Heads, life during wartime, right after magnificent seven.

Posted by: bryan | Aug 23, 2004 4:06:46 PM

"It's hard to imagine folks our age sitting around in 1969 waxing enthusiastic about the enduring relevance of music from the early 1940s."

Jaron Lanier argued that popular music has shown much less development since the sixties, so that the Beatles and Stones sound more like contemporary popular music than either of them did to Glenn Miller. I don't think he's entirely right because electronica and hip-hop both sound considerably different than sixties/early seventies music, though both have their roots there (Tangerine Dream and The Last Poets, for example). As far as rock proper and mainstream pop go, I think he's right. Punk was the last major innovation in rock, and still sounds relatively current for that reason. Also, it seems to me that there were people in the late eighties were big on Iggy Pop and MC5, the Doors, etc. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd still seem to have young as well as older audiences. I think this is normal, actually. Gershwin songs were still being copiously covered in the fifties after he had been dead twenty years. And not just by the same old folks. Sinatra started in the forties as a teeny-bopper star singing Berlin, Porter, and Gershwin tunes, some of which dated prior to 1920. There was a big break between the rock and pre-rock generations, but that was mostly a marketing ploy to create a youth culture with attendent market. One of the things the Beatles actually did, though not much realized, is bridge this gap, in fact if not in image, by combining the rhythmic strength of rock with the melodic strength of tin pan alley. Punk of course was similarly a marketing ploy that got taken seriously.

Posted by: Martin Bento | Aug 23, 2004 4:18:13 PM

even harder to imagine folks sitting around in 2030 waxing enthusiastic about the enduring relevance of music from the early 2000s

Posted by: don | Aug 23, 2004 4:20:39 PM

Well, Shostakovich, for example, still comes across as modern and relevant.

Posted by: tennin | Aug 23, 2004 4:22:11 PM

In 2030 white people will all be sitting around listening to black hip-hop cd's from the 1990's.

Posted by: Levi | Aug 23, 2004 4:28:14 PM

the Repub convention's gonna be a White Riot!

Posted by: jmb | Aug 23, 2004 4:35:07 PM

Going on forty years, and these lines still ring true:
Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saying, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken"

Posted by: Doctor G | Aug 23, 2004 4:35:53 PM

repubs: Police and Thieves
man, i'm so bored with the usa
but what can i do

Posted by: jmb | Aug 23, 2004 4:37:31 PM

Not wanting to point out the elephant (not the GOP kind) in here, but...

Democratic convention in 1968 with masses of anti-war protesters; division of the country between the right and left with lots of smears; mass marches against the war in many countries; popular music becoming anti-war, anti-government; rock concerts organized by anti-war groups, etc.

And of course, now revisiting the Vietnam war again as a surrogate for discussion of the Iraq war that everyone is afraid to discuss (another elephant in the room nobody's noticing anymore).

Truly,what goes around,comes around.

Last time the country chose Nixon as 'the cure'. Nixon said he had 'a plan' to get us out. I don't think he was thinking helicopters evacuating people from the US Embaassy roof.

Maybe we'll be different this time.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 23, 2004 4:43:22 PM


Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in O-hi-o

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know

Neil Young
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard, believing that martial law had been declared, was sent to the campus of Kent State University in Ohio to break up anti-war protests that were going on at the time.These protests started because Richard Nixon had decided that it would be a good idea to bomb Cambodia into oblivion.

Students at Kent State, as well as many other college campuses, were particularly upset by the news and they even burned down an Army ROTC building to demonstrate their disapproval. However, during the night of May 4, after rousting a number of protestors, Troop G of the Guard began to retreat. But according to civil trials held after the incident, Troop G stopped, turned and were given the order to fire. The Guard murdered four students and wounded nine others.

If that wasn’t enough, just a few days later, two Black students were brutally slaughtered and many more were shot at Jackson State in Mississippi. Eyewitness accounts differ, but it seems that local police decided to fire their weapons wildly at the protestors. After 30 seconds of continuous firing, two men were dead and 12 others had been shot. This was ostensibly to break up protests, but there were racial motivations to these attacks. Mainly, the victims were Black and the attackers were White. Most egregiously was the fact that police officers picked up their bullet shell casings before they called the ambulances.


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 23, 2004 4:56:38 PM

Well, in terms of political songs, after seeing this band 3 times, getting more bruises than I knew what to do with in the moshpit - all I can say is:

"Hey yo, it's just another bombtrack..yeah!"

And also,

"So called facts are fraud
They want us to allege and pledge
And bow down to their God
Lost the culture, the culture lost
Spun our minds and through time
Ignorance has taken over
Yo, we gotta take the power back!"

I'm not naming the band, because I want to see if anyone knows who I'm talking about.

One more...

"No escape from the mass mind rape
Play it again jack and then rewind the tape
And then play it again and again and again
Until ya mind is locked in
Believin' all the lies that they're tellin' ya
Buyin' all the products that they're sellin' ya
They say jump and ya say how high
Ya brain-dead
Ya gotta fuckin' bullet in ya head".

It's a d$mn shame they broke up though...

Posted by: JC | Aug 23, 2004 5:11:05 PM

No coincidence at all that smart kids are quoting the Clash. For about five years (1977-1981) they were the best band in existence. Their ad agency called them "The Only Band That Matters" and it was a case of hype working out to be something like the truth. (Talking Heads mattered, of course.)

Posted by: Kyle | Aug 23, 2004 5:14:09 PM

"On one level, it's a pure coincidence that two of the five major left-of-center magazines (I'm thinking TAP, TNR, Washington Monthly, The Nation, and Mother Jones) have Clash fans under the age of 25 blogging about Iraq."

Damn, dude, but that's just stereotype-confirming as all hell for me. Why don't you check out some Junior Murvin or Scratch Perry or something--where the clash got a good bit of their sound--maybe make for some less silly musical performer citations than Joe Strummer on the plight of the black man and whatnot too.

Posted by: spacetoast | Aug 23, 2004 5:19:30 PM

Somebody else already pointed it out, but in the 60s young people -- Mick & Keith & John & Paul among them -- thought the greatest music ever was American blues from the 40s and 50s. Then they discovered Robert Johnson, and that changed to 30s, 40s and 50s.

Posted by: Steve | Aug 23, 2004 5:26:22 PM

Also on the reggae, this is both a great movie and a great soundtrack.

Posted by: spacetoast | Aug 23, 2004 5:26:27 PM

Why is the New Republic still considered left of center?

Posted by: Alice Marshall | Aug 23, 2004 5:40:58 PM

Well, certain members of the Sixties generation were finding relevance in some early 40's music, if you consider Woody Guthrie's radio work of that era an influence on, say, the little known Minnesota folk talent...what was his name...Robert Zimmerman?

Posted by: Slothrop of Boulder | Aug 23, 2004 5:45:31 PM

As far as political rockers are concerned, the proof is in the pudding. There is only one rock star who ever became politically important enough that he was actually barred from entering the United States for a year and a half - John Lennon. What other political rocker has actually forced a response of that nature?

Posted by: Martin Bento | Aug 23, 2004 5:50:50 PM

I saw a cartoon once captioned 2082 A.D. with a children's choir holding songbooks titled "Folk Songs of the Late 20th Century" and the kids are all singing..."You make a dead man cum.."

Posted by: creepy dude | Aug 23, 2004 5:54:46 PM

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