I recently read the feature on The Clash in the new issue of Rolling Stone. While it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about the band, it certainly reminded me of why I love them so much.
In 2003, when I saw Pearl Jam in Pittsburgh while in college, I decided to wear one of my Clash t-shirts. For a long time, my concert credo was not to wear the shirt of the band you were seeing, unless you purchased one at the show. One fan saw my shirt. “Pearl Jam doesn’t like The Clash!” He yelled at me. I brushed him off, because I knew he was wrong. Later on during the show, when Pearl Jam busted out a cover of The Clash’s “Know Your Rights”, I seemed to be one of the few that recognized the song and cheered loudly when Eddie Vedder shouted its famous line: “This is a public service announcement with guitar!”
I discovered The Clash sometime in high school. I had been exposed to a few songs – “London Calling”, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” through mix tapes my sister made for me. But on my 18th birthday, I received a copy of their live album From Here to Eternity from my older brother. From the beginning of the opening song – “Complete Control” – I knew right away that this would be a band that I could identify with. Here a band cutting down their own record company in song – they weren’t going to bullied by anybody. The backing vocals which point out that “CON” is spelled out in the middle of “control” were captivating. Strummer was clearly drawing a line. You could either go with them, or be left behind. I quickly knew which side I was on.
I’ve often joked that I credit The Clash with moving me towards a leftist way of thinking. And while it’s certainly true that songs such as “Clampdown”, “London Calling” and “Career Opportunities” are Marxist theories put to thrashing music, The Clash opened a lot more doors than a political awakening.
The Clash incorporated world-music into their repertoire, which eventually lead me to seek out some of these sounds. The only reggae artist that I knew before listening to The Clash was Bob Marley, but soon I was scooping up albums by Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals.
When Joe Strummer died in December of 2002, it was the first time I felt a void when a star died. If The Clash were the “CNN of rock”, then Strummer was its Walter Cronkite – providing positive insight into a world that seemed to veer out of control. While other bands have attempted to take The Clash’s place of political rock for a new generation – particularly Rage Against the Machine – none of them succeeded on the same level. The Clash made have been “the only band that mattered” but they were also one of the few bands that were really were for the people.