Good Saturday to you all and welcome back to the blog. In time-honoured fashion the whole household was sick at one point or another during the week missing school or work respectively making sure I didn’t succumb until the weekend. Typical innit? So I’ll publish this post, sleep for 20 hours and then watch Arsenal win tomorrow.
Today is part two of my chat with Randal Doane the author ‘Stealing All Transmissions-A Secret History of The Clash’. If you somehow missed part one it’s linked here and you can purchase the book if you haven’t already from Amazon in the US or WH Smith in the UK. Unfortunately you’ll have to do some research for other markets but starting with the monster named after the big river in South America is probably a good bet. Make sure you check out the insightful comments on the last post from The Baker too. So I’ll hand it back to myself and Randal below and cover my throat in medicine, until next time good people and please join me in thanking Randal for taking the time.
The relationship between New York and The Clash is considered (after London) the most important one the band built, at times perhaps more so. What do you put that down to?
RD: New York’s the US’s most international city, and its bars close at 4am. It also has a rich rock’n'roll history, and of course the growing popularity of rap and hip-hop culture circa 1980 held quite the allure for The Clash, too. New York, then and now, teems with possibility for long-time residents and interlopers alike, and The Clash made the most of the vintage clothing shops, the recording studios, Studio 54, bars in midtown, the Village, and in Soho, and then there was Bob Gruen, who ensured that they could tool around in 1954 Buick as if they were stars in a noir thriller.
RD: Each February, I assemble a Village Voice Pazz & Jop-inspired mix disc, so that I have a sense of what “the kids” are tuning into. I dig Carbon/Silicon, of course, and I can be caught dancing in the kitchen with my daughter to Teddybears or Tune-Yards a couple nights a week. I think the Kopecky Family Band achieved a measure of pop-confection perfection with “Heartbeat,” and that Air Traffic Controller comes close with “You Know Me.”
My favorite contemporary performer for the past few years, though, is Hamell on Trial. Imagine The Clash meets George Carlin on acoustic guitar. He’s got it all.
Do you think that The Clash would have achieved more than for example U2 on the global market if the band had managed to regroup and stay together/overcome Topper’s issues and the conflicts with Mick?
RD: In terms of quality, or quantity? I think Joe had difficulty with the “Rock the Casbah”-level of fame, let alone Superbowl-halftime-show level of fame. It seems as if the last time Joe and Paul had fun together as The Clash was that busking tour when they lived hand-and-guitar-to-mouth. Could they have had fun as the size of U2? Hmm …
I’d like to side with Don Letts on this question. Seven years is a long time for any band, and The Clash amassed a host of great, great songs in those seven years (76-83, of course), and blew away a lot of people who saw them live. Plus, I don’t know that I would trade Big Audio Dynamite’s debut for the album that might have succeeded *Combat Rock.* I just love the humor, the sound, and the joy and–perhaps most surprising of all–the lack of bitterness of that album.
What’s the main reason a seasoned Clash fan might want to read the book?
RD: The main reason? Hmm … I wrote the book for folks like your readers so that they might wax rhapsodically with greater accuracy about the righteousness of our youth and our music, and to tell the stories of select deejays and rock journalists who really mattered. I also hope my reflections on music, technology, and fandom resonate with readers in the US and UK who grew up listening to vinyl, cassettes, then CDs. Likewise, I think folks should know the modest number of degrees of separation between Hilary Rodham Clinton and The Clash.
I want to own up to this now, too, so there are no illusions: I understand that I erred when I identified Joe’s last gig as Acton, rather than Liverpool. I’m delighted to set the record straight in a subsequent printing of the book, and look for your guidance in terms of the number of hail-marys I need to say before I might be forgiven by The Clash faithful.
Favourite Clash album and song – and why?
RD: I’m still making sense of Sandinista! (which is amazing), but I’ve got to give the nod to *London Calling.* It fit perfectly on a 90-minute XLII tape with the 5-song EP by Echo and the Bunnymen that came out in ’84, and I wore that tape out. *London Calling* was an audacious move, but it’s effectively a 3-sided, filler-free LP at 66 minutes (rather than 2 hours+), and every song sings with the band’s determination, their sense of humor, and the brilliant mixing work of Mick and Bill Price.
Song-wise: “Charlie Don’t Surf” gets the nod today over “White Man in Hamersmith Palais,” but try me again next week. The lyrics of “Charlie” are awe-inspiring in their poignancy and simplicity, and the hook and the spacious dub mix just draws me in.
What three people living or dead would you most like to have a few beers with?
Karl Marx– I’d like to talk to him about parenting.
Joe Strummer –There’d be so many topics of interest, but I’d ask him first about compassion and laughter.
Ralph Ellison–He was such a sharp dresser, so I know I’d have to starch up my finest shirt and press my favorite tie before settling down for a conversation about jazz, prose, and freedom.
You’ve got one sentence to tell a 15 year old kid today why they need to invest time in The Clash. What would you tell them?
RD: ”This is the stuff of Robert Johnson at the crossroads, kid, but The Clash isn’t asking for your soul, just your ears, and your mind.”
Thanks for the time/space on theclashblog, Tim, and keep up the good work