Hello again, thanks for stumbling through the smoke filled streets of London and finding your way back to The Clash Blog. Unless you live in a cave or don’t watch the news you’ve probably noticed that sporadic violence, arson and looting has consumed different parts of London at an accelerated rate for the last 3 days. I’ll be the first to say that from 5,000 miles away I’m not well positioned to know exactly what is going on. I do know this though, much of what is happening isn’t taking on the definition nor cause of urban rioting seen in the UK in the 1980’s. This seems to be far more opportunistic and based around looting, although the root causes might be caused by political decisions this isn’t protesting – growing from some organised statement against the government. Moreover stealing Wii consoles and new trainers doesn’t send a message to parliament. The media will leap all over the chaos and the ‘mob’ is already the catchphrase of the day but when the smoke (hopefully soon) clears the root causes won’t be examined – only how to react to what looks like it has been three days of fucking nightmarish conditions. So it goes. I do think there’s plenty that is wrong and to be angry about but I don’t see this as even the beginning stages of a solution.
I don’t wish to glorify some of the protests, marches and what turned into riots I myself attended 15-25 years ago but I feel I should, not because of me but because of the premise. I do know that there was some unity behind those causes and smashing into shops and stealing coupled with arson wasn’t on the agenda. Telling the government they were getting things wrong was at the heart of it. This is very different, but again just my opinion.
Is anyone genuinely surprised by any of this? The underlying facts are that we are in a very similar trough as we were in 1981 but the reaction is quite different in my opinion.
As for the arson, something needs to give tomorrow or else some poor sod living in a flat above a shop is surely going to die. That’s a grim but realistic expectation.
I’ve seen the word clash and the songs of The Clash quoted like mad around the broadcast media, social media and Facebook. I’ve even been guilty of it myself. I’m questioning the logic though, I think these events were entirely predictable with the austerity measures that have been taken. ‘I Predict a Riot’ wasn’t exactly a bold statement. The risk of such violence since the recent changes in the UK were well documented. Whether it’s about opportunism or greed from the reduced lack of ability to ‘have’ I just can’t be sure. I don’t think it relates to the boredom of 1976 nor the riots in Notting Hill at the carnival that summer.
Does it make the music and lyrics of The Clash suddenly more relevant again then? No more so than a month ago I’d argue. The issues faced by Londoners and millions elsewhere haven’t really changed but the reactions certainly seemed to have done so. Will this be the first of many bad nights in different European cities, to suggest as much ignores Athens. Then again even to overplay it is to ignore what has been happening in Syria over the last week. More than 2,000 have died in those exchanges. Makes London look like kids playing at arson and window smashers to some extent.
I’d be heartened if I felt these were genuinely political statements such as the student protests. A statement was made, even if the desired changes weren’t resultant. I think that relates far more to the ethos of The Clash than the last three days. I could be wrong of course, this could be the continued implosion many expect for the systems that are in place. In reality though it looks to be mostly about grabbing trainers and laptops for free. Consumer culture gone mad with instant gratification being at the top of the agenda.
While many will continue to use The Clash as the backing track to these images I think the lyrics rather than just the titles should definitely be considered. Joe Strummer wasn’t saying go and steal some mobile phones and when you’re done torch the shop. Whilst it’s convenient to borrow London’s Burning and White Riot as titles I think a certain song by The Sex Pistols might be more apt. Though it’s more like isolated anarchy.
I love London, I miss it deeply and I hate seeing many neighbourhoods where I used to live or frequent being destroyed when the result will be quite the opposite of what many would like to see. These won’t drive change, not good change anyway.
Who knows if I’m right and please feel free to disagree but I think London’s Burning is about as appropriate to this as the misuse of Rock The Casbah during the Gulf War. Strangely I ranted last week about things coming to a head and a change being needed, by which I didn’t mean drilling a nail through your own foot – are you listening Tottenham, Peckham, Enfield, Ealing(?), Camden Town, Croydon and so on. If you really want to get involved improve your neighbourhood and vote out those who don’t share your concerns.
I had planned to write about B.A.D. in Minneapolis last night this evening but this got in the way. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong however, I’ve had very mixed feelings the last few days. I don’t think it’s extremely punk to smash up The Body Shop (although Starbucks gets nearer to the mark). Punk Rock is opening a club for the disaffected youth to come and hang out and create something. I just don’t think the bloke pictured above is the new Don Letts. Tim
Now this song on the other hand is about riots