it’s no secret — notes on the book’s title

This project originally started out as a long-form non-fiction piece, for which I found a suitor, but not one of “marriage material” (or, I suppose, that was their judgment of the project). Once the project assumed book-sized proportions, and I started sending out proposals, I only ever had this title in mind.

It’s from the opening stanza of “Radio Clash,” the b-side to “This is Radio Clash”:

This is Radio Clash / Stealing all transmissions/
Beaming from the mountaintop / Using aural ammunition.

Radio and aural ammunition are key themes in Clash history, for they imagined their variety of rocknroll could–and should–break down walls of prejudice, in the west and the Middle East.

As Strummer noted in advance of The Clash’s first trip to the US, “All we want to achieve is an atmosphere where things can happen. We want to keep the spirit of the free world. We want to keep out that safe, soapy slush that comes out of the radio … All we’ve got is a few guitars, amps, and drums. That’s our weaponry.” (R. Christgau, Grown Up All Wrong, pp. 220-1)

Strummer’s faith that things could be otherwise was well-founded. Deejays such as Meg Griffin and Pam Merly, on WNEW and WLIR respectively, in 1977, ensured–if not outright stole–transmission time for tracks from the import pressing of The Clash. (CBS, of course, in 1977, deemed the LP too noisy for an American release.)

Likewise, with “Capital Radio” and “This is Radio Clash”/“Radio Clash,” which nearly coincided with The Ramones’ “We Want the Airwaves,” the problem of radio was of keen interest to bands in the punk and post-punk vein. Toward the end, with “Rock the Casbah,” Strummer imagined “that crazy Casbah jive” capable of drowning  “the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor [and] philistine sentimentalism,” as K. Marx noted a few years prior.

For my comrades, the subtitle recalls Greil Marcus’s excellent Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (1990), which I was assigned in an art theory course back in the day, and thoroughly enjoyed. I, however, had in mind another book, given to me by Dale Sherrard, another visual artist (in a previous life): The Secret History, a novel by Donna Tartt. Tartt’s novel is thoroughly un-Clash like (yet still full of merit), but the secret nature of the history I found, for a band not lacking in biographical documentation, was a pleasant surprise. I hope you, dear reader, come to share that sentiment.

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