DIY style, for the kids! The Clash, ’79

So contemporary Clash news is difficult to come by these days. It seems if you want to curb e-buzz about a “heritage act,” release the definitive box set. But lo! Mr. Mick Jones is bringing his rock’n’roll public library to the Venice Bienniale — nice!

Once again I’m mining chapters from my book to shine a bit more light on certain events given, well, if not short shrift, not all of the attention they deserve. (Stealing, too, got a nice bit of attention, taking home a silver IPPY Award this year, I’m happy to report.)

In terms of the library, I wonder if Mr. Jones’ impressive collection includes this homely beauty, from February 1979, when The Clash dared to take on counter-cultural oligopolist sf flyer ABill Graham in San Francisco. Graham was on the scene in SF with the SF Mime Troupe in the mid-1960s, and established himself as the promoter through the 80s, when anytime I bought a concert ticket “Bill Graham Presents” was getting a cut–but not every time, in 1979.

When The Clash made their American debut, at the Berkeley Community Theater on
February 7, Graham got his cut. The next night, though, at Theater 1839 — just a couple doors down from the Graham-controlled Fillmore — The Clash, Negative Trend, and The Zeros played a benefit show for New Youth Productions, who had a vision of an all-ages scene for the growing interest in punk. (The lettering for “Minors Welcome!” certainly heralded a typeface that rose to prominence in the US hardcore scene.)

I especially dig the fact that the promoters forgot (?) to identify The Clash by name, and made amends by inking the letters, Johnny Cash style, in black-on-black across their torsos. DIY indeed.

If you have any more information on this night, do be in touch. I figure Howie Klein (who introduced Paul Simonon and Epic’s Susan Blond in 1979) and his comrades have some fun memories of the event, or their role in helping pick the pocket of Bill Graham.

And … here’s a fun ska documentary narrated by the Bay Area’s own Tim Armstrong. Nice work, team.

Cheers!

DIY: press ink on punk, circa 1977

Good morning, fine readers. I’m sticking with the chapter-by-chapter, month-by-month theme today, and — since it’s March — digging a bit deeper into chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie.” The exposure, of course, came from indy press folks, but also mainstream press, too, more often than most folks care to remember.

Ira Robbins of Trouser Press fame was a Clash devotee, although not from the start:

“The lyrics are occasionally powerful in their anger and frustration, but they are also silly sometimes, and between that, the godawful vocals and the seemingly careless production defuse the message of these Anglo-punk rockers.” (June 1977)

 

The Clash, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.
The Clash, 1977, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.

By the fall equinox, though, the distributor Jem Records–who delighted in upsetting labels’ plans for U.S. release dates by getting import copies into the hands of retailers and DJs alike–got The Clash into Ira’s hands, and he straightened up in a New York minute:

 

“… Of all the new wave bands that have released longplayers to date, the Clash have so much more to offer that there’s no contest. (Leave the Stranglers out of this; they’re like apples and oranges.) I really hate gushing about a new band, especially in light of all the journalistic excesses lately, but the Clash have produced such a strange and wonderful blend of pop, metal, aggro, and politics that I keep playing the sucker over and over again.

“Fronted by ultra-psycho ex-101er Joe Strummer, the Clash is two guitars and a bass, with drums provided by whoever’s around – there’s no permanent fourth man. Strummer and songwriting cohort/guitarist Mick Jones both sing horribly; lots of Cockney slurring and much expression make the lyrics nearly 100% unintelligible which is a shame, ’cause that’s the best part. It wasn’t until I obtained a bootleg libretto through international ‘channels’ that I realized what an amazing band the Clash are …” 

“Without getting involved in the political implications of anarchy in the UK, the Clash have the rage and the enthusiasm to make these lyrics work. The music fits perfectly, and the total effect is one of the wild-eyed hate of everything stupid. Get Clashed today!” (September 1977)

The Clash in Westway photo sessions, by the magnificent Adrian Boot.

Ira, too, was none too pleased when circa 1979 many folks were jumping upon the Clash bandwagon, but the mainstream press arrived earlier than most people thought, and actually didn’t say completely idiot things.

Robert Hilburn, for the Los Angeles Times, got after The Clash in September 1978 (and thereby two months ahead of the U.S. debut LP), and gets Jones-y to loosen his tongue a bit, and offers a message most folks attribute to Strummer:

“I thought rock audiences in England were apathetic when we started, but I’ve never seen as unhealthy a place for rock ‘n’ roll as America. We might be too late. It may be impossible to wake them up at this point.

“What’s worse than the rock audience are the rock bands here. If there were any way we could destroy them all at once, it’d be perfect. I think American rock bands – and the English ones, like Foreigner and Foghat, who pretend to be American – are a cancer. It’s time for us to come here with a manifesto of change. All we can do is try. If people can’t see what we are – the rock ‘n’ roll band of the ’70s – that’s their problem.”

Likewise, in a nearly 1000-word piece for Time magazine, Jay Cocks regarded the band as “four tough-strutting musicians who together lay down the fiercest, most challenging sounds in contemporary rock” (March 5, 1979), within a month of their live debut in the states. Not bad, gents. Not bad at all.

Cheers to you, and cheers to spring! If you plan to be in the Catskills next weekend, come see me at this event, if you have a few $$ for a righteous cause.

 

 

well, then: what can a poor boy do? punk and authenticity

Greetings, readers! So I’m back at the book again here, mining chapter 3, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” for another gem related to the DIY spirit. The clamor, of course, was ringing from speakers on the stage and in bedrooms on both sides of the Atlantic, as 1977 saw the release of the 2nd Ramones’ LP, Talking Heads: 77, Television’s Marquee Moon, The Clash, two LPs each by The Damned and The Stranglers and, almost late in the game, came the debut LP by The Sex Pistols. 5.0.3The DIY ethos informed the fanzines, too–most notably Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, which popularized the cut-and-paste ransom-note aesthetic and, for better or worse, fomented the yer-either-with-us-or-against-us ethos that led to a narrow definition of punk.

Perry’s search in ’76 for written coverage of his new favorite bands turned up almost nothing. “One time I was at [the record shop] Rock On, trying to find out if there were any magazines I could read about these bands in,” Perry recalled. “There weren’t, so the people behind the counter suggested flippantly that I should go and start my own. So I did” (Stealing, p. 42). And did so quickly, and with a sensibility that’s been confirmed nearly four decades hence, as the cover of issue #6 from January ’77 rightly confirms. Perry, too, knew that before too long, his subjects were also his readers. “John Lydon had it, Strummer had it, Rat Scabies had it,” Perry reported. “I thought, ‘If I say this in the Glue, it’s going to happen.’ I knew that, and that’s what fueled me, knowing that it was being taken seriously” (Ibid.).

Perry, alas, took himself too seriously, and did so for years. You might think after a couple decades he might back away from punk-inspired claims such as, “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS,” but no. For John Robb’s Punk Rock, Perry stuck to his ideological guns:

“These guys weren’t about to smash their Gibson & Fender guitars all over the stage, were they? … they manipulated punk into ‘OK, we won’t have a riot, we will sing about it instead.’ Which is cool, at least someone’s singing about it — but don’t try to make out that are some hard revolutionary. You’re just in a pop band — which the Clash ended up being. They were a great pop band, but nothing to do with punk. The real punk bands came a couple of years later, the bands we all hated like the Exploited and all those nasty working-class people [laughs] that have convictions and have been in trouble with the police …” (p. 340).

So, the requisite credentials include: smashing expensive gear, trouble with the law, and you need to be as tedious as The Exploited? As a period piece, The Exploited were perfect, but how many times can you listen to songs that repeat the same phrase in a chorus and construct musical bridges from watered down heavy metal riffs?

Mick
Mick, with Paul, and an “authentic” hair style, circa 1977. Photo by Syd.

Punk is a many-a-splendored thing and, as guitarist Marco Pirroni rightly noted, “This whole Mark P thing that [the Pistols] should sign to Bumhole Records for no money was stupid — that would never work.” The Clash’s refusal to become a self-parody by making the same album over and over again is a testament to their greatness, not a failure. And please: if we’re talking about class credentials, lay off Mick Jones. “Rock’n’roll Mick” did what any poor boy with enough pounds for a guitar and an unassailable work ethic would do: he dedicated his life to rock’n’roll, and made the world a better place.

I will give Mark P. due credit, though, for rocking Alternative TV well into the 21st century–and tonight, 8 March, in Brighton. Cheers!

What a difference a year makes: ’76 to ’77

Good morning, K-SAT readers. It’s month 3 on the calendar, so I’m mining chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions for a couple more gems that I hope you’ll fancy. In “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” I move through ’76 and the formation of The Clash into 1977, and map what’s happening in the new periodicals popping up in New York, including Punk and New York Rocker.

Short, sharp, and not too sweet. Brevity and vinyl rule! (April 1977) Photo by Kate Simon.

Robert Christgau reported that he and Richard Goldstein picked up The Clash’s debut on import vinyl at Bleecker Bob’s, put it on the turntable, and the response? “‘This is fucking great!'” There is, of course, so much that is great about their eponymous debut (I love using the word “eponymous”), and I think about Simonon having just learned his parts, and the joy and the frustration and the catharsis in “Janie Jones,” the (ironic) contempt of “Hate and War,” and the beautiful treble-y-ness of it all. I also think about the question of duration. You’ve got 14 tracks here: four are up-and-done in under two minutes; five more take but 30 seconds more.

At the time, Christgau and his comrades at the Village Voice loved popular music, but they also liked to celebrate newcomers, too, as reflected in the Pazz and Jop polls of 1976 and 1977:

1976

  1. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla)
  2. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury)
  3. Jackson Browne: The Pretender (Asylum)
  4. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Howlin’ Wind (Mercury)
  5. Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle (Warner Bros.)
  6. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (ABC)
  7. Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum)
  8. Ramones: Ramones (Sire)
  9. Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (Warner Bros.)
  10. Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)

1977

  1. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
  2. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia)
  3. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)
  4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)
  5. Steely Dan: Aja(ABC)
  6. Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)
  7. Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77 (Sire)
  8. Randy Newman: Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)
  9. Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M)
  10. Cheap Trick: In Color (Epic)

Now there’s a more scientific way to do this, of course, but let’s just look at the #1s here: Stevie Wonder’s Songs:  17 tracks, 85 minutes, and The Pistols’ Bollocks: 11 tracks, 34 minutes. Certainly Graham Parker and The Ramones heralded a shift in median song duration, but wow: what a difference a year makes.

The Clash doesn’t make the list, I believe, because the folks at the Voice, including Christgau, discovered the album in early 1978. (He would later claim it as his favorite Clash LP, and even his favorite punk LP, if I recall correctly.)

Ramones_-_Leave_Home_cover
The name of this band is … Ramones. Image by Moshe Brakha.

You can find the full polls here and here. And, if you’re paying close attention, you’ll see that the LPs included here by the band “Ramones” did not include a definite article. Like “Talking Heads.” Now, you might find the occasional book that identifies (correctly) “CBGB” rather than “CBGBs,” but I’ve never seen a book refer to this band as “Ramones,” without the “the.” The iconic t-shirt, of course, notes “Ramones,” but all the writers got it wrong. Pretty wild.

punk celluloid on my mind — Clash, Blank Generation and more

Happy 2015, K-SAT readers, and thanks for tuning in. Let me do a quick 2014 wrap, and then offer a few words about punk film stuff, brand spankin’ new and old.

2014 was a lovely year, with accolades for Stealing All Transmissions coming in from London, Boston, Los AngelesChicago (and elsewhere). C’mon New York, c’mon Rolling Stone: I’m thinking of you Kory Grow! Sure, I suppose some of my comments about the current state of “the Stone” in Stealing were sub-flattering, but I assure you it’s business, not personal.

There’s much fun to be had with Julien Temple’s The Clash: New Year’s Day ’77. Mr. T. stays true to form to his collage aesthetic, with juxtapositions of clips from a variety of sources to take stock and make sense of more-Moderate-than-Great Britain 38 years ago. It’s a solid companion piece to his London: The Modern Babylon, which streamed on Netflix briefly, and now is unavailable. Modern capitalism can be so baffling–and I’ll get a more in-depth review of this gem soon.

With the new year commencing, I am going to switch things up a bit on my Sunday posts: drawing on the depthless resources of youtube, to begin, I’m going to dedicate Sundays in January to an elaboration of stuff reviewed in chapter 1, February for chapter 2, etc. I will, of course, provide enough framing for folks who haven’t read Stealing. Here goes …

April 23, 1976, is a watershed day in punk lore. On the east side of the Atlantic, proto-Clash members attend a Pistols-101ers gig to size up Joe Strummer, and Vivien Westwood decks a concert-goer and the dust-up gets a big write-up in Melody Maker. On the west side of the pond, folks in NYC celebrate the release of the Ramones’ debut album and the weekend premiere of *The Blank Generation,* Ivan Kral’s home-movie project featuring footage of Television (here), Blondie, Talking Heads, The Ramones, and a dozen or so other acts making rock’n’roll fun again at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

As you can see, it’s truly a DIY affair, with Kral with a light in one hand and his Bolex in the other, crawling around the stage (and staging some footage in the Village) to capture the gorgeousness of Tom Verlaine, Debbie Harry, Wayne County, among others.

Wayne County, of course, had close ties to the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, which thrived on provocation, genre-bending staging, and gender-bending themes. Patti Smith was there, and so was Candy Darling and other Warhol doyen. As Penny Arcade recalled in Please Kill Me: “Anybody could be in … the Ridiculous Theater. It was all street stars. Homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians – it didn’t matter, nobody cared about those things. It was all outsiders.”

John Vaccaro is not a name well-known in punk history, but like Chrissie Hynde, Mark Mothersbaugh, and a host of others, he made his way from Ohio and made his mark on the Lower East Side, by directing a host of beautifully trashy plays for the Playhouse. Vaccaro wanted performers, not actors, and as he quotes himself here, was fond of aphorisms such as, “Most people lie in their beds. I like the truth in mine.” I don’t know much about the genesis of this clip, but it certainly speaks of the fun history you can produce in the digital age. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

Have a great week!

the covers themselves — snippet from 9 Oct show

Happy Wednesday, readers. Today’s post simply offers the musical accompaniment to Sunday’s post on punk covers, and includes a few of my favorite covers by boy bands, including The Specials, Devo, Elvis Costello, The English Beat, The Clash, and another ruckusly-inclined band to wrap things up.

More news about the book is coming soon. Until then, please stand up and pogo around the office to this musical selection. Enjoy!

post punk gems, v. 41 — The Specials’ “Ghost Town”

Happy weekend, people. It’s turned bitter-ish up north, and I expect that the bustling sidewalks of the past few months will thin considerably as the days get shorter, colder, and icier. How fortuitous, then, that 33 1/3 years ago, The Specials released “Ghost Town,” which was still all the rage on the radio when I had a home stay in Coventry (home base of The Specials) in July 1982.

A trip to Jamaica inspired the narrative and, of course, the de-industrialization of English metropoles was also on their minds. As Lynal Golding told the NME, “Kingston is a real ghost town. The place is a complete wreck … It was the first time I’d been to Jamaica in 20 years and it was frightening … people begging for a dollar, people begging you for the shoes on your feet.”

The 12″ single, I figure, was backed with “Why” and the sweet adagio swing of “Friday Night / Saturday Morning.” (You can find more recent live performances of this track, but I’m fond of the low-fi herein.)

The book’s available at most big online stores, but if you’re interested in the book (and its politics), please consider buying from somewhere other than amazon, including your local bookshop, whose hip cashiers may even be inspired by your fine tastes to order a couple of extra copies for the shop. I’m sure amazon is full of lovely people and all, but if half of what Hightower writes here is 25% true, it’s a bit of a mess.