punk purity and punk hybridity

Good morning, Clash-o-philes, and other readers, and a special welcome to folks tuning in this week from Indonesia, Poland, Israel and Italy.


It’s been ages since I read academic writing, even in its most accessible form, but I’m quite enjoying PFMB by Barry Shank. So far, it’s smart, well-written, and it’s clarified anew for me why my affinities in punk lean toward the east side of the Atlantic. (I’ll get after the argument once I’ve read a bit more.) After a brief bit on the virtues of Bad Brains, he notes how, in American punk circa 1980, “masculine competitiveness … turned inward as the form of authenticity” and, in turn, “demanded an ever greater purity from each person” (p. 6).

That ideal of purity, then, made demands on taste, corporeality, consumption, and the rest. Sure, the straight-edge scene had its virtues and included female-bodied folk, but US hardcore punk largely purified itself as a white masculine domain, free of the influence of black musical forebears (and black fans, female fans, and black female fans, too). The Clash, at Mick Jones’ behest through Sandinista! and Combat Rock, and with Big Audio Dynamite, found a hybrid route that was much more open-ended, and much more akin to the indie Americana scene emerging alongside (and then eclipsing) American hardcore. As Shank notes, “Where hardcore’s authenticity retained a vigorous individualism … indie instilled incompleteness, contradiction, and an insatiable hunger for constantly deferred meaning” (p. 7). Thank goodness for that–even it did mean some really terrible hat choices.

Have a great week, and tune into @stealingclash for more info on the October 2014 release of Stealing All Transmissions.

Clash @ US festival — Mick’s swan song was 30 years ago today

Happy holiday weekend, for those of you in residence in the greater (or lesser?) US o A. It’s a day of remembrance, of course, and for honoring folks who lost their lives in battle. Perhaps, in an alternate, more just universe, there would be at least a symbolic ritual damning the politicians who rushed the country headlong into war–and then another war and then another war, knowing that their sons or daughters would rarely, if ever, be put in harm’s way. Just the sorta stuff that really rankled Mr. Strummer, in particular. Check out George Saunders’ short story “Home,” about life after wartime, excerpted here.

Following the aftermath of Altamont, in December 1969, rock fans largely shied away from big music fests in California for quite awhile. Folks still gathered for music in large numbers in Iowa for the Wadena Rock Festival and Wisconsin for Sound Storm and the People’s Fair, but much was quiet on the western front in terms of music fests.

So Steve Wozniak of Apple fame decides to organize a big rock fest in 1982, over Labor Day weekend, and heck, it’s groovy southern California, so what could go wrong? Some sources claim the temperatures were up to 110F, one life (and $12M) was lost, but an opportunity to get bands such as Gang of Four, The Ramones (both late additions, it seems), English Beat, Oingo Boingo, The B-52’s, Talking Heads, and The Police on one bill couldn’t be all bad, right?

The following year, Wozniak ups the ante (adds a country day), and gets The Clash–or what’s left of it–to headline the bill. This incident is well-documented in biographies by Gray and Gilbert, and is worth checking out in terms of the impact of the return, like a cursed phoenix, of Bernie Rhodes. So here’s the allure of US, which stood for “Unite Us in Song,” for Rhodes and Kosmo Vinyl: get the band working again, 150,000 fans, $.5M, and heck: since Pete Howard’s willing to work cheaply (roughly $200 / wk.), and he’s got no power in the group, it made it easier for the Joe-Paul-Bernie brigade to make things harder for Mick–although Mick seemed to have plenty in reserve for (self-inflicted) marginalization, too.

Driven by Bernie’s (megalo)mania, Joe pitches a pre-concert fit over ticket prices and remuneration, delays the band’s taking the stage for two hours (complete with press conference), and for what?: as Gilbert notes, “It was the social banditry philosophy again: The Clash burst in like a bunch of crazy outlaws, shoot the place up, take the cash and then redistribute it among the needy” (p. 335). In the end, some of the $$ did go to London pirate radio stations.

Upon taking the stage, Joe jack-hammers the mic stand, tries to make a point, but the Americans aren’t listening. They just want to rock’n’roll. (The clip below cuts in-and-out, but it’s good footage of how the show begins, the sound quality is good, and there’s a clear shot of Joe and Paul swapping guitar and bass in advance of “Guns of Brixton.”)

The fact that Paul dons a Clash t-shirt for the gig is not a good harbinger, and the show ends badly: at the immediate close of the set, deep into the night, the side-stage DJ addresses the crowd, and Kosmo Vinyl imagines he’s trying to prevent The Clash from taking an encore. So he clocks the guy. Mick’s second into the scrum, and it ends almost as quickly as it’s begun. It boosts Vinyl’s spirits, but the ebullience is short-lived, and it’s not widely shared. As roadie Digby recalled, on behalf of himself and The Baker, “It left a really nasty taste in our mouths … No, it wasn’t a good Clash gig” (Gilbert, p. 337).

By the fall equinox, Mick received his walking papers, and ran with it. Within a few hours, he identified the next course of action. Within a span of 25 months, the brilliant This is Big Audio Dynamite was on the shelves and the airwaves.

The Bottom Line? In the mid-80s, Joe needed Mick more than Mick needed Joe, and–while this claim may merit a longer piece–you need not look further than the first two BAD LPs. The first LP has nary a weak spot, and the strongest tracks on the follow-up are the ones not co-penned with producer Joe Strummer. From my informal polling, a US/UK divide emerges on which album is more beloved, as my English comrades prefer No. 10 Upping St. Your thoughts?

Thanks for reading to the end, and have rock-steady week!

Coda: if you liked this post, and you’re up for an affectionate, literate insider standpoint, click here.

post-punk gems: English Beat, Cleveland Courage, etc.

Welcome to mid-week folks! I hope all’s well on your end.

I’m happy to report me head’s a bit foggy, having stayed out later than usual to check out The English Beat last night at the inimitable Beachland Ballroom on Cleveland’s east side.


Good cause, good times and, as always when former punks and mods gather in Cleveland, a host of good people.

While I usually reserve Wednesdays for underheralded gems from back in the day, today’s an exception, and back in the day this gem reached #9 in the UK, and #22 on the US dance charts.

Nice work, gentlemen.

And, for those of you in the Cleveland area looking to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the release of Combat Rock, I’ll be reading this Saturday at 7pm at Visible Voice in Tremont. Do join us. It should be a hoot!