Clash debut — too noisy for American radio?

Freud was right: the narcissism of small differences permeates nearly all of human history, and our ability to find those small differences (musical taste, of course), and to magnify the something into everything (see Nick Hornby’s *High Fidelity*), is something we’re all familiar with. This tendency typically prevents a real dialogue, and so the person who draws these boundaries (“I am here in the righteous zone, and you are over there in the suck zone”) rarely gets properly schooled on the complexity of motives–including the profit motive–that inform, say, not releasing The Clash (1977) in the U.S. in its original form.

Bruce Harris, second row, on the right.
Bruce Harris, second row, on the right.

Luckily, Paul Doughtery, @ https://punkbeforepunk.wordpress.com/about/, put pen to paper to let Bruce Harris, director of A&R on the east coast for Epic, to impugn his character and rail against “the man” for his bean-counter mentality.

Astonishingly, Bruce (RIP — taken from us much too early) wrote back. The full letter is here and here.

Harris affirms the most basic duty of a record guy (make, rather than lose, money), his affinity for The Vibrators, The Adverts, and Blondie, and rightly dismisses the organizing principle of Paul’s original letter, that the LP would change the complexion of the American marketplace.

In November 1977, Bruce knew what we would know a bit later, as I describe on p. 62 of Stealing All Transmissions:

Punk's initial failure, according to the punk-o-philes in the US, circa Sept. 1978.
Punk’s initial failure, according to the punk-o-philes in the US, circa Sept. 1978.

The success of The Clash (UK) as an import–allegedly the best-selling import of the time, according to Robert Christgau (and not cross-verified anywhere)–does not contradict Harris’ claim. It supports it, since the import LP is more sacred than the domestic LP, and it gets more New York punks fired up with indignation about guys like Bruce Harris. It also inspires promoter Wayne Forte to figure that if 1000 import LPs had sold at Bleecker Bob’s, that he was not going to bother with The Bottom Line, which seated 400 (p. 82).

Forte rolls the dice.
Forte rolls the dice.

And, in part because of Forte’s hubris, which was in part inspired by Harris’ crazy-like-a-fox pragmatism, The Clash played the Palladium on their 1st three visits to New York City, and the rest, well, is one most exciting chapters in the history of rock’n’roll.

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UK music press — they eat their own

What do the sand tiger shark, parasitic wasps, and, in select moments, the UK music press have in common? They eat their own. As I note in Stealing — and, since it’s still May (month 5), I’m focusing on an element in ch. 5 — if the first rule of rock fandom is to be into this band before anybody, the second rule is to be into and over a particular band before anybody.

When The Clash made the live venue rounds in late 1978, clashoodeon78flyerthe UK music press lined up with their (pitch)forks in hands, salivating at the ready. Like any decent shark, they could smell blood — and why? Because The Clash had dared to release a second album, and thereby subject themselves to the orgiastic feast of critical discourse, where critics first took turns at the grinding wheel, sharpening their knives, before taking a seat at the table.

Here’s my summary of the frenzy, from p. 70:

ch 5 blurb

The tyranny of the new explains it in part, and the frequency of publication of the weeklies in the UK (versus the bi-weekly and rarely timely issue of Rolling Stone) played a role, but I think there’s also something English here, something that doesn’t translate on the west side of the Atlantic–where we love second acts, and phoenix-esque rises from the ashes (for better or worse, in some cases).

I’d love, too, to hear your thoughts on this matter.

Here’s a live clip from that era, too.

Cheers!

punk’s greatest night — april 23, 1976

Writers quibble over year-zero of punk: ’76, because that’s when things started rolling, or ’77, because that’s when key platters of vinyl by The Clash, the Pistols, Blondie, Television, and so many others hit the shops. The hardcore look back to Iggy and the Stooges, of course, or even Velvet Underground at Cafe Wha? way back when.

The night noted above, though, has got a decent claim to the most important weekend in punk history, in terms of guts, glory, and serendipity. On both sides of the Atlantic, the eponymous Ramones’ LP hit the shelves and, as Generation X’s Tony James noted, “The Ramones were the single most important group that changed punk rock.”

In London’s Nashville Room, The Sex Pistols opened for the 101’ers, and Mick Jones accompanied Bernie Rhodes to check out the 101’ers’ lead singer, Joe Strummer. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, the crowd at CBGB was treated to the debut documentary of the punk scene: The Blank Generation, by Ivan Kral, then with Patti Smith’s group, served as the opening act for Johnny Thunders’ The Heartbreakers, just before Richard Hell set out on his own with his band, the Voidoids. 

Kral’s film was a truly DIY affair, as you can see here. I do, of course, shine a bit more light in my book on one of the most important nights in the history of rocknroll. I’ll give the coda over to Richard Hell. Cheers!

post-punk gems, v. 63 — The Clash (on Toots)

Happy Wednesday, folks. It’s a terrifically sunny day here in western Massachusetts, and I’m excited about this afternoon’s talk at Amherst College — 430pm, Cooper House. Should be fun.

I had a good time on WTBR-FM this morning with Thomas A. Lewis, and it was a gas to hear The Clash’s cover of “Pressure Drop.” It’s not a tune I cue up often, but let’s do that now. This video clip is quite awesome, too.

Don’t let the pressure get you down!

(post) punk gems, v. 49 — 999

So today I’ve got September 1979 on me brain again, and 999 in particular. Their drummer Pablo LaBrittain apparently was one of the many drummers that came through the ranks of London SS (proto-Clash combo), and the band was called 48 Hours ever so briefly–or until The Clash released their debut LP, which of course included the track “48 Hours.” So 999 takes the UK’s version of 911 as their moniker, released their own first single, and signed with United Artists shortly after. “Nasty Nasty” (1977) poses the seminal punk question: “What the hell is wrong with you?,” for which I’m still trying to come up with a sufficient answer.

Two years, two labels, and six singles later, they offer up the considerably mellower “Found Out Too Late.”

And wow: here’s lead singer Nick Cash and comrades banging out the same tune on their acoustic axes. Whatta treat!

Thanks for checking out today’s post. If you’re looking for info on Stealing (holiday sale happening now) the folks at The Big Takeover described it in these terms: “Doane’s history stands apart … arresting and vital.” Check it out!

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.

new version of Stealing — images wanted!

Image

Happy Sunday — The announcement’s out for the much expanded version of Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash,* which has much more on the New York punk scene and on the London Calling LP. I still need your help with the images, though. I can’t afford Bob Gruen, alas, and I hope the #Clash nutters among you might have photos of the band, concert posters, etc., that you can send to me in digital format (jpg, if posibble) by 5/31. If your image is selected, I”ll send you a signed copy of the book upon its fall release. All correspondence to djaphasia [at] gmail cot com, or simply reply to this post. Please share this note as you see fit. Many thanks!