June 6, 2007

For Clash obsessives

Excerpts from Chris Knowles' book Clash City Showdown provides the analytic orientation missing from the new and extremely long and detailed Joe Strummer biography. Knowles makes sense of The Breakup (the punk equivalent of Lennon and McCartney breaking up): In the early 1980s, Mick Jones wanted to go forward into hip-hop, while Joe Strummer wanted to go back into roots rock and the like. The irony is that rap would have suited Joe well, with his lyrical and rhythmic strengths. He just preferred real music over what my nonagenarian father calls "yap music."


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

tggp said...

I've always preferred the Sex Pistols, Damned, Stooges and Dead Boys over the Clash, but after reading that I gained some respect for Strummer.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Clash in 1983 at the Aaragon Ballroom. sorta stopped listening after that, never knew so much drama was going on the background

Dennis Dale said...

I saw them twice, once early on at the Palladium in L.A.; the show was a classic punk affair. The opening act, a quite good rockabilly/country act, was pelted with refuse and worse from start to finish and gamely played a near complete set in one of those inexplicable billings you used to see at the time, putting non-punk bands in as opening acts essentially to be assaulted and degraded for as long as they could take it.

The bass player wore heavy boots that he wielded against punks who were continually advancing on the stage; he played the second half of the set with a gob of spit, apparently unnoticed, on one cheek. That's dedication.

When the Clash came on the bouncers fought against a continual siege, dragging punks offstage (once caught many would just go limp, forcing security to carry their dead weight); most would escape by diving back into the crowd.

The next I time I saw them was following "London Calling", and the mood was very different; the music, and the crowd was less rough.

Whatever the case, I think they were great until "Combat Rock", which is probably their most successful commercial album by far.
Mick Jones' hip-hop hybrid act Big Audio Dynamite had its moments, using some clever cutting and pasting of found sound from film and TV; the album This is Big Audio Dynamite has, for me, one classic track at least; E=MC2, which was innovative in its use of sampling.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Here is the Clash's "Stand By Me" on YouTube, http://youtube.com/watch?v=XYK7bEo1Z4M

Perhaps you can post something like it so your readers know who the Clash was and what kind of music those guys made.

Steve Sailer said...

Dennis, the opening act on the 1979 Clash tour was West Texas country singer Joe Ely and his band, from Buddy Holly territory. The Clash were in a phase where they wanted to turn into American rockabillies. Interestingly, after opening for the Clash, Joe Ely decided to turn into an English punk rocker musically -- Ely's 1981 show at the Palomino country bar in North Hollywood was the fastest tempo music I've ever heard. If you like fast, which I did a lot when I was young, they might have been the best ever at it.

By the way, that's Ely and Strummer shouting in Spanish on "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Dennis Dale said...

That would have to be the act I saw. They were quite good, playing under extremely trying conditions. I forgot to mention that even after their rough opening set, Ely (I assume) joined the Clash on stage for a couple of songs.

Speaking of rockabilly, one of the best shows from that era that I remember was Rockpile, featuring Dave Edmonds and Nick Lowe, at that same Palladium.

It was a hell of a time. There were some old-timers around then that now seem like they existed a million years ago, working as opening acts for the new wave/punk bands; I once saw Lee Dorsey, of "Working in a Coal Mine" fame, open for Elvis Costello.

Anonymous said...

Dennis Dale: "I think they were great until "Combat Rock", which is probably their most successful commercial album by far."

Did you like Sandinista? If you ask me, that's when they came down with Very Important Band Syndrome and lost touch. Three discs, and 90 percent of it is indulgent garbage. And Combat Rock's highlights ("Rock the Casbah", "Straight to Hell", "Should I Stay...") exceed Sandinista's best tracks.

Nate said...

Dennis, the opening act on the 1979 Clash tour was West Texas country singer Joe Ely and his band, from Buddy Holly territory. The Clash were in a phase where they wanted to turn into American rockabillies.

The first real concert I attended was one of the Clash's last few shows. In 1983, they played Wichita Falls, TX (that can't have been a dream, right?) as a warm-up gig on their way to the US Festival. You might not be able to imagine what it was like for my friends and I in a tiny ranch town in North Texas, to hear that The Only Band That Mattered was coming to play an hour away from us.

Joe Ely's protege, "Little" Charlie Sexton was the support act. Sexton had a minor hit a couple years later with "Beat's So Lonely," but at the time was just a 15-year-old kid with hellacious rockabilly guitar chops.

Steve Sailer said...

Lot of great music has come out of the plains of northern Texas. The Dennis Quaid baseball movie "The Rookie" a few years ago had a tremendous soundtrack of local classics.

Dennis Dale said...

Anon,
"Rock the Casbah" is why I dislike "Combat Rock" so much. Sandinista was a brilliant but uneven record, IMO. I was hooked on it when it first came out, though. Was it really 3 discs? I forgot that. You have to give them credit for ambition.

I remember "London Calling" being rejected by some purists as too mainstream (but the reviews, if I recall, made the record out to be the Second Coming).

They have a point. There's something about those raw early records that no amount of artifice and cleverness can best.
Of course, that's why "Never Mind the Bollocks" is the punk album, as far as I'm concerned, with a nod to the granddaddy of all punk records, The Stooges' "Raw Power."

There's an interesting film about the music scene in Manchester England that I recommend, "24 Hour Party People", offering a glimpse into what punk/new wave meant there (Happy Mondays, Joy Division, New Order, etc.); but you don't necessarily have to like or care so much about the music to enjoy the film, which sets itself up as a classic tale of excess and decline.

Hal Houseton said...

I always preferred the New York punk scene to that of either England or L.A. , from a sheer honesty standpoint. Lou Reed and Iggy Pop were the first to really have the honest punk ethic (I know Ig is actually from Detroit, but his first and best success was in NY.)

That said, I much preferred the Pretenders (in their original incarnation with James Honeyman-Scott) over Blondie. For one thing, Chrissie Hynde was and is the real thing-a maniac with beliefs she understands, if only on some vague level, as nutty but for which she'd kill or die. Debbie Harry is a New Jersey housewife who escaped captivity and wants to hang out with the cool people. My mother pointed out to me-in 1979!-that Harry was really a Doris Day imitator.

What made the Pretenders great was the great guitar work of Honeyman-Scott, as much as Hynde's songwriting. By contrast, the only musician Blondie ever had who was more than barely competent was drummer Clem Burke.

Another thing is that Hynde always went to lengths to cover her figure and not look feminine, but underneath her unsexy outfits she had a magnificent figure, with a fantastic rear end and sculpted legs and, before her kids, a great firm pair. Harry is a boyish bobblehead who has never had a major box office success despite making a surprising number of films-her face does not work in CinemaScope.

The sad thing is that Harry's a fairly good actress-something later singer/film wannabe's like Madonna, Mariah or Britney have ever shown the least talent at. Hynde has avoided the cameras altogether, and I can respect someone who knows her limitations.

Riot Nrrd said...

Another thing is that Hynde always went to lengths to cover her figure and not look feminine, but underneath her unsexy outfits she had a magnificent figure, with a fantastic rear end and sculpted legs and, before her kids, a great firm pair.

And how do you know this?? I've NEVER seen a revealing shot of her.

I do know a guy who claims he was with her. Said she was wild-but not a word about her body.

Harry is a boyish bobblehead who has never had a major box office success despite making a surprising number of films-her face does not work in CinemaScope.

Debs was 34 when "Heart of Glass" broke and she filmed "Union City". That was why she never had a mainstream film success-that and a disinclination to move to LA.

She did "Videodrome" at 40.

She told a friend of mine that no, the scene with James Woods wasn't "real": she was OTR and besides she was still "with" Chris. And yes, he's colossal.

CinemaScope didn't change anything as to what faces worked or didn't work. It did make it more important for the men to be taller than the women, but not hugely so. Height became a more important factor. But at 5'3" Debs is within the range women need to be. It's tall women and short (or extremely tall) men that are penalized.

josh said...

Who knew?

Rajneesh said...

"Debs was 34 when "Heart of Glass" broke and she filmed "Union City". That was why she never had a mainstream film success-that and a disinclination to move to LA."

Union City was the most underrated film of the early 1980s, in my opinion. I always thought it should have been released first in a monochrome version, to establish it as a noir. Stripped of the beautiful '50s pastel colors, it's classic Cornell Woolrich.

Simply watching it on a TV with the color turned down (do TVs even have a color knob anymore??) isn't quite the same. The procedure, in film, was to make a positive (reversal) "internegative" on panchromatic film stock. Otherwise, reds turn black.


The DVD is actually worse than the old VHS release. A link:

http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/unioncity.php

Union City comes to us in a 1.33:1 presentation. Details over at the IMDb are sketchy, so I could not determine whether or not this was the original aspect ratio, but I tend to doubt it. There are a few instances where the picture seems to shift a little too quickly to be a normal camera pan.

Fox Lorber has once again produced a poor quality DVD of a promising movie. It is impossible to list all of the picture defects. The picture is grainy throughout and lacks depth. Major artifacts can be seen in almost every frame. Light sources shimmer and sparkle like fireworks. Overall the picture is very dark and murky, although some of that is due to deliberate choices in cinematography. The film itself is full of nicks and scratches. Colors tend to be washed out, except for reds, which are generally oversaturated and garish. Both reds and blacks tend to bleed. The picture shakes and jumps frequently. In short it looks terrible, even if it is a 20-year-old low-budget picture; this disc could be used as an encyclopedia of video defects.

The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0. It is muffled on occasion, and there is a strong hiss in the background at all times.

martinsville said...

Union City falls flat on its face as a noir.

Films noir work because of moral ambiguity on the screen contrasting with a sense of moral behavior on the part of the viewer. As with the French New Wave alleged masterpieces, particularly Godard's Alphaville, the New York scenesters such as Reichert simply have no concept of what that is: they exist in a world where that moral sense is simply unknown. They know no more of the Western concepts the noirs treat with ambiguity so as to provoke, than a polka band in Milwaukee might of the forms of Renaissance viol or lute music, and therefore cannot parody or repudiate it, nor use it as a base for improvisation.

That aside, Reichert and his crew obviously do not understand Woolrich and fail to convey any of the classic Woolrich themes he brings out in the short story on which the film is based, "The Corpse Next Door".

A good film probably could and should be made from it. It won't, most likely, for the same reason the more important Christopher Isherwood-derived Cabaret won't be remade: Harry and Minnelli are gay icons and to really overhaul their work (as opposed to the double-over reimagining of Hairspray) won't find much favor with the gay-infested inner sancta of film.

Riot Nrrd said...

Union City has been rereleased on a Region 2 DVD.

http://www.blondie.net/pressrelease_union_city_tartandvd.shtml

This new release is quite good and includes additional material.

The Fox Lorber release stunk, as has been correctly noted.

It's very interesting to watch this movie in monochrome on an old TV-either a classic color set with chroma killer accessible like the Lyceum XL-100 variants or a good monochrome TV or monitor with white phosphor. But it still is an 80s art film, and a decent but not earthbreaking one, and not a real film noir. M, Scarlet Street, or The Asphalt Jungle are true noir film.