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Monday, Dec. 30, 2002

The Lessons Of The Clash

Neumu's Jim Connelly writes: I remember the first time I heard The Clash like it was yesterday. In fact, it was 24 years ago. I'd just turned 16, and I was experimenting with this punk rock stuff I'd been reading about. I'd already purchased The Ramones' third album, Rocket to Russia, and Television's debut, Marquee Moon, but spurred on by a Richard Riegel review in the newly discovered Creem magazine (fast becoming the holiest of holy writs — soon I would hit Thrifty's drugstore in the middle of each month, when I knew the next issue would hit the magazine racks), I figured that I'd check out the U.S. debut by The Clash, Give 'Em Enough Rope. (The group's debut, The Clash, was not released until later, as Epic Records thought the sound too raw and crude for U.S. ears.)

I was never ever the same again.

It's a goddamn cliché to say this, I know, but there are artists I've loved, and there are artists who totally change the way I think about music. We all have them, and we hope we'll continue to have them. When I say "punk rock changed my life," what I really mean is that "The Clash changed my life."

I know that Give 'Em Enough Rope (produced by Blue Öyster Cult producer/manager Sandy Pearlman) has always been slagged as the weak album between their fiery debut and their cinematic masterpiece, London Calling — you know, too metal, too produced, not punk enough — but as someone who loved the usual white suburban male suspects, I thought it was stone perfect.

I'd never heard anything as powerful. From the initial snare-drum crash of "Safe European Home" to the final fadeout of "All the Young Punks," this was hard rock like I'd never even imagined it could sound. The guitars and voices exploded off of my turntable and into my brain. And all of the stuff I'd loved before — The Who, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple — suddenly seemed obsolete. It was my gateway album into a new musical world.

So, naturally, I immediately found the hard stuff, the import version of The Clash's debut (since the U.S. version was not yet released), and I was gone. And trying to preach the gospel of Joe Strummer (who died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday, December 22)) and Mick Jones to a bunch of conservative high-school peers who preferred Journey and AC/DC. I didn't "go punk" or start dressing different or anything like that — it was about the music. And that music kept coming, fast and furious. Every week, it seemed, some other great discovery fell into the import bins at Tower: Wham! "White Man in Hammersmith Palais." Boom! "Complete Control." Smash! The Cost of Living EP. Finally! The Clash. And more: Black Market Clash. It just went on and on, and culminated in London Calling.

That was only about a year later. After leading me to punk rock, my new favorite band had decided to teach me about the rest of the world. London Calling was the sound of punk rockers breaking free from the rules that had already grown up around punk. It was the first record that ended up being more punk because (at least sound-wise) it really wasn't punk at all. And a year after that, Sandinista!, which nearly choked on its own generosity.

These were more than records — they were practically classes on music and politics. But really fun classes — they had a good beat and you could dance to them. Because they could put the hard-rock hammer down at any time, and their incessant rhythm-hopping seemed more like "hey, let's try this!" doing-it-for-the-fuck-of-it, as opposed to artsy experimentation, I listened. And because it was The Clash, and they'd earned every ounce of my respect, I listened. And learned.

And what I learned is that music could talk — all music, not just "rock." That's all. It seems so simple now, but at the time, it was a revelation.

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