Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I shall attempt some thoughts on the death of Strummer, but it's hard. This will be like a tiresome personal journal for a few paragraphs, feel free to mock.
First off this is a very bad fucking day. Trying to articulate what I feel is impossible, which is where the genius of the likes of Strummer is seen. I don't believe he was a fantastic lyricist, but he was able, in 3 minutes, to articulate the rage, frustration and impotence of a generation. I still feel all those things all these years later, and it still hasn't been expressed better than in any Clash song you care to mention. Today I sit here, still inarticulate, struggling to find words that have any meaning in the context. He was a true hero, not quite the one man from the era you can say passed the ensuing years with dignity (the rest of the Clash have too), but the one with the biggest profile. I can't see that he would have ever turned into a pantomime dame.

Way back, when we had the excuse of youth for not knowing any better, he allowed those of us who were just, well, po faced adolescents with chips on our shoulders really, to really get into something joyous. Whatever else the Clash were they were first and foremost a glorious racket. A motivated and committed racket, who knew their history and engaged with it. Who brought dub reggae to the masses. Being in Brum I was well aware of dub, but the Clash sort of enabled me to be upfront about my love for it, and also introduced me to more. If nothing else I am grateful for that.

The whole punk thing has become shrouded in mythology but it was quite simple really. We had prog rock which was becoming more and more absurd. We had west coast ego wank rock which was just tiresome, whatever the revisionists now say. We had reggae of course but that was a bit underground. We had disco, which as I recall was despised, but seems to have undergone a renaissance. We had Ferry and Bowie, who even then had their best years behind them. We had Northern Soul which was, well, northern. We had bubblegum pop, and we had sort of anodyne but classy pop like 10 cc and Peter Framton. Then were the old warhorses like Dylan and similar bards like Don Maclean. All very eclectic but not much there to stir the soul or the passions.

Then came pub rock which was an improvement of a kind in that there were was authenticity there, but not much. Then along came bands like Eddie and the Hot Rods and Doctor Feelgood. Now, you will read stuff in the style mags and the Sunday papers that will tell you that at the same time this masive underground thing emerged, the yank bands like the New York Dolls, just blowing everything apart, but it's all cobblers really. Most people were blissfully unaware of Johnny Thunders, but people became aware of that ilk later and placed a far greater importance on them than existed.

The driving force of British punk was the latter day pub rock of Feelgood and the Hot Rods, I am convinced. Fast, furious Rythm and Blues, fuelled by speed. Glorious.

Whatever, all around and about the same time, it all becomes a blur, things started to happen. I well recall legging it to the newsagents early every Thursday to make sure I got my copy of NME. Adverts, big ones, started appearing for the Sex Pistols, in London pubs. Prominence was being given to the likes of Ian Dury; west coast rock started to take an almighty slagging. And all the while I felt peculiar, disconnected from any of it. The Rythm and Blues boys were all right, but cockneys, and in any case good live rather than anything else.

I have posted before I think, what a strange year 1976 was. The range of music that was on offer was astonishing, I saw all sorts, absolutely all sorts, all in small venues. Oddest of all though I went to see T Rex. I had never liked them but me and a few other guys were operating on a sort of quid pro quo system whereby we would accompany one another to gigs that at least one of us would hate. Plus we were just growing out of the schoolboy rivalry thing so we were willing to give pretty much anything a try in the interests of camaraderie and comradeship. That night the support act was the Damned, and I have to say it was some night.

Soon after, I was in Barbarellas on a Saturday night for no other reason than I was too precious to go to a disco. Sassafras were on, an awful bunch of Welsh noise makers. We trotted downstairs. There were about 50 punks down there and then Eater came on, and it all ended in a fight. I have to say Eater wrere very far from being in the top rank of punk bands but it sealed ir for me. That night I became a chuffin punk. Those guys just didn't give a shit.

Which was a bit of a problem with punk. The top bands would be top bands in any era, punk had nothing to do with it. So we can break it down a bit. Once it all kicked off, which it didn't very much to be honest, not in Brum anyway, we had major bands, all with their own distinct attitudes.

I have always regarded the Pistols as cartoonish and have never been able to take them seriously, although I thought Lydon as a character was brilliant and super intelligent. Now he is a caricature of himself. Some great riffs on their first album, pity they are played by Chris Spedding. The Damned, well bugger, why did I use cartoonish so soon. The Stranglers I love, but they are/were a bunch of disaffected old geezers taking it out on their instruments. The Jam came along much later and were just a bunch of cunts.

Hedonism and nihilism was the order of the day. Loads of working class chancers having a go and some middle class brats roughing it for a bit. In truth most of it was no more radical than Gary Glitters "Rock n Roll"

So although I was drawn to it, I still felt sort of other. Neither fish nor fowl.

The Clash saved me. To be honest although I loved White Riot and Clash City Rockers and Deny they had largely passed me by in the general maelstrom. My favourite track of the era is "This is Pop" by XTC, having strolled into Barbs one night and heard a dub version of it banging out, very loud, very gut pumelling. The same thing happened another night. I was only ever a half hearted punk really, not wanting to get my head kicked in and would talk people into going to Barbs in the early days, promising them punk girls would shag anyone (sadly untrue). Walked in and White Man was booming out. My life changed right there.

This was Paulian. This record spoke to me and it had and still has everything anyone could ever want in a single. The best record ever, quite simple.

So I went back and reappraised everything else they had done.

Of course beneath the general din they had been profound all along. Remember the context. Ill educated working class youth, wanting to rebel but not knowing how, hating most music he hears, wakes up and it doesn't matter. Strummer is saying it all. He's saying it with wit, passion and intelligence. Fire was burning. All my petty insecurity, all my rage against racism and injustice and privilege; all my wasted innate intelligence: there it was: being bellowed out unashamed and loud. Finally someone was speaking for me. I wish he could speak for me now. God bless the dude. As it were.
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