Revolution Rock

The Story of the Clash

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The exhibit includes Joe Strummer’s Fender Telecaster and handwritten lyrics for “Know Your Rights,” among other things. But Music editor Steve Smith wonders: Does the Clash still matter?


Flipping through the television channels on a recent Saturday night, I came upon a chilling sight: Long Island PBS affiliate WLIW/21 was airing The Clash Live: Revolution Rock during its latest pledge drive. My gut response was repulsion. The most vital, creative band of the English punk explosion, touted by fans and industry alike as “the only band that matters,” was being flogged by a network usually linked to Yanni. A pitchman enthused that the CD anthology contained the Clash’s best songs—or “certainly their most accessible ones.”


More than 20 years after it disintegrated in a haze of drugs and rampant egos, the Clash is being co-opted by marketers eager to target former punks as they edge into a middle-aged consumption zone. Beyond PBS, the band was just embalmed with a hefty book, The Clash, wrapped in a lurid pink jacket that can’t disguise its coffee-table ambitions. And Sony BMG recently disinterred an old concert tape just in time to eulogize another terminal case: Live at Shea Stadium captures a feisty Clash in 1982, opening for the Who on the first of that band’s countless “farewell” tours.

Under these circumstances, can the Clash retain its cred? Truly, none of these bourgeois trappings can hide the facts: For anyone who exulted in owning an import copy of the self-titled debut album, or who remembers shuddering to the urgent opening chords of “London Calling,” the Clash never ceased to matter—and never will.


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