Would any of you like to read something about a song by the Clash? No? Look away now.
The song most often in my head at the moment is Rebel Waltz
, off 'Sandinista!' (nb exclamation mark = part of album title, not genuine expression of surprise/delight). It sounds really spacey and vast, but the individual sounds are all little ticks and bells and twinkles. (The Beta Band are big Clash fans.) Plus it has some great sentimental lyrics, best of all "as we danced came the news that the war was not won..." The song is about a gang of rustic partisans prematurely celebrating victory against the invading forces. It's manipulative and fake and I guess Pogues-ian, if that makes sense, in the way it romanticises the idea of the common man fighting for a cause. (cf Spanish Bombs
and, er, If You Tolerate This...
So I get to thinking about the central problem with the Clash: their obsession with image and myth and rhetoric, to the exclusion of a genuine engagement with the actual world around them. They're so in love with the idea
of the outlaw, the classic archetype of misunderstood masculinity. So many, many songs about running from the police - about gangsters and murderers - about going to war - about being a revolutionary. But none of it is true! They did none of these things. It's romance and sentimentality of the most condescending, middle-class art-student variety. How to listen to a song like Rebel Waltz
, whose impact depends on its emotional pull, in the knowledge that the situation and experience it describes are entirely simulated? Does this fakeness matter? Is it fair to dismiss the Clash for this reason, because there's nothing real in their songs, and it's all just manipulative sentiment and pretend-radicalism?
This isn't satisfactory. I don't think the Clash's brand of romanticism is worthless unless you're looking for some kind of pure punk idealism/nihilism. I think the solution I'm moving towards is to take the Clash with a huge pinch of salt. They're not revolutionaries, they're not even proper punks, they're just your classic four-lads-against-the-world-in-their-leather-jackets rock band. 'London Calling' has more in common with the Rolling Stones that it does with the Sex Pistols. So that's the way i'm going to listen to them, and hopefully the thought of the Clash sitting in the studio, on coke, singing about dancing round the campfire in an imagined revolutionary past, won't bother me anymore.
Ps: Impossible to let this go without a dig at the Manics. Even though they're ridiculous for exactly the same reasons the Clash are, they are not excused, for two reasons: a) because they copied their entire schtick from the Clash, and how lame is being a second-hand version of a band who never meant it in the first place? and b) because they're shite.