Sunday, August 06, 2006

the clash


I spent a few hours yesterday wishing I were my uncles' age. On Friday I watched Westway to the World and it made me jealous of anyone old enough to have seen the Clash in concert. I don't think either of my uncles ever went to one of their concerts. But I'm jealous just the same.

I have to settle for my junior high memories. I want to say my Uncle Pete turned me on to them. He gave me a Clash T-shirt that he made in a college screen-printing class. I wish I still had it, because it was a one-of-a-kind design.

I don't think I was old enough to truly appreciate the Clash. My uncles were perfectly poised for the band's arrival. They'd been a few years too young for the climax of the 60s, and had come of age during its depressing aftermath -- from Altamont through Kent State and Watergate to Reagan's speech in Kansas City and my dad's death in Mexico in 1976. Their era was the dawn of post-modernism, and the Clash had the best version of it -- not a snide sniping of the so-called truth a la The Sex Pistols, but a sort of unified opposition to "truth." Multiculturalism, pragmatic urban resistance, DIY.

As a junior high punk, what mattered to me was that the Clash were the opposite of Elkhart, Indiana. They were a way to be different. And they sounded and looked cool. Still do, captured on video from their marathon concert series on Broadway in 1980, Joe Strummer beating the hell out of his guitar with the determination of a 1920s labor rights activist. How awesome would it have been to be standing in the third row at one of those shows?

By the time I caught up with the Clash in the early eighties, they were already practically split up. The only album release I could anticipate was Combat Rock. I bought it as soon as it came out and it wasn't half bad, despite its commercial success. According to the film I just watched, the band all but broke up during the photo shoot for the cover of that album. I was there when the Clash were the sensation of MTV, along with Duran Duran. Kind of like my uncles in the 60s. I showed up to the party a little too late.

But then every generation seems to have its musical moment. I did get to see Nirvana open for Dinosaur Jr. at the Gothic Theater in Denver just a few months before Nevermind was released. I'd never heard of them before, and I was totally blown away. It was like the whole concert hall melted into the band and became a massive throbbing beast, totally controlled by Kurt Cobain's brain and shaggy blonde hair. I bought Nevermind the day it was released. I was probably the first student at the University of Colorado to own a copy. And I played it nonstop at work, turning hundreds, perhaps thousands of other kids on to the hot new sound.

So I was there for that revolution. So I guess I can say I've really lived.

1 comment:

from_yesterday said...

I had a similar experience at the Gothic when I was a youngster. I went to go see a Bad Religion show there when their opening act, Green Day, took the stage a couple months before Dookie came out. I had heard the album Kerplunk and thought it was decent, but I didn't expect anything from them as far as a live act.

The way they played their songs and they way they just got the crowd going was phenomenal. They were absolutely insane up on that stage. They're not quite that way anymore, but back then they really knew how to get a crowd going. And a rockin' crowd at the Gothic is a sight to see.