Joe Strummer and the Clash

 Alexander Billet

Joe Strummer…was an artist profoundly shaped by his time and place.  In a 1970s Britain wracked by racism and unemployment, Strummer chose to put himself squarely in opposition.  The newspapers called the Clash “degenerates,” “hoodlums,” “anarchists.”  To young people, they were “the only band that matters,” and it wasn’t because they sold a million records or made the most money.  They mattered because they were the first band in a great long while that tapped into how the majority of youth actually felt. And how did they feel?  Quite frankly, they were pissed.  Comedian Mark Steel was one of many radicalized during those tumultuous years, and he’s honest about the role the Clash played: “The Clash didn’t just legitimize anger, they politicized it, giving meaning to the directionless rage that drove early punk.  They celebrated multiculturalism and supported the Sandinistas; they weren’t just against, they were for.  And where most adult advice involved how to earn a few bob or save a few bob, they sold their records so cheap that they threw away a fortune.” While politicians blamed immigrants for joblessness and gave cover to neo-Nazis groups, the Clash embraced the roots reggae of the Caribbean community.  It was a gesture of solidarity that would inspire countless groups, including those of the soon-to-follow “2-Tone” movement.  If not for the Clash, we might never have heard of Rock Against Racism or its successor Love Music Hate Racism.

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