This is the book that I mentioned before Christmas. The subtitle is “Reagan, Thatcher, and the Last Stand of A Band That Mattered,”1 which captures well its structure. It interleaves the politics of what was happening on both sides of the Atlantic — the miners’ strike, Reagan’s nuclear brinksmanship, the Iran/Contra scandal — with what was happening with the most political of the original punk bands.
It’s interesting to read a history of a time you lived through and were, however tangentially, involved in. Andersen and Heibutzki more than do justice to their material. The research they must have done is impressive. I know personally that Andersen came to the UK on a research trip, but aside from that they have interviewed the three non-original members of The Clash, Kosmo Vinyl, and various other people who were involved or just had something useful to say.
And they must have spent a lot of time listening to concert tapes and studying set lists — which doesn’t sound like a chore to me, it’s fair to say.
I learned two major things: first, I’d forgotten how good Cut the Crap is. I haven’t listened to it in ages, and when I went to do so on Apple Music, I found it isn’t there. Nor is it on Spotify. I have it on vinyl, but I don’t currently have access to a record player.
Luckily Amazon and CDs both still exist, so I put some more money the way of… Bernie Rhodes, as it turns out.
That’s the other big thing I found out: how — difficult, let’s say — Rhodes was. Not least since he signed the band — well, Joe and Paul: the others were effectively employees — into a contract that gave him, Rhodes, control over the album, as well as the name “The Clash.”
But worse was the way he treated the new members while they were with the band. Constantly haranguing them, telling them they weren’t up to scratch, shouting at them… it’s a wonder they stayed. It sounds like an abusive environment.
Joe could and should have stopped it, but it seems like he was still to some extent in Rhodes’s thrall — Bernie did bring the band together, after all — and possible suffering from depression. Certainly he was drinking heavily, and during that time his dad died and his mum got ill, and he became a father himself. It was a difficult time for him.
I have more to say about the album, but I think that’s for a separate post. For now, this is a great rock book about a little-discussed time in the history of my favourite band.
- Good to see the proper use of the Oxford comma there. ↩