Thursday, January 8, 2009

I Fought the Law and the Clash Won

My friend Julie loved the Clash.

When Joe Strummer was buried, his friends put two bumper stickers on his coffin. One said "Vinyl Rules" and the other said "Question Authority."

Julie was cool. She had the first Clash album (the UK import, not the American version, which she said was inferior, thus winning instant punk cred with everyone she knew). She bought London Calling on the day it was released and is one of the only people I've ever known who owned Sandinista on vinyl (and regularly listened to all six sides). She saw the Clash live once and proudly argued with anyone who'd listen that they really were "the only band that matters." The politics went right over her head, but she tapped directly into the passion that exploded out of her speakers when she played their records and that was really all that mattered. (And she was so committed that you could overlook the absurdity of a suburban American blonde girl singing along to quintessentially English punk songs.)

Every March, Julie would celebrate the release of the Clash's first single ("White Riot") by skipping school (or later calling in sick to work) and watching her old VHS tape of the movie Rude Boy and listening to her old records (vinyl only, no CDs) for hours. That's what she did in March 1987, on the tenth anniversary of the Clash's first record being released. Then she went out driving in her beat-up (but still gorgeous) white convertible, top down despite the winter weather, her long hair buffeted by a cold wind, listening to this song, written and first recorded by Sonny Curtis -- now better known for writing "Love is All Around," the theme song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show (link for Gmail subscribers):

Now I'm not a physicist, but I'm pretty sure Sir Isaac Newton said something about how impossible it is to drive slowly when you hear songs like this. And Julie was flying. A State Trooper pulled her over and said he'd clocked her going 86 in a 60 zone. He asked why she was speeding. She's pretty enough to have gotten out of the ticket by flirting, but instead she explained she'd been listening to the Clash because it was the tenth anniversary of their first record coming out. The Trooper then told her about how he had discovered the Clash and how he'd seen them exactly once. As it turned out, they went to the same show. So he let her off with a warning.

Joe Strummer died before the Clash were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Later that year, there was a Clash tribute at the Grammy awards. It took Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Steve Van Zandt, and Elvis Costello to take Joe Strummer's place (link for Gmail subscribers):

Julie reminded me recently that, when Joe Strummer died (a few days before Christmas in 2002), she went driving again. Different car, this one not a convertible, her hair a little shorter and the heater blasting. Also blasting was "London Calling." Again, impossible to drive slowly with a song like that. So Julie was pulled over; this time clocked at 70 in a 55. When the cop asked why she was speeding, Julie explained that Joe Strummer of the Clash had died. She talked about the band, she talked about the show she'd seen, and she even mentioned that she had just listened to Sandinista on vinyl. All six sides. The cop patiently listened to Julie's story, eyes hidden behind mirror sunglasses, face stripped of emotion. Finally Julie asked him what type of music he liked. The cop thought for a minute, then said "Britney Spears." And wrote her a ticket for $78.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Four guys going hard at it and not one of them alone or collectively coming close to what Joe Strummer and the Clash achieved on London Calling. Frankly, a bit embarrassing for all concerned I would have thought.

Where's my vinyl!