Your Friday Clash Song: You Can Be A Hero In The Age Of None
[Dear TWiB readers: This is a feature I’ve been doing over at my place, The Corner Tavern, most Fridays for the past couple of years. After Imani asked me to join Angry Black Lady Chronicles earlier this year, I continued the feature there. Now that we’ve joined up with TWiB, I suppose I should offer some explanation. I came of age in the 1970s and headed off to college in 1980--all in all, a brutal time for music, and for politics, too. Being a white suburban teenager in the 1970s, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about, music-wise, but we had one local radio station in Chicago, WXRT, that played essentially every variety of modern music you could think of, including two particular musical styles you weren’t likely to hear anywhere else: reggae and punk. In the days of California folk-rock and white imitation disco, to turn on the radio and hear Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff was extraordinary; but to hear bands like the Ramones, Television, and the Mekons as well . . . that was revolutionary. And sitting at the intersection of punk and reggae were the Clash, the only band that mattered. They, more than any other rock ’n roll band, were the ultimate antidote to Reaganism. Even now, 30 years or so after they disbanded, their music is at least as relevant as anybody else’s. So you’ll forgive my obsession. And if you’re so inclined: Turn. It. Up.]
Rather than focusing on a single track this week, the events in Boston–the precise details of which are still emerging–provide (sadly, yet another) opportunity to reflect more generally on the use of violence as a means to political or social ends, a theme the Clash wrote about on several occasions. For starters, here’s “Tommy Gun,” recorded live in 1978. The original studio version is on Give ’Em Enough Rope, the band’s second full-length LP, which was released that same year.
The Clash were politically radical, but they were vehemently opposed to the use of violence for political ends. “Tommy Gun” perfectly captures the self-centered nihilism of terrorism, and the Clash, unlike so many of their fellow punk acts, were anything but nihilistic:
You’ll be dead when war is won
But did you have to gun down everyone?
I can see it’s kill
Or be killed
A national destiny
Has got to be fulfilled
Whatever you want, you’re gonna get it!
You can be a hero in an age of none
I’m cutting out your picture from page one . . .
Which is not to say they were oblivious to the rage and animosity out of which the punk movement arose. Take, for example, “Hate and War,” from their debut album, The Clash (1977), which addresses ethnic and racial tensions in the UK:
The Clash, though, flatly rejected racism, fascism and violence, those being tools of the oppressor, as “Guns On The Roof” succinctly and graphically explains:
They torture all the women and children
Then they put the men to the gun
’Cause across the human frontier
Freedom’s always on the run . . .
On a related note, another common theme of the band’s music dealt with the way the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. treated other countries and other people like pawns in an international chess game, and the superpowers’ indifference to the suffering that caused–which, depending on what may have motivated the Boston attacks, might also have particular relevance today. Prime examples of this are “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe”:
And “Washington Bullets”:
Both from Sandinista! (1980).
In any event, it may take months, even years, to sort out what happened in Boston and why. But we’ll always have the Clash to help us make sense of it all.
Turn. It. Up.
David von Ebers
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