By Bob Gordon
January 17th, 2015
The Clash was not just a band and this is not a band bio. This is the whole intellectual ball of wax. And it’s an American ball of wax.
Written by an American it is the story of how, “the Clash fell in love with America and how America loved them back.”
There is no salacious gossip or he-said-she said. This is long-form rock journalism — itself a dying art, according to author Randal Doane.
Doane draws everyone from Alan Freed to Lester Bangs into the Clash’s orbit in explaining how the Clash were part of larger currents in American popular culture.
There is also a detailed analysis of the New York club scene — CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City — and the bands that prepared the clubs and the crowds for the Clash, from Debbie Harry and Patti Smith (hardly friends) to Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell.
The book concludes with a detailed narrative of the Clash’s show at the Palladium in New York, broadcast live on WNEW-FM in 1979.
Unfortunately, this is also a depressing book. The author believes that the era that produced the Clash is gone forever. He argues that machine mediation, from synthesizers and drum machines to computer-generated FM playlists, has destroyed the intimacy, creativity and humanity of music making.
When punk died the DIY attitude died, killing free-form FM and regional radio as well. The argument itself is a tad extreme: Perhaps blogging and crowdfunding is just a new form of ‘do it yourself.’
Bob Gordon is a Toronto writer.