Posted by:on October 27th, 1999
Castle Communications PLC.
Copyright Date: 1996
Review Date: 1999
I have to say I should have been tipped off when I read the back flap. It features a sensitive faux candid photo of the author coincidentally looking like a young relative of Malcom McLaren. It also says he is a full time rock writer (good for you) and the author of It Crawled From the South: An R.E.M. companion. For christ’s sake, an R.E.M. companion? It seemed a bit sensitive for what I’d hoped was some real insight into The Clash. I’ve still got a vinyl copy of the original pressing of Murmur, so it’s wasn’t just the fact that I can no longer tolerate R.E.M. 1 They say that those who can’t do, teach or write about it. Well that explains why I’m not on tour right now with any of my handful of failed bands. It doesn’t explain why Marcus Gray decided to write “The first critical biography of the definitive punk band” according to the book flap and the Times Literary Supplement. As a huge Clash fan I had no choice but to aquire it. Hopefully I’ll be wiser in contemplating whether or not to buy a MLS jersey from the San Jose Clash. (Fug! They aren’t the Clash anymore. Now I wish I’d boughten that jersey.)
First you start to learn that the whole band isn’t as tough as they seemed to be, with the exception of Paul Siminon. No big deal, most people aren’t as cool in real life as they are in the public eye. That’s why everyone want’s to be a star. The problem with this book is that Gray seems to delight in exposing the myth of the Clash as if it were still topical. If I were held accountable for every stupid thing I said as teenager I’d still be grounded or beaten up daily. What’s the purpose in trying to shoot down the last of the major late seventies era punk bands not to cash in on the fourth wave reunion tour.2 There are some intersting bits about post-Clash goings on. It includes “Cut the Crap” as post-Clash as does just about everyone else. I was interested in getting an insight into just what the hell Strummer was thinking at the time. Another plus is the hilariously embarrassing photos of various band members in the early seventies.
When he finally tires of the shocking exposeés on 20 plus year old press releases and interviews, he tries to weasel his way into their good graces with some complements, as well as chastising the Cure, Simple Minds, and U2 for not throwing in the towel. Gee, that takes a lot of balls. The fact that Gray remains critical of the band’s history is not what makes this book long and boring at times. It’s the glee that oozes out of the text when he relentlessly examines some minute discrepency that will get on your nerves. Not surprisingly, none of the band was interested in helping with the book even though Gray made some half hearted attempts. He implies that Strummer had some indirect contact though. Hardcore Clash fans will still enjoy the details about who released what both pre and post Clash,3 if they don’t already know. I can’t say that Gray didn’t tarnish my impression of the band members as indiviuals, but he certainly hasn’t deminished my enthusiam for their recordings.
The Last Gang in Town has a wealth of information and stories on the history of the band, and it is exhaustive, but it’s effectively hampered by the author’s desire to revel and dwell on the inaccuracies in the myth of the Clash and decades old press releases.
1 I was mentioning to friend 15 years ago that R.E.M. seemed to be cranking out a lot of inferior records at a furious pace. He said that they had to strike while they were hot since their type of music was never going to put them in stadiums in front of tens of thousands of people. Don turned out to be more accurate when he brought home an advance copy of “Appetite for Destruction” and tried to convince his 14 roommates that some unknown metal band was going to be “HUGE!”
2 It’s important to note that I’m not including recent tours by X and the Buzzcocks as well as those like the Dickies and Ramones who never really went away.
3 Both book and review were written well before Strummer and the Mescalaros
Rating: For serious fans only.
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