by Marcus Gray ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1996
A hopelessly rambling and combative biography of the seminal punk band. British writer Gray (It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. Companion, not reviewed) is out to debunk what he calls the Clash Myth: the notion that the Clash were working-class outsiders who despised '70s rock culture as well as England's social status quo, and that they were motivated by righteous political anger, not by the desire to make money. In reality, the teenage Mick Jones played in garage bands influenced by the New York Dolls, only briefly lived in a council high-rise, and wore ultralong hair and flared jeans. Even more damning, according to Gray, Joe Strummer (nâ€š John Melior) attended a posh public school and actually had some pre-Clash musical success fronting the 101ers, a mid-'70s London R&B outfit. The two singer-songwriter-guitarists formed the Clash in 1976. Gray speciously portrays the band's stirring agitprop as sociobiographically suspect: ""'Career Opportunities' . . . came nowhere near to reflecting the realistic employment prospects of the band as a whole."" Gray never conveys the impact the music had on the public, relying on sniping reviews in the notoriously fickle and trend-gobbling British music press. The Clash were plagued by management and record company conflicts, the heroin addiction of drummer Topper Headon, and the two singers' increasingly divergent personalities and musical tastes, but they produced sophisticated, melodic, incendiary rock and roll. Gray faults them for issuing contradictory political statements over the years and even for earning some money, but given that all concerned were in their 20s and were, after all, a band rather than a political action committee, his myth-busting on these fronts seems misguided. Gray's smug, repetitive prose utterly fails to put the Clash in a coherent context the way Jon Savage's towering England's Dreaming did for the Sex Pistols.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 528
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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