When did the Clash quit being “the only band that matters”?
This fascinating book faces a challenge: documenting the final years of the British band that its record label had promoted with that slogan. It’s a period the band has disavowed and that critics have generally reviled, resulting in one album released after this version of the band had effectively disbanded and which the Clash has omitted from its authorized anthology. The best that Andersen (co-author: Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, 2009) and Heibutzki (Unfinished Business-The Life and Times of Danny Gatton, 2003) can say about the album, “Cut the Crap,” recorded with only two original members, is that it was “indeed unique, if also sometimes a bit of a car wreck.” As much as the Clash as a band, the authors focus on the Clash as an idea, an interchange of rebellious fervor between artist and audience and perhaps more timely than ever with the ascent of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The authors risk oversimplifying what led the Clash to this juncture: a split between Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, whose more commercial-sounding hits were at odds with the band’s activist urgency. There’s also a bigger tension at work: how rock can possibly fight the system from within the system—recording for a huge conglomerate—and how it can become popular enough to wield significant influence without succumbing to the temptations of rock stardom. Following a large festival payday, Strummer and the band sacked Jones (after their drummer had already been sidelined by heroin addiction) and recruited a new lineup under the old name. However, they could never agree on what the new Clash was supposed to be, and Strummer and his manager ultimately found themselves at irreparable odds. The band may no longer have mattered, but its legacy mattered to the authors, who make it matter to the readers.
More than a footnote to the rise and fall of one of the last great rock bands.