Saturday, January 15, 2011

Combat Rock (1982)

A few years ago I worked a crazy temp-style kind of job proofreading customer communications material for an insurance company. There was a crew of about a half dozen of us and we didn't actually have that much to do—the material was numbingly repetitive but long stretches of time, even days, would pass before we got new batches of it to work on. We got along fabulously and laughed very hard most days. Someone among them, or several, I can't remember exactly, were huge fans of this album, randomly bellowing things like, "This is a public ... service ... announcement," to which the rest of us soon enough learned to respond in unison, "With git-TARS!" I realize this can't possibly seem funny to anyone reading, but we were enjoying ourselves so I guess you had to be there, etc. But the point is that it sent me back to this album, condemned by virtually all around me in 1982 as the crassest sellout in history, largely by reason of actually spawning a top 10 hit, and it sent me back more generally to the Clash, at which point I started to realize how profoundly they lived on inside me yet and so many of us, attached in the guts like, old friends never forgotten. Joe Strummer was already dead by the time of that proofreading job so it was no longer possible to even pretend the Clash would come back some day and thrill us like it was 1980 all over again, or at least provide the opportunity to hoot at our own nostalgia. No, the arc of the Clash was more like (tiresome Boomer analogy warning) the Beatles; once it was over it was good and well over, finished, once and for all, finito, kaputski, hit the road Jack, done—with just a few random, fragmented reunions and promises for the real thing that ultimately all fizzled away before they could happen. In the end this band is as oddly rooted in their time as they are forever living above and beyond it. I saw them in 1984, playing an arena, and it was sadly all by-the-numbers by then. They were clearly finished. But this last great shot (not prepared to speak to Cut the Crap yet) is way better than I remember, the above-referenced album opener "Know Your Rights," the Tom Tom Club (really?) bounce of "Overpowered by Funk," and especially the Sandinista-like "Straight to Hell," moody and strange and powerful, which found a worthy home in M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." All this and Allen Ginsberg too. God bless this band.


  1. With git-TARS!!! Yeah!

    It's so funny you associate that time with The Clash, whereas I immediately go with Zeppelin. To this day I cannot hear "Ahhh ahhh ahhh AHHH... We come from the land of the ice and snow....." (CUT did an awesome AhhAhhhAHhhhAHH didn't she?) and not be taken immediately back to a sequestered conference room strewn with very hard plastic chairs and an endless supply of red Bics.

  2. You are so right about the Zep -- that was at least as big a deal on the lunch breaks and CUT did have it nailed cold.