i'm history

does charlie surf?

Read Charlie's essay on Joe Strummer this morning. It's a wonderful piece, very Charlie in its sentiments, and yes, I'm more convinced now that the Clash have been neglected by punk historians.

Why "Charlie in its sentiments?" Because Charlie sees, in Joe Strummer, things that I see in Charlie Bertsch. "In a world where self-loathing is a prime motivational tool, Strummer's ability to fuse attentiveness with contentment stands out.... He was always paying attention ... he was always a good listener.... Strummer is generous to a fault." The central tale Charlie tells ... the essay is titled "Always Paying Attention," after all ... is encapsulated in a brief anecdote from Strummer:

I like to be completely aware of what's going on at all times, even if it's four in the morning. She needs a chair or he needs a beer. There's no long wait 'cause I've already clocked it.... In fact, punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human beings.

This anecdote returns late in the essay, when Charlie is talking about how Strummer still paid attention to emerging musicians as he got older, and always promoted them whenever he had the opportunity to talk. Charlie puts it perfectly: "The names change, depending on the interview, but in each case Strummer clearly has a sense of who needs a chair and who needs a beer."

And so does Charlie Bertsch.

I'm enjoying the book, because it's about the Clash ... well, OK, it's about Joe Strummer, but that means Clash to me. Heck, I read that crappy biography of the band ... what was it called, Last Gang in Town? In my rock and roll pantheon, the Clash exist at the highest levels. There's Bruce at the very top, obviously, but just below are a few artists that mattered more to me than just 'wow, what a great record." The Velvet Underground (and Lou Reed). Bob Dylan. Prince. Husker Du. Sleater-Kinney. And the Clash. I loved the first U.K. album ... back in the day, you bought import albums at Rather Ripped, now you download everything and the idea of "import album" is passe, but it's the same idea ... as I've noted before, I barely understood any of the words Joe barked out in his mush-mouthed vocals, and it didn't matter, the random intelligible highlights and the music took care of "meaning." I loved Give 'Em Enough Rope, which most people thought was lesser and they are probably right, but nothing makes me happier to this day than hearing the opening riffs of "Safe European Home," which isn't a happy song (although it's funny, the Clash were often funny) but those guitar chords! London Calling was not only one of the greatest albums ever made (as was their first album, of course, but London Calling was to the debut as Elvis' 68 TV Special was to the Sun Sessions: artistic maturity tied to the reckless abandon of youth), it got me through my later factory years just as much as Bruce Springsteen did with Darkness and The River. As live performers, the Clash was in my top three, alongside Bruce and Prince. Joe Strummer especially ... when I saw the "fake" Clash in '84, Joe was a man on a mission, trying to bring "The Clash" to us all by himself, and it was fucking heroic, even if they never should have fired Mick in the first place.

Post-London Calling, I admired the band's albums more than I liked them, and I never got into Joe Strummer's solo career until the last album, with its heartbreaking closer, "Silver and Gold." But in their day ... let me put it this way. The way I respond to Sleater-Kinney now, as my favorite act not named Bruce Springsteen, scarfing up all their albums, going to their shows time and time again ... that's how I was about the Clash from 1977-1984.

The voices in your head are calling
Stop wasting your time, there's nothing coming
Only a fool would think someone could save you
The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin'
It's the best years of your life they want to steal


Charlie Bertsch

Oh, my goodness. I'm blushing with delight. Personally, I can't think of a better incarnation of the punk spirit as Joe Strummer defines it than you, Steven. You've always known precisely when your interlocutors need a chair, a beer, or just a little confidence-boost as they struggle to finish a book in a sea of grading and other responsibilities. As I've said before, and will surely say again, there's no higher praise in my book than praise that comes from you. There's a reason, after all, why you read that passage at our wedding!



Just interrupting with a review alert that's on topic -- here's an article on "Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash," by Pat Gilbert. ANOTHER new book about Strummer and all.


And, Steven, thanks for your kind words about flaskaland. You know, maybe one, maybe two readers might find their way here from there, (and more likely, the other way round), but if they're quality readers, that makes it worth while.

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