Another Testament

I hadn’t realized it but it was 30 years ago yesterday that The Clash released the album that remains their biggest seller and their biggest sellout simultaneously, Combat Rock. I spoke about the central role The Clash played in Hardcore- how they had both a positive and a negative influence on the movement. Positive in that their early records and militaristic image were particularly influential on Hardcore and negative in that many of their original fans felt deeply betrayed by the direction their records took in their attempt to break America.

But here too was another lesson, one of primary influence on my life and work.

Beneath the weak, watered-down sound of their later records I recognized a hidden message of sorts- a signal inspiring me to look beyond what was on offer at the mall and dig deeper. Seeing them on the London Calling tour I realized that what was on record was not reality, but a simulation of reality for the masses.

Combat Rock was a last straw for me; at first. To me, it was no different than a Seals and Crofts or Elton John record circa 1977- The Clash had become exactly what they set out to replace, in a terrifyingly short time. You had your radio-ready funky songs and a couple watered-down rock songs, but the preponderance was soft rock mush (Strummer’s opinion of his songwriting partner's material is nakedly apparent in the unenthusiastic performances on many of the album’s many filler tracks).

But after I broke down and bought it, I discovered that it made for a nice soundtrack for partaking in what was becoming my daily sacrament for the remainder of my high school career.

But true to form I discovered there was another gospel, where the guitars still blazed and the drums still thrashed, if only one would bother to look for it.

When a record dealer set up shop at a local flea market circa '82-'83 I discovered the freshly-minted Down at the Casbah Club double LP bootleg, which began a lifelong obsession. While all the kids at school I couldn’t stand were mildly bopping away to Combat Rock, I was playing the Casbah Club LP, which reassured me (especially after an underwhelming show at the Cape Cod Coliseum) that the real Clash was alive and well. You just had to look behind the veil, beyond the official recordings.

It was like a Gnostic Clash, a separate gospel for the initiates. It would change everything. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
In a funny way, I learned that reality is not what we are being sold; there is a deeper, more powerful reality waiting to reveal itself to those who would seek it out.