International Clash Day: Musicians Reflect on The Legacy of The Clash and London Calling

International Clash Day, Interviews
02/04/2019
Dusty Henry
PHOTO BY CHESTER SIMPSON

The Clash's influence is so big that, well, we've dedicated a whole damn holiday to it. Throughout their storied career, the London punks reframed what it meant to be "punk" and pushed the genre into bold new areas, both sonically and philosophically. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the group's seminal album London Calling, a record that's still informing artists and listeners today. In conjunction with International Clash Day, KEXP reached out to a number of artists – from Strand of Oaks and The Coathangers to Craig Finn and Titus Andronicus – and asked them to share their thoughts on The Clash and London Calling. Read their musings below. 


Tim Showalter of Strand Of Oaks

Strand of Oaks // photo by MelissA Wax
 

"February 7th, I'm told, is International Clash Day – which already is one of my favorite holidays since finding out about it. And I just want to say that 'London Calling,' for me, is easily a top ten record in my life simply because it was one of the first records someone told me that I needed to listen to. And I'm very lucky that they did because it's shaped a lot of who I am and how I write songs and the fearlessness that came with those four guys when they just decided to do whatever they wanted and there's no rules and there's no meaning behind genre when you have a vision and a goal. 'London Calling' will forever be a record that's futuristic and no one can touch. So I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do and hopefully you'll get to hear "Guns of Brixton," because that's my favorite."

Craig Finn of The Hold Steady

Craig Finn // photo by Morgen Schuler
 

“This record is one of the best ever in my mind. The Clash always were so impressive in their breadth – they were so bold in how took on so much different kinds of music, and at the same time always made it their own. London Calling never gets old in part because of the variety therein. Rock, anger, reggae, fury, punk, politics, rockabilly, wisdom, R&B, anthems & pop, it’s all in there. Congrats on 40 years, God bless The Clash."

Alex Lahey

Alex Lahey // Photo by Giulia McGauran

 

"My seminal memory of The Clash is of them being a band that my British father introduced me to as a child. I remember getting the greatest hits CD from him along with 'London Calling.' I think the first track on the greatest hits was "White Riot" and I have a vivid memory of riding my bike around the basketball court at the primary school across the road from my house yelling the first lines of "White Riot" over and over again."

Finn Wolfhard of Calpurnia

Finn Wolfhard of Calpurnia // photo by Eric Tra

 

"My parents played "Spanish Bombs" for me when I was really young and then I remembered it when we went to Barcelona a couple months ago. I didn’t realize how much of an impact the Civil War had there, and maybe still has. It’s a beautiful city and people, but there’s also some sadness in it, just like the song.”

Stephanie Luke (aka "Rusty") of The Coathangers

The Coathangers // photo by Jake Hanson

 

"The Clash!!! LONDON CALLING!!! One of the best albums ever written in my opinion! They take the listener on a total journey, from a song that I’m sure has been played in every country existing today talking about personal political/societal views ("London Calling"), to a politically historical lesson about Spanish Civil War ("Spanish Bombs"), then continuing the 19 SONG ALBUM to its most beautiful song (in my opinion) "Train in Vain", which is a ridiculously poppy yet completely tragic song of lost love. Happy 40-year anniversary and long live The Clash, we have a lot to live up to!"

Draco Rosa

Draco Rosa // photo by Efren Isaza

 

"I’m guessing that in this 'Brexit' era, there are many folks from the UK still humming one of my favorite Clash songs.

'Should I stay or should I go now...
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double'

I was on holiday last year in Rincon, Puerto Rico listening to 'London Calling' and I couldn’t help but think about what Strummer wrote in 1979 ... 'The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in. Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin.' That same week I had read that scientists are predicting a new ice age between 2019-2050... Are we heading towards a mini ice age? The Clash is the only band that matters... true visionaries ⚡️🧠"

Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus // photo by Brittany Feenstra

 

"Certain people like to say that, with London Calling, the Clash ceased to be a "punk band," as their music lost most of its aesthetic similarity to what had become accepted as "punk rock music" -- I would argue that, if anything, they had never been as much of a true "punk band" up to that point.

'Punk' was nothing so much as a promise of freedom, to do what you want, to be who you want, to elevate one's own internal authority. The aesthetics of the first wave of "punk rock music" were contrarian reactions to the dominant culture of that time, but there is nothing inherently "punk" about a leather jacket or a loud electric guitar, beyond their utility in the pursuit of that freedom.

It was through the work of narrow-minded cultural commentators, abetted by a cooperative legion of complicit boot boys and fashion plates, that the ideology of "punk" was codified into a rigid orthodoxy, outside the bounds of which "true punk" could not exist -- what a load of hogwash! Very quickly, a newborn universe of infinite possibilities was turned into an artistic dead end for all but the most genuinely liberated minds.

Reading the writing on the wall, the Sex Pistols saw no recourse but to implode, which was just as well, since after Never Mind The Bollocks, no group of blind squirrels ever found so hearty a nut. The Clash, meanwhile, found the courage to hang up their old uniforms and strike out for parts unknown (first stop : everywhere), no longer paying lip service to the promise of "punk," but actually living it."

Mike Krol

Mike Krol // photo by Brian Guido

 

"It's pretty hard to beat the series of Clash singles from 1977–1982, both from a sonic standpoint and as visual pieces of art. Each sleeve entirely different in execution, but all completely captivating and eye-catching from a distance. The Clash's overall sense of style and aesthetics has informed so many bands and artists (myself included) on how to transition from being just a 'band that plays songs' into an exclusive gang/club with a message and ideology larger than the music alone. The Clash are the template for how to operate as a band in 2019. And while I love them all individually, I'd like to take this moment to say Mick Jones is my favorite." 

John Atkins of 764-HERO and Sun Breaks

Sun Breaks // photo by Chona Kasinger

 

"The Clash bring so much to the sound system: dub, punk, lyrics through the lens of hopeful outrage. Socially conscious without pandering, and personally I really love their melancholy songs. London Calling was an epiphany to me, what a punk rock record could be, and still sounds so fresh today."

Rachel Ratner of Wimps

Wimps // photo by Melissa Wax

 

"The Clash were one of the first 70s punk bands I got into as a teen, and they were kind of a gateway drug to the harder stuff (Crass, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat et. all) from that whole early world of punk. I especially loved their first release and all the ripping tracks on there. A lot can be done and said in 2 minutes!" 

Eva Walker of The Black Tones

The Black Tones // photo by Eric Tra

 

"The Clash freaking rock musically, politically and socially. When there's injustice in your community, state or country, you address it with punk rock! Know your rights dammit!"

Eric Elbogen of Say Hi

Say Hi // photo by Victoria Holt>

 

"London Calling is the record I put on when I’m working on a song that sounds too… safe. There’s a gruffness in Joe Strummer’s voice: vocal phrasings that sound like a wooly, baritone saxophone. And even when the song is trying to sound pretty, that wooliness (in tandem, for instance, with the pulsing harmonica of “Train In Vain”) makes me want to sneer a little bit. Like I, myself, am in a tough and cool punk rock band. That’s enough, most days, to help me figure out the best way to dirty up whatever I’ve been working on. So thanks for that, The Clash. I appreciate it."

Hunter Thompson of White Reaper

White Reaper // photo by Brady Harvey

 

"NCAA Football ’07 introduced me to The Clash.  "Train In Vain".  I asked my dad to let me get the CD and he took me to half price books and I got London Calling, The Best of the Alarm, and Fables of the Reconstruction by REM."

Chris Scott of Guantanamo Baywatch

Guantanamo Baywatch // photo by Elizabeth Crook

 

“The Clash wrote some of the greatest pop songs ever recorded. Not only did they know how to write a great song, they knew how to perform the fuck out it. The opening verse on “Death or Glory” is pure pop rock gold and the drums are BANGING throughout the whole tune with no remorse. Then when that group vocal on the hook hits it takes you over the edge and you are hooked for life.”

Larry Schemel of Death Valley Girls

Death Valley Girls // photo by Michael Haight

 

"The Clash transcended punk with London Calling and became as important, influential and timeless as the bands they set out to destroy (Elvis, Beatles and The Rolling Stones). My big sister brought the London Calling album home one day when we were kids and we played that record over and over again. The track listing is still burned in my memory - I love that record. Long live the Last Gang in Town!"

Pat Cicchetti of Stomp n' Stroll Radio

"Look, The Clash are one of the coolest bands. They have songs that have stuck with me forever. "London Calling," "Train in Vain," "Should I Stay or Should I Go," "Rock the Casbah," stuff that just sticks with you – not only because it sounds so cool, but because you relate to what they're talking about. The lyrics really stick with you and help you look at everything in a different way. I knew I would love them since I saw their bassist smashing his bass into a million pieces on the cover of London Calling. I was right. I've loved them ever since I heard that album and all the bands that I look to, all my other favorite bands, cite The Clash. Their influence is huge. Their sound is amazing and their message needs to be heard now more than ever. So stay tuned. This is International Clash Day."

Brian J Bowe, Author of The Clash: Punk Rock Band

I think The Clash should matter to the kids of today for a couple of main reasons. The first is that they give a really good example of taking lots of elements of different kinds of music – so, classic punk, rockabilly, reggae, rhythm and blues, funk, hip hop, elements of jazz – and not just copying it, but taking these pieces and creating something new that was really very much their own. I think that kind of creative process is really beneficial for young people to be exposed to. It's a bit of a musical education. So there's that musical side that I think is really important. 

On top of that, there's also a very cool visual presentation. So again, you've got this combination of really interesting remixed elements in terms of the record covers and their fashion and all of that stuff. I think just the whole package aesthetically is something that's very cool and feels very fresh.

On top of that though, and this is probably the most important part of why The Clash is relevant, they took a series of social stances. They were very brave and that hold true all the way to today. The things that The Clash were talking about in terms of human rights, anti-militarism, anti-consumerism, the basic dignity of human beings no matter where they're born – I mean, these are issues that are very much at the forefront of contemporary struggles. 

And so again I think The Clash provide an opportunity to help students become educated about some of these issues and to draw them all the way into today's context. So if I was going to introduce a young person to The Clash, I think a good place to start would be "Clash City Rockers." That's a song that I sing very often start off with when I'm talking about The Clash. From really not much grander reason than it's just a bombastic piece of work. It's just very tight and compact and there's not a wasted note and it's just cool. And then the next thing I would probably go to, I would play Rachid Taha's cover of "London Calling" because it shows the kind of international breadth, which is another reason why I think The Clash is very important. 

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