At a November shoot for a pilot hosted by Joe Strummer, the Clash guitarist found out from an MTV producer that his band had been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“The hall of fame. Like Babe Ruth,” he said dryly before smiling.
“This isn’t a game?” he asked, looking serious for a brief moment.
When assured the Clash had been inducted, he said, “That’s good. There was a short list, but I thought the Police would win.”
The producer informed him that the Police were also inducted. “Good, so they’re in too. Do you think everyone’s gonna play?”
The question might have been sardonic, since the Clash had repeatedly refused to reunite despite lucrative offers. But this time Strummer seemed genuinely excited about the idea of returning to the stage with his former bandmates — guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Topper Headon. Strummer and Jones had a good time playing together for the first time in 20 years on November 16 at a charity gig at London’s Acton Town Hall.
“I think we should play [at the hall of fame ceremony],” Strummer said. “It would be sh–ty and snotty not to.”
Strummer died of a heart attack before he had a chance to a experience a full-scale resurrection with the band that helped define the punk movement and influenced a myriad of artists musically and politically, including U2, Rage Against the Machine, Moby and Rancid (see “Joe Strummer Of The Clash Dead At 50″ )
Dressed for the pilot in a brown collared shirt, brown leather jacket and jeans, and sporting a hint of a five o’clock shadow, Strummer looked as friendly and approachable as a pub bartender and seemed eager to reminisce over the glory years of punk rock. He credited the political and social scene in Britain with spawning the anarchic movement.
“In ’77 we had some ridiculous things in England,” Strummer said. “Like the three-day week. Everybody thought that was a great idea, but it was supposed to punish us and the unions and stuff. There were chaotic times, and it made a lot of people free in their minds.
“Back in those days in England there were two channels on the TV shutting off at 11 p.m., and all the bars shut off at 11 p.m. So through the long, hot nights people were really moving around and talking to each other and writing tunes and getting into the whole thing in a big way. It was a fun time. Every night you could see something completely berserk.”
Strummer’s eyes glinted as he recalled the music scene that percolated with groundbreaking groups like the Buzzcocks, the Jam and Sex Pistols.
“In ’77 something must have happened that affected everybody, whether it was in the air or in the water supply,” he said. “I think everybody upped each other’s standard because you had one good record and everybody tried to reach that, and it inspired everybody because everybody tried to reach for the furthest they could get to. It was a community feeling, and that helped too.”
While the Buzzcocks were explosive and the Pistols volatile, it was the Clash who became known as the preeminent English live punk band. Musically gifted, creatively inclined and strengthened by raw determination, the Clash were capable of turning concerts into historic events.
“It was like a firework display going off,” Strummer said of the band’s shows. “It was like, ‘Bang!’ As soon as that first tune came in it seemed to us like three seconds before we hit the last chord of the last tune. It was like a psychedelic, kinetic blur. The energy in the hall [was crazy], not only from the band, but from the crowd. It just egged you on and it fed upon itself. It was like being on a rocket ship.”
– Jon Wiederhorn, with additional reporting by Alex Coletti and Bill Flanagan
“Westway to the World,” a two-hour documentary on the Clash, will air on MTV2 Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET/ 8 a.m. PT and Wednesday at 12 midnight ET/ 9 p.m. PT.