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"I Wanna Riot, A Riot of My Own"

"I Wanna Riot, A Riot of My Own"

By Jason Leopold

“…There is, perhaps, some tension in society, when perhaps overwhelming pressure brings industry to a standstill or barricades to the streets years after the liberals had dismissed the notion as dated romanticism, the journalist invents the theory that this contributes a clash of generations. Youth, after all, is not a permanent condition, and a clash of generations is not so fundamentally dangerous to the art of government as would be a clash between rulers and ruled…”
--From the liner notes of the Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut album.

The Clash’s debut album never made its way to this side of the Atlantic when it was first released twenty-five years ago because it was considered to explosive for American audiences--not musically, but lyrically. This was, after all, a country that was still licking its wounds from the war in Vietnam and still smarting from the political scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign as President of the United States.

The last thing the corporate suits at CBS Records wanted was a punk named Joe Strummer preaching about life on London’s streets to disenchanted American youths. Even the band’s name, The Clash, seemed to be an invitation to challenge the establishment. What would happen if songs like "White Riot" ("I wanna riot, A riot of my own"), “Career Opportunities" ("The ones that never knock"), "I'm So Bored with the USA" ("Yankee dollars talk to the dictators of the world"), were heard here? It could spark a revolution because that’s exactly how we felt. Had it not been for the Clash there would be no Rage Against the Machine.

With the recent passing of Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone and Sunday’s death of Clash vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Joe Strummer you can’t help but feel that punk rock is also dead. No artist today has the lyrical intelligence that Strummer displayed in The Clash’s early songs that would actually move you to the point where you feel like you’re making a difference in the world just by listening to the music. Dylan did that. So did Bob Marley and Nirvana. Thank God Dylan’s still with us. What made The Clash a great band was the way they took R&B, Ska and reggae and infused it with Strummer’s politically-charged lyrics and turned it into punk rock. You still wanted to rage but you could also dance.

The great music journalist Lester Bangs wrote in his seminal book “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” that with the arrival of punk rock “buying records became fun again, and one reason it did was that all these groups embodied the who-gives-a-damn-let's-just-slam-it-at-'em spirit of great rock 'n roll … Punk had repeated the very attitudes it copped (BOREDOM and INDIFFERENCE), and we were all waiting for a group to come along who at least went through the motions of GIVING A DAMN about SOMETHING. Ergo, the Clash.”

The state of the nation, with all of these corporate scandals, a possible war in Iraq, the racist statements by Trent Lott and the secrecy within the Bush administration, is what makes The Clash just as relevant today as they were twenty-five years ago. Back then, Strummer wrote a song called “Hate & War” that, unfortunately, is history repeating itself.

Hate and war - the only things we got today
An' if I close my eyes
They will not go away
You have to deal with it
It is the currency
The hate of a nation
A million miles from home

Next year, The Clash will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps most disappointing about Strummer’s loss is that a reunion of sorts would have taken place between Strummer and the rest of the band. But somewhere up in heaven, Strummer is writing songs with Joey and Dee Dee and Bangs is happy again


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