My excitement about We Are The Clash: Reagan, Thatcher & The Last Stand Band Of A Band That Mattered, due out in July from Akashic Books, just got a little bit more tangible...after my 15 copies, to which I'm contractually entitled, landed on my doorstep last week. You can pre-order it here, via Amazon:
As the old cliche goes, it's one thing to see your vision -- one shared a as co-author, with Mark Andersen -- on a computer screen. But there's nothing like holding the book in your hand, turning it over and over, telling yourself, here it is at last, after all the blood, sweat and tears that we devoted to it. For Mark and I, that period, from conception to completion, turned out to be roughly five years.
Not surprisingly, one question I've gotten since the book's completion is, what took so long? Well, the short answer is, various life and professional issues that both of us had to work around, at different times. As I've learned from experience, publishing isn't for the impatient. I struggle with many of those issues in carving out time for smaller projects, like issue #2 of my 'zine, Desperate Times. I'd hoped to start laying it out this week, but now, I'm thinking that next week seems more realistic, because of various "rent money party" items that I have to sort out first.
I learned that phrase in 2000, while writing and researching an epic article on the New York Dolls for DISCoveries magazine. As original guitarist Rick Rivets and his buddy, the late bassist, Arthur Kane, explained, a "rent money party" meant getting various people together -- some playing instruments, some not, to varying degrees of ability -- while the booze flowed, plus the usual array of substances, this being the '70s. As the night wound down, a hat would go around, or a small admission charged, with the proceeds going toward the rent.
As the story demonstrates, big ideas often have small origins, and the gender-bending, genre-smashing Dolls sound is no different. In truth, though, rent money party issues aside, there is no magic time period for how long anyone should wait to see their vision come alive. There's little point getting wound up about it, since that issue is dictated by time and interest -- no more, no less. My favorite example is "Rock 'N' Roll Is The Answer," a song that Joey Ramone co-wrote with Plasmatics lead guitarist Riche Stotts. I remember Joey talking up the song as a different path forward, in 'zine interviews, in 1984. But the song didn't see the light of until it appeared on his second solo album, Ya Know (2012) -- 11 years after his death.
That said, it's a great song, but if you check out this site, you probably already know that. Suffice to say, the time it takes for any creative idea to surface...is the time it takes. I'm sure Joey didn't expect to wait nearly 30 years. Anyway...on to our next subject.
There's two early reviews on We Are The Clash's back cover that deserve a comment. First, this salvo from Kirkus Reviews: "When did the Clash quit being 'the only band that matters"? This fascinating book faces a challenge: documenting the final years of the British band that its record label had promoted with that slogan...The band may have no longer have mattered, but its legacy mattered to the authors, who make it matter to the readers. More than a footnote to the rise and fall of one of the last great rock bands."
I'm not sure if the reviewer grasped our premise, which is that -- despite the behind-the-scenes skulduggery that interfered with the revamped Clash's potential -- the reality is that the band did matter, by soundtracking the noxious social ills that we still grapple with today, including the legacy of Reaganomics, and Thatcher's reckless, nihilistic monetarism. Just ask those who caught the celebrated "busking tour," or the Miner's Strike benefits of 12/6-7/84, for example. They'll tell you how much the band meant to them, and still does. For further specifics, though, you'll have to get the book.
The other back cover review comes via the Library Journal, as follows: "Coverage is specialized, extending considerably beyond mere behind-the-scenes reportage and deeply explores the sociopolitical context in which the band operated; as such, the tone can be intense (read: punk) and professorial. In all, Andersen and Heibutzki's examination of the band's proletarian stance in light of its (of) its commerical (sic) striving is immensely satisfying."
Typos aside, I say, kudos to the Journal for nailing what we tried to put across. At its core, We Are The Clash isn't solely devoted to the usual rock 'n' roll goings on, though we do examine them, like all the other issues associated with the band. In looking back at this era's interviews and live reviews, one thing that strikes me is how many writers banged on about how a band with two remaining founders (Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon) could still claim some measure of legitimacy. Ironically, this issue probably wouldn't raise a peep today, when you've got bands touring with two (The Who), one (AC/DC) or even no original members (One Way System). To my recollection, I haven't seen people demand their money back.
Those are the times we live in, I suppose, and we move on. Or have we? This is one of the central questions we hope that readers will ponder, especially in today's environment: plug Donald Trump and Theresa May into their respective US and UK corners, with all the hard right rhetoric to match, accompanied by various initiatives that, if left unanswered and unchecked, will damn untold millions to miserable, hopeless lives...and you've got a climate that feels like 1984 all over again, minus all the catchy-looking iconography. But if our words become part of the overall soundtrack of resistance, then we'll have done the job.