Anyone can write a book. But only one thing matters, whether you convince someone else to take the risk, or self-publish – getting it over the finish line, and getting it out. For those who do make it – as Mark Andersen and I have managed, with our new book, We Are The Clash: Reagan, Thatcher And The Last Stand Of A Band That Mattered (Akashic Books) – the result feels like running a marathon. You're elated and exhausted, and a little bit anxious, too. What will reviewers think, and how will people react?
Last month, I got to find out some answers to those questions, as I went on a book tour to the East Coast, after Akashic released We Are The Clash on July 3. While nearly everyone I knew looked forward to some badly-needed rest on July Fourth, I'd have to leave home for ten days, so I could join Mark for book signings in Washington, D.C. (July 6), Philadelphia (July 10), and New York (July 12).
We kept busy during our downtime, too, including a local radio interview in Takoma Park, MD (July 8), and a 45-minute one with our Philadelphia host, before our signing at Brickbat Books.
We squeezed in some related tasks, too, like hand-delivering a copy to Foo Fighters singer-guitarist Dave Grohl – backstage, no less, at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, after we'd caught the last hour of his band rocking a screaming, sold-out, 13,000-seat house.
For those who haven't toured the country, I definitely recommend figuring out how you're passing the time, because – like so many bands say – one mile blurs into the next, and one town doesn't look much different than the last one.
Or, as I told my friend Don, after stopping in Lucas County, Ohio, searching vainly for somewhere decent to eat around 10:30 p.m: “We must be on tour, all right. We're having dinner at McDonald's!”
But he'd volunteered to drive me down, right? That's the game.
Similar thoughts ran through my head on the return trip to St. Joseph, which required taking three trains – from New York, to Washington, D.C., and then, Chicago, and back home – for about 23 hours (no kidding!).
Sure, I got my fair share of sleep between all of these stops, but suffice to say, I felt like I'd run several marathons by the time it all ended. Still, We Are The Clash marks my second book with a Washington, D.C. area connection. My first book, Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton (Backbeat Books, 2003), focused on another previously untold story, that of Washington, D.C.'s late “Telemaster” of the guitar. I ended up making a major research trip to the area in 2001, and doing a couple of book signings in 2003, which is the last time I've made it out there.
For any author, book signings offer the nitty gritty flipside of all the hours that you put in – when you meet and greet readers, whether they've already bought your book, or waiting for you to sign it that night.
Whenever I felt my energy flagging, I'd think back on those nights, and the conversations I'd had. There's no other experience like it, which is why you do it.
“Pop Will Die”
We Are The Clash deals with the final two years of the British punk band's existence. That era started in 1983, when lead singer Joe Strummer kicked co-founding guitarist Mick Jones out of the band, which he aimed to remake in a leaner, harder-rocking, and more out aggressively political image. Only two years, however, the Clash would fall apart – and split up for good – after releasing its final album, Cut The Crap, in November 1985.
With help from three replacements – drummer Pete Howard, and guitarists Nick Sheppard and Vince White, all in their mid-20s – Strummer hoped to blow away the era's dominant trends of synth-pop and heavy rock. “Pop will die,” he vowed, “and rebel rock will rule.”
With rare exceptions, though, this story has only been told in bits and pieces. However, it's also one with a strong sociopolitical streak running through it, as our publisher's press release notes: “While the world teetered on the edge of the nuclear abyss, British miners waged a life-or-death strike, and tens of thousands died from U.S. guns in Central America, Clash cofounders Joe Strummer, (bassist) Paul Simonon, and (manager) Bernard Rhodes waged a desperate last stand after ejecting guitarist Mick Jones and drummer Topper Headon. The band shattered just as its controversial final album, Cut the Crap, was emerging.”
Suffice to say, We Are The Clash isn't just another sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll story – although all of those qualities make their appearance. As Mark and I feel, the issues that fired up the Clash's music through the '70s and '80s – and such heated political debate – still dog us today, whether it's social inequality, the growing political divide in American society, or workers' rights, to name only three.
“More Than A Footnote”
On those grounds alone, Mark and I hope that We Are The Clash will strike a chord with readers, whether they experienced them during the '80s, or didn't. And, whether they agree with our conclusions, or not, we also hope that our readers appreciate the human interest side of the story – including the Clash's May 1985 “busking” tour of northern Britain and Scotland, in which the band played impromptu “unplugged” sets for whoever showed up, and passed the hat after the finished, just like any other street performer.
It's an audacious idea that no major band has tried since, and one of many stories from this era of the Clash that haven't been told fully – until now. For Mark and I, We Are The Clash also puts an exclamation points on five long years of work, that also required launching a successful Kickstarter campaign, to help Akashic with the production costs – for which we raised $16,131, from 211 supporters.
What happens now is up to the public, and the reviewers – whose verdicts, so far, have proven sufficiently supportive, and encouraging, of what we've tried to do, such as this notice from Publisher's Weekly: “This is an inspiring take on the rock-band bio format, as much a political history of the 1980s as it is a look at an influential band in its final years. More than a footnote to the rise and fall of one of the last great rock bands.”
Six weeks or so after We Are The Clash dropped on the public, the road show behind has continued to roll on – with book signings in Chicago (July 30), where I joined Mark – who headed on to Minneapolis alone (August 1), and off to the West Coast, as part of his family vacation.
As usual, we squeezed in a couple joint radio interviews, too – If I need anymore inspiration, I'll only to recall Mark's words from our press release announcing the book: "I was a Clash fan from 1977 on, and the band was a tremendous inspiration for me as a teenager. But this period of The Clash -- for all its failures -- actually may have had an even bigger impact on the work I've done with Positive Force and other community projects since 1984."
For more information about We Are The Clash, visit www.akashicbooks.com.