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Book Review: The Clash by The Clash

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The Clash is an antithetical coffee-table biography, in that it serves neither the function nor the purpose of the common variety of the genre. The traditional coffee-table book is churned out around this time of year in order to entertain; it’s a brief excursion from the dry and fact-oriented biographies, with a keen eye focused on the shallow and near-fictional mindless shlock most fanzines perpetrate. Essentially they act as the tabloids or celebrity gossip mags of the book world.

However, The Clash is dedicated to being entertaining as well as fact-based. Its simple and elegant cover is bright pink with black writing and has no real graphics to speak of. Inside, the book is filled with fascinating anecdotes and stories straight from the band themselves. Also spread throughout the book are large and gorgeously designed photographs as well as scraps of newspapers, one-sheet touring promos and LP covers.  

The Clash is organized by tour, by album and by year, with each member, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon chiming in on each subject with remarkable accuracy and intimate detail. In one of my favorite moments, Strummer explains their mindset at the time by way of their initial interaction with the filmmaker behind Rude Boy.

“‘OK, make your film just don’t get in the way’, I like that we didn’t say ‘what’s the film about’, or ‘what’s your agenda’, or ‘what are you trying to pull?’ We just said ‘OK, if you want to make a film about us go ahead, but we’ve got to go on tour, you can follow us around and film it but don’t get in the way'” It is in these earlier stories that we find a naive as well as an unfazed version of the only band that matters which really gives dimension to a band we’ve heard so much about.

When The Clash began taking the world by storm in 1976, their music became part of a soundtrack for the young, the original UK punk movement albeit with heightened pop sensibilities. What hasn’t been as clear, up until now, is exactly how their rise was accomplished, and to what level of accuracy has their story been portrayed in the media.

It turns out that while a majority of the stories you’ve heard are in fact true, the minutiae of their existence as told by the band members themselves, is what really make this book a must-purchase for Clash fans, as well as a great Christmas gift for your young and rebellious brother / sister / cousin / distant relative.

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About Joshua Wiebe