Long Live The Clash

by Phyllis Pollack

The highly-anticipated book, The Clash, Photographs By Bob Gruen, is slated for release later this month. The documentary work contains hundreds of photos of the eclectic punk rock group that became known as “The Only Band That Matters.” The 320-page book is filled with captivating shots of The Clash that were taken by rock photographer Bob Gruen from 1977 through 1982. Gruen is a well-known and highly-respected lensman, who toured with and photographed countless recording artists, including The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Tina Turner, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and The Ramones.

Gruen’s previous literary works include Sometime In New York City, which contain his photos and words of John Lennon and Yoko Ono; Gruen had become the couple’s official photographer in 1972. He also authored other photo journals that include Crossfire Hurricane: 25 Years Of The Rolling Stones and Chaos: The Sex Pistols.

Like the music itself, Gruen’s photos have arguably become part of rock history. His photographs have graced Rolling Stone, Creem, Rock Scene, and every other major rock and roll publication throughout the world. Bob Gruen’s work has long been considered to be a legendary institution within rock art. His photos have been exhibited in galleries throughout the world, and he has given slide shows of his work at places including The Smithsonian Institute and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. His photographs are sold in the internet for hundreds of dollars a piece.

The Clash offers an insider’s view of the band, making it a must-have item for any Clash fan, as well as a provocative addition to any rock and roll coffee table. In addition to Gruen’s often intimate photos, the book contains narratives that recount much of the band’s history. The tome’s unguarded explanations candidly discuss the various trials and tribulations experienced by the group’s core members, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Tory Crimes, and Topper Headon. Gruen’s book contains interview vignettes from the band, itself, as well as revelations from pertinent others who were involved with The Clash.

The group’s raw anger and politics merged with their fiercely individualistic flair for brilliance, and resulted in such classic works as London Calling, and Combat Rock. The Clash headlined at the US Festival in California in 1983, further escalating their mainstream acceptance, and yet at the same time, Strummer and company managed to retain their cult-like notoriety. Like any good rock and roll soap opera, The Clash was seemingly embroiled in endless personal controversies.

The group ultimately became most known for their chart-topping hits, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” “Train In Vain,” and “Rock The Casbah.” However, it was their underground, less commercial aspects that really gave them their notoriety, and place in rock history. Their political stances were far more progressive than those of most of the rock figures, who were their contemporaries.

Their first show consisted of their being the opening act for the Sex Pistols, in the Summer of Punk, 1976. The Clash continued to tour with The Pistols on their notable Anarchy In The UK tour. To this day, 1977’s The Clash remains one of the most critically acclaimed rock albums ever released. The Clash was always vocal regarding the group’s views, and avidly opposed racism in any form. The band toured America in 1979, using a name that clearly no one could get away with today, The Pearl Harbor Tour Of America.

In 1982, the band toured U.S. again, this time, as the opening act for The Who. When Jones was fired from the group, it served as the warning shot that the future of The Clash was not be long-lived. After the break-up of the band, it would be Strummer’s projects that would receive the most attention, when it came to the later careers of the former Clash members. Strummer was chosen to write the theme song for the film Sid And Nancy, the aptly titled “Love Kills.”

Some of Gruen’s captures in the book are of other artists who were either backstage, or somehow near, in the line of fire. Some of them who are seen in the book include Debbie Harry of Blondie, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, Andy Wahrol, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and Billy Idol. The book also has some highly engaging photos, featuring the group’s fans. Gruen forged a relationship with the band that was personal, in addition to working as their official photographer. He writes about topics that include the interactions between the band and its fans, and the pressures the group was subjected to. His insight into the group translates well in his book. In it, he remarks, “The demise of The Clash says so much about them. After all, their conscience and mission, what they were about, could not co-exist with commercial success. When you consider that most of today’s rock groups are striving for commercial success with few or no messages, you realize The Clash were different; they maintained their dignity.”

Nihilism was never part of the group’s politics, despite their punk stance. American groups, like The MC5, and later, Rage Against The Machine, would also prove that political rage and rebellion could mix with rock, and that like The Clash, they would always somehow remain relevant, if not often prophetic.

When it comes to punk prophecy, with “Rock The Casbah” the Clash rocked like Nostradamus, having released that track back in 1982. As much as The Clash was often misunderstood during the peak of their fame, the intent of their prescient song, “Rock The Casbah,” may arguably be one of the most misinterpreted songs in rock, now moreso, today, than ever before:

The oil down the desert way has been shaken to the top…The king called up his jet fighters, he said you better earn your pay, drop your bombs between the minarets, down the Casbah way…the jet pilots tuned to the cockpit radio blare…The Shareef don’t like it, rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah.

The book seems so timely, and the messages so relevant, it feels nothing like nostalgia.

The Clash, Photographs By Bob Gruen is as about much about our present tense, as it is our rock and roll past.

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