In record stores around the world, today is International Clash Day, at least according to the fans behind this website. Here at Hymies we’re more than happy to listen to the Clash a little more than usual and plan to do exactly that today.
Incidentally, Mick Jones visited Hymies Records one summer day about eight years ago. He was just as you’d expect him to be — cheerful, friendly and gracious. And while we said “Mick Jones doesn’t pay for his records here,” he insisted.
A while back we posted an excerpt from Keith Richards’ autobiography because we saw something familiar in his portrayal of the blues aficionados of 60s London. Here, from a more recent musical autobiography, is a less caustic characterization of record collecting, and how it can provide inspiration to a young would-be.
Jeff Tweedy describes the Clash as a “gateway drug” in his endearing new memoir. He discovered them before he ever heard them, reading reviews in Rolling Stone and Cream while his mother shopped. “I will say that today, reviews aren’t quite the same as they were back in the early ages of rock journalism,” he writes in Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). “Reviews back then devoted way more ink to trying to describe what music sounded like. That was their main purpose. It’s why people read them, because it was the only way to decide if you wanted to spend your money on a particular record. There were no streaming services where you could hear any song ever created practically for free. In the late seventies/early eighties, you judged an album by its cover art, word of mouth from your friends, or if you were a nine-year-old without a lot of musically adventurous peers, you based your record buying decisions on what you read in rock magazines while your mother was buying groceries.”
Tweedy praises Lester Bangs’ 1977 essay on the Clash (“Six Days on the Road to the Promised Land”) with such passion that we imagine his eyes were as watery as our own the first time we heard “Fatal Wound.” But earlier he admits when he first saw the Clash in Rolling Stone, “there was no name recognition” because bands like them were not played on the radio in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois. “The only thing that registered was how incredible they looked.” He quotes Tom Carson’s 1980 review of London Calling: “[The album] sonds like a series of insistent messages sent to the scattered armies of the night, proffering warnings and comfort, good cheer and exhortations to keep moving.”
Few other bands have inspired people in the way the Clash did, and we think Tweedy is right that no other band sparked better writing. He goes on to lament that as a ten-year-old in southern Illinois, he’d be lucky to even find one of their records. “Punk rock was an exotic event happening somewhere else in the world. It was like reading about a civil war or a revolution somewhere.”
And then he shares this endearing story that anyone who grew up trying to sneak records into their parents’ suburban rambler can identify with.
I eventually found the album, in a Target of all places. I was there with my mom — as with her grocery outings, I was a constant companion — and I’d flip through records while she did her shopping. They had a copy of London Calling with a big sticker on the front that read PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT, STRONG LANGUAGE, or something to that effect. This was before Tipper Gore and the PMRC, so I don’t know if it was the label or the store that put it on there. Either way, I had to get it off. In reality, my mom probably would have bought me a record with an EXPLICIT CONTENT warning on the front, but I wasn’t going to push my luck.
I tried scratching off the sticker with my fingernail. It didn’t go so well. I only got about a third of it off. And then we had to leave. So I hid the record in a different section and hoped it would be there the next time we came back.
We returned two weeks later and London Calling was still there. I went to work on it, holding it under my arm and casually peeling off tiny pieces with my thumbnail while I flipped through records, real casual-like. This time I got another third of it off before we had to go. Those stickers were surprisingly resilient.
A month or two passed before we returned. I was convinced my copy of London Calling would be gone, but it was still where I left it, behind the card divider for Z. This time I finally got all of the sticker off. I took the record up to my mom and asked her, as nonchalantly as I could manage, “Hey, can I please get this.”
She shrugged. “Sure, fine.” Without even a glance.
Of course, some time later mom overheard “Death or Glory” coming from ten-year-old Tweedy’s room and the line “He who fucks nuns will later join the church” catches her ear.
“Are you trying to kill me, Jeff?”
I had no idea how to respond, I had no idea what she was talking about. Eventually she was forced to repeat the lyric she had overhead. In an angry whisper she repeated the offending line. To which I replied, “Oh my god, I had no idea that’s what they were saying! What does that even mean?” And that was that. She waved me back to my room. I wasn’t lying, either, I still don’t know what it means.
We highly recommend you take a look at Jeff Tweedy’s book, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). And that you take out your copy of London Calling, whether or not it has a sticker or just thumb-marks like his, and play it loud.