Returning to our look back at The Clash’s second, and “half great,” album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)…
One of the album’s biggest flaws is that too many of the songs touch on similar themes, to the point where they begin to run together in your memory.
The former warned that the neo-Nazi National Front was on the rise; the latter concerns the often violent British teen subculture rivalries between mods and rockers, punks and teddy boys, and skinheads vs. everyone else.
In retrospect, it’s hard to calculate whether or not the National Front was ever a serious threat to the social order, or just a jack-booted boogeyman whose influence was exaggerated by far left “anti-racists.”
As for the latter song: For the average North American listener, “teds” and mods were even less familiar creatures than Nazi street thugs, and their battles a baffling phenomenon — one familiar, if at all, from listening to The Who’s Quadrophenia.
However, in the England of The Clash, subculture rivalries were very real and often bloody, as Joe Strummer learned when he attended one rockabilly concert too many in working class “teddy boy” territory. He was sniffed out as “a public schoolboy playing at being working class, so [they] gave him quite a pasting.”
Strummer shrugged off the incident, telling chief roadie “The Baker” that it was all part of suffering for his art.
(The Clash front man’s bone-dry sense of humor, as well as his compulsive self-invention, can make it annoyingly hard to tell when he’s kidding around. He probably wasn’t sure himself sometimes.)
(Alas, too many earnest fans continue to take his off-hand remarks as holy writ, even though they surely know by now that “Joe Strummer” — down to his name, age and accent — was as much a creation as any of his songs.)