I received an email asking me if I wanted to attend an event celebrating the release of a new 12-disc box set by The Clash. I was told they would be there. How I asked? Joe Strummer has passed. Well, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headen would be on hand as The Clash Sound System, the ultimate Clash experience was going to be talked about at a press conference/cocktail affair. The event at Wallplay 118 Orchard Street last night brought out the old-school rockers and music industry. Sailor Jerry Rum, one of the sponsors, provided me credentials and the crowd cocktails were made from their spiced Rum.
The packaging of Sound System replicated a boom box; inside were all things Clash, with everything they ever recorded including 18 previously unreleasd tracks. It contains to-date unseen footage of the band, shot by both Julien Temple and Don Letts, including promo video and live footage. Swag like dog tags, badges, stickers and a Clash poster helped the set have a weight similar to a real boom box—something the band seemed to think was important. The PR pitch offered "Conceived and compiled by The Clash, Sound System is a significant and unique collection of the complete recorded works by the 20th century’s most influential British band."
I loved The Clash, and still do, but most influential 20th-century British band seemed a reach. The Beatles, The Stones, are who came to mind, but it was cocktails and nostalgia all around, so lets not quibble. They joked about the design spearheaded by Paul Simonon. Stonhenge a la Spinal Tap was considered but the crowd laughed it off Photographer Bob Gruen was there, as was old-school graffiti icon Lenny McGurr (aka Futura 200). The band talked about Lenny’s influence and the overall importance of imaging.
They joked how the camouflage Army and Navy store clothes they wore became such a trend that shows looked like they were being held at military bases rather than clubs or arenas. They talked of the challenge of playing Shea Stadium opening for The Who and how wonderful and supportive Pete Townshend was. Chat went to their meteoric rise to stardom and the inevitable break up. They were punks. They broke up hotel rooms, got banned here and there. They tried to make a difference, change the world, but not get caught up in the "rubbish" of stardom. They were obsessed with putting out great music, music that progressed from one album to the next.
It was a grand event but it made me miss Joe Strummer, who I got to know a little back in my day. I met him at the Marriot Marquis in Los Angles where I and another were wrapping our heads around a club concept in NYC. The World would become one of top clubs ever. Joe hung with us as I think he was bored with the others. I think I lost my wife to him in a drinking game. She wanted me to lose and I wanted her happy. I never asked, but Joe would pop up at The World from time to time, so I thought he was honorable. Later on I saw him waiting on line with the hoi polloii at some joint in London that was whisking me inside like I was a Beatle or something. He preferred the people to the hype. I was riding a tidal wave of hype. His passing in 2002 was a shock. The death of hard living rockers still shocks me. I always see them as immortal. The aging rockers at the event may have lost a step or two and gained a pound or few, but they could still tell a story and they still seemed to get it when talking about the world I live in.
The portrait of Joe Strummer on 7th Street just East of Avenue A says, "The Future is Unwritten". It’s a reference to Julien Temples 2007 documentary of the same name. A long time ago, I wrote my future in the bowels of seedy clubs and after hours joints. I was to forgo the big degree, the day job, the wife and kids and the Land Rover. I was a disciple of certain music, dress and attitude. I was a punk rocker and remain so to this day. Seeing these legends and listening to the war stories validated my fall from grace and my embrace of things like Sound System and tattoos and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and women who’s hair can hurt you.