The Clash's music and madness join hall of fame
By Elysa Gardner
|Joe Strummer (shown here last June), front man of the late British punk band, died suddenly in December at age 50.
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Twenty-five years ago, of course, it was a different story. As core members of the Clash, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon helped drag the musical and political rebellion of punk kicking and screaming into the pop mainstream, first in their native England and then here.
With frontman Joe Strummer leading the charge, the band took on issues ranging from racism to Thatcherism to the plight of Nicaragua's Sandinistas and, eventually, each other. In 1983, Strummer and Simonon gave Jones his walking papers, and the group dissolved shortly afterward.
"That's why we were called the Clash, you see," Simonon explains. "We used to row a lot."
At times, the conflicts became physical. "And I always used to come off the worse," Jones notes. "I got the black eyes."
"I got the bruised fingers," Simonon quips.
But Jones and Simonon, both 47, are making nice nowadays, and not just because they have a new project to promote. On Monday, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony that airs Sunday on VH1. On Tuesday, they will release "The Essential Clash," a two-CD, 40-song collection of hits, B-sides and album and EP tracks.
The colleagues had expected to commemorate this pair of milestones with Strummer at their side. But the singer, 50, died suddenly in December after an apparent heart attack.
"It's strange to be in this situation now, talking about our time together," Simonon acknowledges. "Maybe it will help us come to terms with the loss. But it's difficult, because we were like a family. We come from dysfunctional families, so (the band) ... really was our family."
For all their differences, Jones agrees. "We always enjoyed each other's company." He adds that Strummer was involved in choosing material for "Essential Clash" right up until his death, reviewing lists of songs and offering opinions with his usual candor.
"Joe was specific about what he didn't like. It would be, 'Hate it.' 'Hate it,' " Jones says, laughing. "And of course, we wanted to have something that would honor Joe, make him proud."
It was also important, Jones and Simonon say, that the compilation reflect all the ground the Clash covered, not only thematically but also in musical approach, which expanded beyond the players' punk and garage-rock origins to incorporate aspects of reggae, soul, funk and rap.
"That's what our nature was: to listen to all sorts of music," Simonon says. "And each one of us individually brought something musically to the table, so we sort of cross-pollinated with each other."
Jones adds: "We took on all of what was going on around us as well. We weren't parochial. And even though we broke up a long time ago, we've still got a lot to say. All the songs are about something."
Neither Jones, who continues to work on various musical projects, nor Simonon, who now channels his creative energy into painting, expresses a desire to try to revive the Clash without Strummer.
"We're too busy moving on to dwell on what we did," Simonon says. "Now he wants to be Beethoven, and I want to be van Gogh."