100 Greatest Artists
The Clash, more than any other group, kick-started a thousand garage bands across Ireland and the U.K. For U2 and other people of our generation, seeing them perform was a life-changing experience. There's really no other way to describe it.
I can vividly remember when I first saw the Clash. It was in Dublin in October 1977. They were touring behind their first album, and they played a 1,200-capacity venue at Trinity College. Dublin had never seen anything like it. It really had a massive impact around here, and I still meet people who are in the music business today — maybe they are DJs, maybe they are in bands — because they saw that show.
U2 were a young band at the time, and it was a complete throw-down to us. It was like: Why are you in music? What the hell is music all about, anyway? The members of the Clash were not world-class musicians by any means, but the racket they made was undeniable — the pure, visceral energy and the anger and the commitment. They were raw in every sense, and they were not ashamed that they were about much more than playing with precision and making sure the guitars were in tune. This wasn't just entertainment. It was a life-and-death thing. They made it possible for us to take our band seriously. I don't think that we would have gone on to become the band we are if it wasn't for that concert and that band. There it was. They showed us what you needed. And it was all about heart.
The social and political content of the songs was a huge inspiration, certainly for U2. It was the call to wake up, get wise, get angry, get political and get noisy about it. It's interesting that the members were quite different characters. Paul Simonon had an art-school background, and Joe Strummer was the son of a diplomat. But you really sensed they were comrades in arms. They were completely in accord, railing against injustice, railing against a system they were just sick of. And they thought it had to go.
I saw them a couple of times after the Dublin show, and they always had something fresh going on. It's a shame that they weren't around longer. The music they made is timeless. It's got so much fighting spirit, so much heart, that it just doesn't age. You can still hear it in Green Day and No Doubt, Nirvana and the Pixies, certainly U2. They meant it, and you can hear it in their work.