In the current issue of Rolling Stone, contributing editor Mikal Gilmore takes us inside The Fury and the Power of the Clash, outlining their journey from English outcasts to conquering Shea Stadium and their bitter breakup.
Gilmore has deep roots with the band; he was in his late twenties in early 1979 when RS sent him to England to interview the band in the period between Give ‘Em Enough Rope and London Calling.
We spoke to him about how he got Joe Strummer to open up, whether he wishes the band ever reunited and why he wanted to revisit them now.
Did writing about the Clash again bring you back to your original 1979 story? What do you remember about going to London to meet them?
It was just shortly before the Clash made their first trip to the U.S. It was also my first trip to London. The absolute gloominess of the place is what impressed me. It was overcast. It was in the wake of Christmas, so everything was closed. Just walking around the streets, watching this overall dour atmosphere and the grimness of the police on the streets helped me understand the environment the Clash came from as much as anything. [I saw] despite all the romanticism of 1960s music, England could be a very grim and apprehensive place. That stayed with me for a long, long time.
Do you remember the initial reasons you wanted to report on the Clash?
They made the first great album in punk. It was one of those aggressive albums, but then there was also this great melodic sensibility about it. You also had that in the Ramones, but they really didn’t have that much to say. With the Clash, there was the sense of New World daring and risk.
Strummer sounds pretty fearless in your interview. At one point he says, “We’re not just another wank rock group like Boston or Aerosmith, what fucking shit.” What was your impression of him?
From the beginning, the stakes of credibility and reputation in that punk movement, especially the question of authenticity, couldn’t help but trap everybody who came up to it. Strummer was particularly vulnerable given his family background. If I remember right, when I first met them, the Clash had gone through the first wave of reaction against them in the British Press…that was part of Strummer’s wariness. Questions like authenticity would matter much less to an American audience, but I think he was just worrying about everything.
Did anything in particular make you think Strummer was unsure or nervous?
He was never unfriendly, but there was this undercut quality when we first started talking. His answers were brief, laconic, sort of bitten off. But he warmed up over the process…He came out of that shell, but he made plain that he didn’t trust the press. Some of that was just the image, but [Paul] Simonon and [Mick] Jones weren’t like that. They were quite warm and friendly and able to relax and joke around. Strummer was not.
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