When people say that we're a political band, what they usually mean, I gather, is that we're political in the way of, like, left and right—politics with a capital 'P,' right? But really, it's politics with a small 'P,' like personal politics. When somebody says, 'You can't do that,' we think you should stand up and ask why, and not go, 'Well, all right.'
—Paul Simonon bass player, The Clash
"You don't understand, mate. You just can't leave those chairs there." Joe Strummer, the Clash's lead singer and rhythm guitarist, is really wound up. He takes another puff off his cigarette and moves closer to the manager of San Francisco's Warfield Theater. "Don't you see," Strummer continues in an urgent, guttural whisper, "people will fuckin' destroy those chairs, rip 'em right out. They come here to dance, and that's what they're gonna do. I don't wanna see kids smashed up against the stage in front of me just because there's not enough room to dance."
In a few hours, the Clash are supposed to be onstage at this 2200-seat art-deco palace in the first date of a nine-shows-in-ten-days blitz of the U.S. The tour comes on the heels of the group's grueling, two-month trek through the U.K., and just before bassist Paul Simonon is due in Vancouver, where he will begin working with ex-Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook on a film in part about an all-girl rock & roll band.
But despite this hectic schedule, the Clash and their U.S. record company, Epic, realized they had to strike now. After watching their first two critically acclaimed albums go virtually ignored by radio stations and record buyers in this country, the Clash released London Calling earlier this year. Broader and more accessible than its predecessors, the album — a two-record set that sells for little more than a single record — was immediately picked up by FM radio. After only six weeks, it is in the twenties on the charts and has sold nearly 200,000 copies. At this moment, though, the Clash are faced with another problem: they feel that some of the halls selected for this tour aren't right for them — they have chairs secured to the floor, leaving little or no room for dancing.
"Just take out a coupla rows," Strummer pleads.
"But we can't do it," the manager replies. "It's too late. Besides, kids have tickets for those seats. Your fans waited in line for hours to get those seats."
"Good," says Strummer. "If they're our fans, they won't mind, 'cause they'll wanna be standin' anyway."
"So what do we say when they come in with tickets and their seats are missing?"
"You tell 'em Joe Strummer took 'em out so they could dance. If they're upset, we'll give 'em a free T-shirt or somethin'."
"But it'll take hours."
"We got lots of people here who can help. I'll get down on my hands and knees and help if I have to."
"We just can't do it...."
A little more than an hour later, the front two rows of seats have been removed. And Joe Strummer didn't even have to get down on his hands and knees.
With the possible exception of the Sex Pistols, the Clash have attracted more attention and generated more excitement and paeans from the press than any other new band in the past five years. Their first LP, The Clash, released in England at the height of the punk movement in 1977, has been hailed by some critics as the greatest rock & roll album ever made. Its fourteen songs jump from the record with such ferocious intensity that they demand that the listener sit up and take notice — immediately. But perhaps even more important are the lyrics. While the Sex Pistols and other punk bands viewed the deteriorating English society with a sort of self-righteous nihilism, the Clash observed it through a militant political framework that offered some hope. Certainly a long battle was ahead, they suggested, but perhaps it could be won.
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