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The Clash in 1980: There’ll Be Dancing in the Streets

Page 4 of 4

Under the guidance of then-manager Bernard Rhodes (a one-time associate of Sex Pistols chieftain Malcolm McLaren, and reportedly a key influence in the development of the Clash's political stance), the Clash signed a reported $200,000 contract with CBS Records in February 1977. Their first album, recorded with drummer Terry Chimes (renamed Tory Crimes for the occasion), followed soon afterward.

"That one was a pretty special record," Jones recalls. "We did it in three weekends — nine days. We were sprinting. That's what that whole period was like — sprinting."
Drummer Chimes left the group shortly after The Clash was recorded; eventually, Nicky "Topper" Headon was recruited as a replacement. Something of a journeyman drummer, Headon, 24, comes from a middle-class family in Dover and still retains a fairly normal, middle-class appearance. His father is headmaster of a primary school, and his mother teaches. He left home at sixteen and moved to London, where he played in bands that ranged from soul revues to traditional jazz outfits, even doing a stint with heavy-metal guitarist Pat Travers. "I left London to join one of those soul bands that was going to Hamburg," he recalls. "I don't think Mick will ever forgive me."

But, in fact, it was Jones who recruited him for the Clash. "We ran into each other at a concert," Jones says. "I asked him how things were going, and he said great. Then I mentioned that we were looking for a drummer, and he jumped at it. The only thing I told him was that he'd have to get a haircut."

Though the years have passed and things have changed
And I move any way I wanna go
I'll never forget the feeling I got
When I heard that you'd got home
An' I'll never forget the smile on my face
'Cos I knew where you would be
And if you're in the Crown tonight
Have a drink on me
But go easy
step lightly
Stay free.*

"You made me cry out there, man." Freddie, A nineteen-year-old Englishman transplanted to San Francisco, grabs Mick Jones around the shoulders and gives him a big hug. Jones gently pulls away, his dark eyes staring mournfully at Freddie. "I made you cry? How do you think we're gonna feel when they bring you back with a hole in your chest?"

Backstage at the Warfield Theater on Sunday night, the Clash have just completed their exhilarating second and final show in San Francisco. Near the end of the set, Jones dedicated "Stay Free," a song from Give 'Em Enough Rope, to "someone I know who's going into the marines tomorrow." And now Freddie, that someone, has come to thank him.

"Aw, come on, man," Freddie says. "Stop it. You're making me cry again."

"I mean it," Jones says, his sadness almost turning into anger. "What the fuck do you think you're doing? One way or another, you'll never come back alive. They'll ruin you." Jones pauses and surveys Freddie's rock-hard physique. "Freddie here used to be as skinny as me," Jones says, turning to me. "We used to see him at our shows in London. Now look at him. He's joining the marines,'boot camp,' I think he called it."

Freddie, straining to hold back tears, is obviously shaken. "But Mick, it's a roof over my head and $500 a month," he protests.

"Five hundred dollars a month!" Jones erupts. "Fuckin' lot of good that'll do you when you got a hole through you." Jones stops and looks around the dressing room. He spots Kosmo Vinyl, the band's assistant, PR person and jack-of-all-trades. The two huddle for a few seconds, then leave the dressing room.

Finally, Jones wanders back in. I ask about Freddie.

"He's not goin'," Jones says. "Me and Kosmo and Joe will give him the $500 a month. He's coming to work with us."

A little later that evening, I run into Jones in a corridor at a party being thrown for the band by Target Video, a company that makes New Wave video-cassettes. "Look, if you wanna talk, let's talk now, he says, leaning against a wall. "I'll have more to say now than I will later." Soon we're into a discussion of the draft.

"If I lived in America and the government was talking about war and about starting the draft again, I wouldn't just be sitting there," he says. "You'd think people in America would be more aware. I mean, Vietnam wasn't that long ago. They should know not to believe for a minute that it's good. I went to a church this morning', and you know what those people said? They said if the country goes to war, we'll go. Maybe we can help some guy in the trenches. Is that right?"

I ask what he'd do if England started the draft again.

"We'd start our own antidraft movement."

Would he go to war?

"That's out of the question. This is an important fact: people prefer to dance than to fight wars. In these days, when everybody's fighting, mostly for stupid reasons, people forget that. If there's anything we can do, it's to get them dancing again."

After a minute or so of silence, I ask about the new album. It was recorded during a rough period for the band. The group had just split with its second manager, Caroline Coon, and settled a lawsuit with her predecessor, Bernard Rhodes. In one interview, Strummer was quoted as saying they felt the LP was their last chance.

"We were more introspective," Jones says. "We were fed up with things. We were also quite miserable. Miserable gray old place, London is. Very oppressive. Things are going very badly there."

Why then, I ask, does the album seem more relaxed, more playful?

"Well, some of it is relaxed, but not all of it. I don't call 'London Calling,' 'The Guns of Brixton,' 'Clampdown,' 'Brand New Cadillac' relaxed. I certainly don't think it's fair when people charge that we've mellowed out."

But the music is more accessible.

"We realized that if we were a little more subtle, if we branched out a little, we might reach more people. We finally saw that we had just been reaching the same people over and over. And the music — just bang, bang, bang — was getting to be like a nagging wife. This way, if more kids hear the record, then maybe they'll start humming the songs. And if they start humming the songs, maybe they'll read the lyrics and get something from them."

I ask what it is he's trying to achieve, what his goal is.

"My goal is like a mountain, a very big mountain. And it's gonna take a lot of gear to get up to the top. You know what it's like? It's like banging your head against the wall. There are some victories, but they're small."

Do they even out in the end?

"I'm not sure they do; I think we're getting beat. It'd be nice to be a band that people didn't have so many preconceptions about, one that's not the hip thing to like. When we can go onstage and play what we want-jazz, maybe — and not have to do what people expect, that'll be a big step forward."

That said, we go back out into the main room, where some of the great Motown songs from the Sixties are blaring from the sound system. And where everyone's dancing.

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Song Stories

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