Thursday, November 27, 2008

GMVW # 47: "Stirring the Pot"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 47:  Stirring the Pot
Song: London Calling by The Clash
Covered Here By: Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, others
(Songwriter: Joe Strummer)
November 27, 2008

There’s nothing wrong with anger in music, as long as it’s aimed at injustice.  Musical historians point to the 40’s and 50’s beatnik/folk scene as the genre where modern American music got angry in a unified way.  A number of folk songs at the time were written about injustices in America during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  In the 60’s, the mantle shifted to Rock n Roll, which railed against Vietnam and all forms of dishonesty.  The commonality of many of these angry folk and rock songs was anti-establishment.

Nothing represented anger and anti-establishment quite like what came next however: Punk.  There was no mistaking the core emotions of Punk music.  Punk railed against everything the earlier genres did, and in an unprecedented way it also railed against its mentor: Rock n Roll itself.  To punk, the Rock n Roll gentry in the 70’s had come to represent everything rock music had rebelled against in the 60’s.  Punks saw rock stars as hypocritical fat cats living high on the hog, shuttled to concert venues in their private jets, wining and dining at lavish parties, being chauffeured in their Lamborghinis, and generally over indulging on all manner of high society from caviar to cigarettes (but well versed in etiquette).  They also saw this change in attitude reflected in the music.  Punk put a mirror right in the faces of these wayward souls.  The reaction was not immediate, but it did eventually play out, seeing as it’s hard to be a successful rock star today without a humanitarian cause and some form of sacrifice in lifestyle. You can look back at Punk as the jolt that brought these values back to center focus.

Punk may have started with the music of Patti Smith in the early 70’s, but it became a movement in Britain in the mid-70s. I recall Dad walking into the house one evening when I was still getting a leg up on this new ‘art’ form.  He looked over at Fred, Joe and I and said with a smile “Johnny Rotten!”  The Sex Pistols had just landed in the States for their first (and last) infamous (and aborted) American tour.  They caused quite a stir, making headlines much like the Beatles did when they landed here for the first time in 1963.  Dad was in the know.  Fred, Joe and I had some catching up to do. 

Fred and Joe did a faster job catching up than I.  It was not long before they were indoctrinating themselves in the music of The Clash.  The Clash were the heart and soul of Britain’s punk scene.  Unlike some other punk bands, they were articulate and very talented.  They have had a lasting impression.  Whenever someone asks me to mention concerts I’ve been to, the one show I usually get a ‘Wow!’ response is the Who/Clash concert I saw in Buffalo’s Rich Stadium 1982.  However, not everyone was caught up in the punk tide. I remember Fred talking Mom into staying up to watch The Clash on Saturday Night Live in the late 70’s.  The performance was a bit disjointed and Mom did her best to sit thru the short set.  She may have been thinking “I was just getting used to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and now this?” 

The lead singer and songwriter for The Clash was Joe Strummer.  His death in 2002 of an undiagnosed heart defect prompted the old and new guard to recognize his significant contribution to rock music at the Grammy awards several months later.  Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Steven Van Zandt and David Grohl covered The Clash song ‘London Calling’, this week’s Gem Video.  A ‘Gem Light’ is also included (if there is such a beast in Punk music): The Clash performing ‘Rock the Casbah’ in the well known made-for-MTV video.

Punk came along and shook things up a bit.  We all benefit from a little shaking up every so often.

-              Pete

London calling, see we ain’t got no swing
 ‘Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing”

Gem Music Video: London Calling


About the Video: Played at the 2003 Grammys

Video Rating: 1


Best Feedback: Fred

Good one.  No, a great one.

One of the strangest feelings I have ever had was at a Clash Concert at Cape Cod Civic center in the summer of 1983/4.  I was with Joe, Chopper, and a few others I can't recall.  We had floor "seats", which essentially meant that we were allowed into the open area in front of the stage.  We started towards the back, maybe 50 feet away, but as the band played, we found ourselves moving up, although I can't ever remember moving my feet.  It was 100 degrees+ and getting hotter, and within any 10 square foot area there easily could have been 15 people scrunched together.

As we continued to get closer to the stage, I started to get claustrophobic, but I had no-where to go.  There was no way I could get out of the crowd, and fights began to break out.  My only saving grace was that I was taller than most and I had to extend my neck up high to catch any oxygen.  Girls that had been having fun were crying and screaming as the band played on.  The only way out for most of the girls was to move to the stage and beg to be taken up by stage hands so that they could then exit out.  I was torn between wanting to do that and being strong, but soon saw that even the guys were trying to rush the stage to get out of the pit.  You could see the Band was getting freaked out and as they broke into Magnificent 7, Strummer took off his guitar strap, grabbed the neck with two hands and began swinging his guitar indiscriminately at the surging crowd like a police billy club. It became a game of survival for the next 20 minutes or so, and quite a surreal experience.  I can still see faces within inches of mine, and no one was smiling.  A big dude was getting very violent nearby and expressing it by pushing his way out very aggressively in the process hurting several others.  Many others took his lead and I finally got out after about 40 minutes of hell.

After I got out, I had an odd feeling of exhilaration;  I felt an accomplishment of survival.  There was no way I was going back in, but was glad I spent the time, and most grateful for being taller than most.  Funny thing was I thought that The Clash loved the experience as well.

Thanks for the memories.  By the way, I distinctly remember telling Dad that Jonny Rotten had a sidekick named Sid Vicious.  He LOVED that name even better, and I think in a way he wished he could have gotten into this Punk thing a little more.


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