So I woke up this morning thinking what do I write about first, the coming attempts at reform of the OCPA? The burning controversy over whether Citizens United makes the Clean Up Anaheim Act’s independent expenditures component unconstitutional? Andrew Do’s CalOptima scandal? (What a tribute to Janet Nguyen!) Get lazy and share some more Melahat nostalgia? Work on my speech for the Council meeting tonight?

But then Google informed me that today is International Clash Day – did you know that? And obviously, that takes precedence!

The Clash were always the best rock band, because they made Revolution feel like a party. Or, that’s what I used to say when I was 19, and have had no reason to change my mind since, even as an old codger. If I had no friends around that particular day, I would get a six-pack of beer, crank up “London Calling,” and jump around my downtown-Orange studio apartment singing along and playing air guitar. Although I actually liked their second album, “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” even better – ten really solid melodic songs, or sticks of dynamite.

Just came across this really good 40-year-anniversary appreciation of “London Calling” by one Elizabeth Nelson. An excerpt, from a piece well worth reading:

…Having established [in the title track] the high stress/high stakes in their home city, the rest of London Calling quickly shifts into a panoramic, exultant celebration of the larger world, from Mallorca to Kingston to Manhattan. Joe Strummer, the son of a diplomat, had traveled extensively as a child to places as far flung as Mexico and Egypt, and the experience vested him with an egalitarian, globalist perspective. Here, in both sonic and thematic terms, we see punk rock stretched from its minimalist, street-fighting-man ethos into something wholly unexpected. Strummer and the Clash became bon vivants, historians, and traveling evangelists for human decency. If Anthony Bourdain’s unofficial philosophy of radical empathy through cultural understanding has any direct antecedent, it is the Clash in the years of London Calling and its 1980 follow-up, Sandinista!

My personal favorite Clash line, from their first album, a line I try to live by:

“I’m gonna stay in the city, even when the house falls down –
I don’t dream of a holiday when hate and war come around!”

You-all are welcome to talk about the Clash on this thread if you wanna. I’m a spend the next hour putting up what I think are the best songs from their first 4 albums, but the ones that you DON’T hear on the radio all the time. It’ll be hard to choose ONLY four songs from ROPE, but here goes:

“Safe European Home” which Joe and Mick wrote on returning to England from Jamaica: “I went to the place where every white face is an invitation to robbery; sitting here in my Safe European Home, I wanna go back there again!”

The rollicking “Julie’s in the Drug Squad” – “Ten years for YOU, Nineteen for YOU, and YOU can get out at 25, that is if you’re alive!”

DRUG-STABBING TIME – and you know you always needed it with subtitles in Spanish! Somebody on “songfacts” opines “The lyrics written by singer Joe Strummer are fiercely anti-drugs, and describe in great detail the paranoia they can induce – not just from usage, but from the fear of getting caught, as the subject of the song does in an elaborate police sting (“I hear this car pull up outside, Comes to a stop like, skreeee”, “Blackshoes on, No that’s bad news, Here they come charging up the stairs: ALL RIGHT SONNY JUST TELL US WHERE!'”) Not sure if a song so fun-sounding can really be “fiercely anti-drugs” though…

And Mick’s gorgeous tribute-to-a-troublemaking friend, “Stay Free.”

Over to “London Calling.” The title track is a masterpiece, but you hear it on the radio plenty. I always assumed Mick wrote the beautiful, empathetic “Lost in the Supermarket” because he sang it… but I just learned from Elizabeth Nelson’s article that Joe wrote it for Mick to sing. And anyway that comes on the radio too. And so does “Working For the Clampdown,” but that is so great I can’t leave it off. Pete Townsend said he was “terrified” by the song, and my friends and I went around saying “HA! Gitalong gitalong” for a few months. Let’s go with LIVE…

DEATH OR GLORY – what an anthem. Although the verses are a little heavy on band-bragadoccio, you’d almost think they were rappers. Still, classic bass lick at the beginning, inspiring uplifting coda at the end, and where else will you learn that “He who fucks nuns will later join the church”? I mean, we see that happening all the time, just read this blog!

Joe Strummer had the ability, like Springsteen, to make the tackiest life seem epic and heroic. As in “The Card Cheat.” “From the Hundred Year War to the Crimea, with a lance and a musket and a Roman spear, to all of the men who have stood without fear in the service of the King…”

And there’s no better tonic, if you’re “DOWN,” than Mick’s “I’M NOT DOWN.” “On my own I faced a pack of jeering on strange streets, and my nerves were pumping but I kept my fear in – I did not run – I was not done!”

I’ll just do two from the sprawling “Sandinista” – first, a masterful and heartbreaking overview of postwar Britain called “Something About England.” “They say the immigrants steal the hubcaps of respected gentlemen. They say it would be wine and roses if England were for Englishmen again.” Mick sings the part of a young man who, late one night on the street, runs into an old storyteller played by Joe. “Leave me now, the mood is dark, but remember the tales I tell – the memories that you have dredged up are on letters forwarded from Hell.”

But THIS one NOBODY remembers. MY favorite Sandinista song, the haunting, chilling, and lovely “Corner Soul.” IS THE MUSIC CALLING FOR A RIVER OF BLOOD?

Then it’s only right to swing back to London Calling and end this post with the REAL revolution-slash-party song, what Elizabeth calls their “transporting cover of the Danny Ray and Jackie Edwards reggae anthem “Revolution Rock,” ending London Calling on a thematically appropriate act of joyous defiance.” ENJOY! I gotta get back to work…

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.