In the year 2000, a series of books was published under the imprint “Kill Your Idols.” They were published in a neat little format, black covers with a b&w photo of the subject and his name as the title. Neil Young, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Leonard Cohen and The Clash. The only band that matters is the only band that got a book! David Quantick, a writer whose work has appeared in Spin, NME and Q magazines, is a good choice for authoring a book about the Clash. He is a fan, but he understands their weaknesses, as well as their strengths.
Quantick begins with a brief history of the band, from the early days, when Mick Jones and Paul Simonon asked Joe Strummer, “Do you want to be in our band?” to the point where none of them wanted to be in the Clash anymore. Filled with anecdotes and remembrances, the book covers the story in as much depth as you can expect in a mere 39 pages. But then, that was the point of these books. A short history (The Story), combined with a look at the records. The longer mid-section of the book (The Music) is a comprehensive, chronological stroll through the official releases. The closing section (The Legacy) is an assessment of what they meant to the music world.
David Quantick is a fair writer; he describes the career of the Clash clearly and with some panache, but he is also devoted to this group. Obviously for him, they meant much more than they did to me. And that’s a good thing. His excitement is contagious, and just as I learned to appreciate the sounds on Clash albums by listening with SPike, I learned to HEAR the message Strummer, Jones, Simonon and company were sharing, and to understand what made them special by reading his response to them.
The biographical material is provided — it’s a bit sketchy maybe — but remember this is only 40 pages long, roughly the scale of a feature magazine article. It’s about all you need to get a sense of the milieu in which the Clash formed, the political, and musical influences exerted on them and the comings and goings of members. Kind of a “Reader’s Digest” version of The Clash story! The real meat of the book is in the chronological record guide. Quantick lists and evaluates every single, and album, and each compilation and describes their music, lyrics and chart positions. This is helpful to a newer fan, and armed with this little book and SPike’s neat Clash on Broadway box set I found myself well-equipped to reassess the group myself.
Let me say, that throughout this challenge — this radical assessment of a group I had ignored for years — I came to appreciate the strength of Mick Jones’s guitar playing, and the commitment of Joe Strummer as a singer and musician in ways I thought impossible. Quantick’s book, including his arguments in “The Legacy” chapter, assisted me in re-evaluating them. The Clash rock, but they also speak to the need for integrity and honesty in music, and in life.
(Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000)