The purpose of this conventional double-LP, complete with unreadable life-on-the-road notes by the group’s “valet,” seems to be to certify the Clash as a conventional rock band. The fact that there was something more at stake in the Clash’s career than a career is suppressed by the exclusion of idiosyncrasy, playfulness, and despair (“The Right Profile,” “Brand New Cadillac,” the broken, empty-handed ’85 “This Is England,” what was left after Thatcherism erased the last traces of the white riot) in favor of rebel-rock shtick and chart hopes (“The Guns of Brixton,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Stay Free,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go”).
Given the shape of the package, the numbers on side three—all from ’77-’78, when punk was still an idea seeking its field—send a nearly incomprehensible message of disruption, desire, and fear. Even less explainable, now, is that at the heart of this side is a performance that as pure sound stands as the greatest rock ‘n’ roll recording ever made. Oddly, it’s about the Clash’s career, at least on a literal, lyric-sheet level: their label-sanctioned protest single about their label committing the atrocity of releasing an earlier single without the band’s permission. Big deal. Yet from this flimsy soapbox they leap musically to a dramatization of autonomy, community, personal identity and social contestation, and with a few scattered slogans (“THIS MEANS YOU!”) make those usually abstract notions as real, as dangerous, as any moment governed by love or money, hate or war. Across more than 10 years of listening to “Complete Control,” one reaction has always come first: disbelief. Disbelief that mere human beings could create such a sound, disbelief that the world could remain the same when it’s over.
2. Monty Python, The final rip off (Virgin reissue)
The same stuff that’s been on all the other records, but not in the same order.
3. Pet Shop Boys, “Always on My Mind” (Manhattan)
Now they say they meant no harm to either Elvis or the song. Trust the tale, not the teller.
4. Jimmie Davis, “Down at the Old Country Church,” from Barnyard Stomp (Bear Family reissue, ’31, West Germany)
A two-time racist governor of Louisiana (elected on the basis of his purported authorship of “You Are My Sunshine”), Davis had a lot of alter egos way back when: Jimmie Rodgers imitator, dirty songster, white Negro. Here the latter combines a rewrite of “When the Saints Go Marching In” with the bottleneck of black guitarist Ed Shaffer, a/k/a “Dizzy Head,” and the result is dreamy, sensual—humid.
5. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, “She’s the One” (Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View CA, May 2)
This time around, this is the one.6. Critical Texts, v. V, #1 (602 Philosophy Hall, Columbia Univ., New York NY 10027, $3)
For C. O’Brien’s “At Ease in Azania“—which, because it’s fundamentally sympathetic, turns out to be the most convincing rejection of Paul Simon’s bid for the Nobel Peace Prize. “Graceland was free to say anything it liked about what it engaged except what it did say: nothing.”
7. Beach Boys (TV commercial—sorry, I was too mesmerized to catch what for)
As Mike Love jerks around the stage imitating a puppet with steel strings, you realize his longtime support for George Bush is no affectation—as a pop star, Mike Love is George Bush.
8. Jackie Collins, Rock Star (Simon & Schuster)
I figured this would be a good excuse to get a fix on Ms Collins. I was wrong.
9. Forgotten Rebels, “Surfin’ on Heroin,” from Surfin’ on Heroin (Restless reissue)
Madness from Hamilton, ON. The line “I’m surfin’ on a sea of puke” (delivered with such fervor you could see the singer doing it) thrilled any number of college radio listeners in ’83; in the tradition of Minnesota’s Trashmen (“Surfin’ Bird,” ’63), the first band to prove that only the ocean-deprived can realize the boundless possibilities of stupidity that lie behind the hedonism of California surf music, it closed out the New Grove Dictionary of American Music entry on the genre three years later. For that single slice of ineradicable miasma, this bunch will live forever.
10. Ronald Fraser, editor 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt—An International Oral History (Pantheon)
The story behind side three of The Story of the Clash: slanted, riddled with errors and omissions (i.e., Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Japan), but graced with the genius for synthesizing testimony with narrative that made Fraser’s Blood of Spain. What comes through is not sentiment but passion.
Village Voice, April 1988