micah holmquist's irregular thoughts and links
Welcome to the musings and notes of a Cadillac, Michigan based writer named Micah Holmquist, who is bothered by his own sarcasm.
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Tuesday, December 24, 2002
I was introduced to the music of The Clash the weekend before Memorial Day in 1995. I was attending Operation Bentley, which brought high school juniors from throughout Michigan to Albion College for a week of local and state government simulation. On three nights during the program, I violated curfew to hang out with a girl from Grand Rapids with closely cropped red hair named Melissa during the evening. We laid on picnic tables in a park near the dorm we we were staying in, smoked some pot –a first for me- and talked about the likes of Noam Chomsky and Allen Ginsberg. Mostly, however, we just listened to music on the boombox she had. I brought some John Coltrane and Sonny Sharrock while she supplied The Clash.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this group I’d never heard of before. I liked the politics but was enthralled by the energy and the vocal combinations of Mick Jones and Joey Strummer on cuts like “Capital Radio” and “Police & Thieves.” The group combined punk, soul and reggae in a way that blew my mind and exposed me to the connections that lie beneath similarly irreconcilable styles. The music didn’t deny darkness in the world but it also made you want to live, if only to feel more.
Over the years I listened to more and more of The Clash but it wasn’t till last year that the group’s brilliance stood out to me. On September 12 I listened to all my Bill Hicks CDs as I needed to hear a voice saying I wasn’t crazy for hating the past, present and future actions of the U.S. military and thinking that terrorist attacks are inevitable when you act the way the U.S. does. That was something I needed but the evening of September 13 was even better as I listened The Clash, Give 'Em Enough Rope, London Calling, Sandinista!, Combat Rock and Live: From Here to Eternity. The Clash never hedged on the problems of the world and, as Jim Henley has noted, didn’t glamorize anybody because it was politically correct to do so. Whereas Hicks told me it was o.k. that I didn’t have patriotism oozing out of body, The Clash told me that turbulent times not only don’t necessitate following leaders but require truthful people to be absolutely honest, even when lies are more comforting. “London Calling” was the song in my head till two days later when I found out my beloved dog Lucky was about to die. Hicks and The Clash made it clear to me that I should not forget that the, in the words of Hicks, “liars and murderers" who ran the U.S. government on September 10 were still in charge.
None of this is to say that the men who made up The Clash were beyond approach. I am appalled that they have allowed “London Calling” to be used in car commercials and Strummer, who passed away on Sunday, was actually a supporter of the “war on terror.” Reportedly he said last year, "I think you have to grow up and realize that we're facing religious fanatics who would kill everyone in the world who doesn't do what they say. The more time you give them the more bombs they'll get." That may be true but I think one of those “religious fanatics” is President George W. Bush who wants kill everyone he has to in order to remake the world.
The strength of The Clash will always be there music, which nowadays seems very relevant. “"It's not Christmas time, it's armageddon time," Strummer once riffed while the Clash was performing “Armageddon Time” in the early 1980s. Given the “war on terror” and the news out of North Korea, he might as well have been talking about today.