How punk rock can a coffee-table book possibly be?

Posted: September 9, 2010 in Art, Music
Tags: , , , , , , ,

          How punk rock can a coffee-table book possibly be? The Clash, a band that embodied 
 the rebellious, DIY ethic of the late-’70s scene — and that proclaimed louder than anyone else a social and political purpose to punk’s nihilism — have a book out. A big, pink, glossy, coffee-table book. In good time for Christmas, too.

Accusations of the band betraying their punk credentials are nothing new — it says so on page 113 of The Clash, their first official autobiography. In the words of front man Joe Strummer, “fanzine Sniffin’ Glue wrote ‘Punk Rock died the day the Clash signed to Columbia’ [in 1977].” In reality, mainstream success didn’t kill their principles: as the band recounts, when their week-long residency at Bond’s Casino in New York City was oversold, they stayed on and played 17 shows until every ticket holder had seen them 
 live. Filled with such details, 
the book erases any cynicism about the Clash’s motivations, back then or now.

Hand-drawn fliers, press clips and photos amplify the interviews, most of which were conducted in 2000 (two years before Strummer’s death at age 50) for the Grammy-winning documentary Westway to the World. The book reveals fresh anecdotes that aren’t in the film, and affords a fuller recounting of others, such as Strummer’s ham-fisted attempt at rioting during London’s 1976 Notting Hill Carnival: “We were standing around this car with a box of Swan Vesta [matches] and it’s one thing to say, ‘Burn the cars and burn the ghetto,’ but you try setting a car alight.”

The ultimate rebels, the Clash even defied their own musical genre, breaking from its prescriptive three chords and careering into reggae, rap and rockabilly. Just like this big, pink, glossy, coffee-table book, they proved to be about much more than punk.

By: HUGH PORTER

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