Five months after I wrote the following article came the crushing news of Joe Strummer's untimely death. While I still defend the critique made of the CLASH in my essay, I want to express my sadness at Strummer's passing. Joe wrote some of the greatest Rock 'n Roll songs of all time, and his politically militant stance helped make the early punk rock movement the threat it was. I read that his last 2002 concert was a benefit for the striking Firefighters Union of London... a fitting last effort for one of the great firebrands of our time. At the New Musical Express Awards held during Feb. 2003 in West London, the three surviving members of the band denounced the war against Iraq. So consider the following to be like those arguments that take place in close knit families. Strummer and The CLASH made a big difference in this world, which is why the "big sellout" hurt that much more. Joe Strummer has gone to a better place and all is forgiven. He left a big void in this humdrum world... I know we'll all miss him.
L O N D O N    C A L L I N G
Selling out the legacy of Punk - article by Mark Vallen, July 2002.
Just an advertising jingle for luxury cars? Just an advertising jingle for luxury cars?
John Densmore, former drummer for the legendary Doors, recently went public with a horror story about a certain foreign car manufacturer. Without the band's permission, the company used a Doors song in an ad campaign promoting the auto maker's latest model. Densmore wants fans of the Doors to know that he opposes the selling off of the band's legacy to the highest bidder, no matter how high the offer. Densmore understands that his music was the soundtrack to millions of people's lives, and that matters to him. Today we are witnessing the best of rock music being transformed into
a tidal wave of advertising jingles. Now comes the latest outrage.... Jaguar Motors is using a CLASH song to promote their new line of luxury cars. Unbelievable but true.

Jaguar, in using the CLASH song London Calling as an advertising jingle for their latest automotive line, obviously means to appeal to the people who grew up in the 1980's. My girlfriend asked me sarcastically, "does it give you a warm and fuzzy feeling to know you are part of a target audience?"
I answered, "No, but I get a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing I'm a target."
When the CLASH released "London Calling"in 1979, my L.A. punk friends and I swooned over the menacing sound ("London calling to the faraway towns, now that war is declared-and battle come down"). The song was one of the band's most chilling works. Ominous and dark, it foretold of the Western world collapsing in a spasm of war and out of control technologies, it addressed our fears of government repression ("London calling, see we ain't got no swing, 'cept for the ring of that truncheon thing").

Ford Motor Company's Jaguar North America unit launched a July 2002 summer ad campaign called London Calling. The ad firm handling the account would not disclose the cost of the campaign targeting "a younger audience." But George Ayres, vice president of marketing for Jaguar, said the 2002 budget "isn't necessarily bigger" than the $66.7 million spent in 2001. In the "London Calling" television advertisement there are images of a quaint London that reinforce a tourist's perception of British heritage... Big Ben, the Parliament building, etc. The latest model Jaguar moves slowly down cobblestone streets. A pretty young woman is seen in an old style red phone booth as the silver colored Jaguar glides by. The musical backdrop to this facade is none other than the
CLASH song, with Joe Strummer's gravely panicked voice wailing the refrain.

In an interview posted on "stummersite.com", Joe Strummer admitted the band sold the rights to their song to Jaguar... here's how Strummer put it. "Yeah, I agreed to that. We get hundreds of requests for that and turn 'em all down. But I just thought Jaguar...yeah. If you're in a group and you make it together, then everyone deserves something. Especially twenty-odd years after the fact. It just seems churlish for a writer to refuse to have their music used on an advert and so I figured out, only advertise the things you think are cool. That's why we dissed Coors and Miller. We've turned down loads of money. Millions over the years. But sometimes you have to earn a bit, so everybody gets some."

I first heard the CLASH in 1977... their premiere U.K. single, appropriately titled 1977, had a profound transformative effect on me (No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones, in 1977!). Back in those sleepy days for Rock 'n Roll, punk was really shaking things up, and the CLASH headed the vanguard. Their first album wasn't released in the U.S., since American record companies thought their sound "too rough." Needless to say the group received no airplay on U.S. radio stations, and the band quickly became known to those in the underground punk scene as "the only band that matters." The explosive delivery and lyrical content of that first album infused punk with political intensity. Songs like White Riot, Hate & War, and London's Burning, blasted away our complacency.
They only did it for the money? They only did it for the money?

The incendiary antiwar lyrics of I'm so bored with the U.S.A. (Yankee dollar talk to the dictators of the world, in fact it's giving orders, and they can't afford to miss a word!), were on the lips of a new generation yearning for change. When the CLASH sang Remote Control, hundreds of thousands took it to heart (big business it don't like you, it don't like the things you do, you got no money, you got no power, they think you're useless, and so you are, punks!). By the time their second album, Give 'em enough rope, was released in 1979 they were becoming big news in the U.S. They made things difficult for themselves when in 1980 they released Sandinista, a double album that extended a hand of support to the Nicaraguan revolution while the Reagan White House was busy trying to destroy it. Over the years the band cranked out a steady stream of rock anthems that were like battle cries against the status quo... Garageland, Career Opportunities, Capital Radio, Washington Bullets, Clampdown, Guns of Brixton, and The Call Up.

The point really is, the music of the CLASH served as a backdrop for the turmoil of the late 1970's and early 80's. They sang their opposition to war, police violence, the arms race... and we believed them. Their music provided the necessary strength to keep resisting the madness all around us. In 1977, when the band first stormed it's way into public consciousness with a rough and tumble, jangly, take no prisoners approach to rock music... thousands of young musicians and fans were inspired to follow suit. We were going to change the world. The snotty, brash, and anti-authoritarian punk movement was born. Was that legacy blown to smithereens by the simple act of the CLASH allowing one of their sharpest songs to become nothing more than a jingle for luxury cars? Was punk just a charade orchestrated and manipulated by unscrupulous businessmen? Was it all for nothing?

We shouldn't condemn a movement based on the folly of its adherents or detractors. People have been selling out their beliefs ever since Judas accepted 30 pieces of silver as payment for his betrayal. Any movement should be critiqued based on the strength of its principles... not its followers. CRASS, another extremely influencial English punk band, hit the nail right on the head with the lyrics to their self released 1978 song, Punk is Dead. "CBS promote the CLASH, but it ain't for revolution, it's just for cash. Punk became a fashion just like Hippy used to be, and it ain't got a thing to do with you or me!" The CLASH notwithstanding, punk actually stood for something, and many still embrace those original core ethics. A healthy distrust of the rich and powerful, opposition to conformity and apathy, a commitment to freedom of expression, and a belief that we need to be more than a witness when it comes to life and history. I still have the button I wore on my leather jacket back in 1977. It reads, "Can't buy my soul."


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