We Are the Clash review – The dramatic last stand of a band that mattered

When Mick Jones was unceremoniously booted out of The Clash in September of 1983 (and we mean unceremonious – the meeting that resulted in his sacking was said to last less than 15 minutes),  he said that firing him was ‘the biggest mistake in rock and roll history’. For a while, the fear that he could be right lingered, spurred by what sometime Clash manager and producer Kosmo Vinyl called ‘John-Paul-George-Ringo Syndrome’. Was The Clash really The Clash without Mick Jones? Or, for that matter, without drummer Topper Headon, who had been fired the year before? But The Clash carried on. Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki’s We Are the Clash follows the turbulent journey of this Clash Mark 2, documenting ‘Reagan, Thatcher, and the Last Stand of a Band that Mattered’.

Reading We Are the Clash,  it’s clear that in the early to mid-80s Joe Strummer was a man in crisis. As his band teetered on the edge of destruction his emotional state deteriorated, his mental health further hindered by a ‘suffer in silence’ mindset instilled in him since childhood. The book is filled with accounts of ‘Joe screaming in the hotel bar’, or manipulating band members and friends to provoke them into beating him up.  Former NME journalist and close friend of the band Chris Salewicz recounts one incident on tour in Naples in September of 1984, in which ‘Joe went on a three day bender, guzzling bottle after bottle of brandy. Raymond Jordan was appointed to babysit Joe through this crisis.’ The next month Strummer ran away to Granada, throwing the future of the new Clash into disarray. Anecdotes like these ensure that aside from capturing a slice of political and cultural history, We Are the Clash is also an interesting study into a man trying to build and destroy at the same time.

Meanwhile, the UK and USA were in political turmoil. The right-wing twin powers of Thatcher and Reagan were growing ever more odious, as they sought to destroy the poor, the different, and the otherwise marginalised. On top of this the Cold War stretched on, and the world hovered at the brink of nuclear destruction. This was the backdrop against which the Clash took their last stand. In We Are the Clash Andersen and Heibutzki take great care in demonstrating the link between the social climate, Joe Strummer’s emotional state, and the last record of ‘the only band that matters’. As a result the book fills a vital space in the Clash canon, and is an essential read for fans.

We Are the Clash has already gained praise from industry experts and Clash fans. Check out a selection of quotes below:

The inside story of the last great British punk record. – Jon Savage, author of England’s Dreaming

We Are The Clash tells an important part of the story of both The Clash and punk rock. The repercussions of what went down politically both in the USA and UK back then are still very much felt today. – Kosmo Vinyl, former manager of The Clash

Smash your television and buy this book! We Are The Clash proves, once again, the importance of The Clash, even during their rarely discussed and most maligned period. Situated in the Reagan/Thatcher era, We Are The Clash illustrates why, when Reagan called women like my mom ‘welfare queens, ‘ I bought a ticket to see ‘the only band that matters, ‘ and then went on to start one of my own. – Michelle Cruz Gonzales, author of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band

We Are The Clash is out now from Akashic Books
(9781617752933, p/b, £15.99)

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