Nearly a quarter of a century after it stopped recording, the Clash still excites interest. And this week, there's a fresh round of new product in the form of the concert album "Live at Shea Stadium,"
Nearly a quarter of a century after it stopped recording, the Clash still excites interest. And this week, there's a fresh round of new product in the form of the concert album "Live at Shea Stadium," the DVD "The Clash Live -- Revolution Rock" and a lavish book, "The Clash by the Clash."
All are handsome and enjoyable. However, former Clash drummer Topper Headon was somewhat ambivalent about the continued expansion of the band's original six-album catalog when he agreed to go down memory lane. Though friendly, he pulled no punches about his feelings that the new releases possibly sully the legend of an ensemble whose high ideals for many made them "The only band that matters".
What are your memories of taking over the role of Clash drummer from Terry Chimes in 1977?
When I went for the audition I was really blown away by the power and the look of the band but I wasn't that impressed with the musicianship. I thought I'd hang about for a year and make my name and then maybe move on. By the time we were recording "London Calling," I was loving the music. We kept the punk ideals but we were playing jazz and soul and funk. I think the band would have died with punk if I hadn't joined. With Terry Chimes on the drums they wouldn't have been able to evolve into anything more musical."
Mick Jones: sensitive bloke or diva?
He was a f*cking nightmare. He was a total rock diva. I'm still good friends with Mick today. He'd be the first to admit that he was impossible to get on with on the road.
There's been some rumors that Mick played some of Paul Simonon's basslines on Clash records.
On a hell of a lot, yeah. Mick taught him how to play the bass and that's all he did. He didn't improvise. But once he'd been taught a bass line, he just stuck to it. Onstage, he was fantastic to play with because I always knew where he was gonna be. I could just embellish stuff and go wherever I wanted.
Your first Clash record was "Complete Control," in which the band lambasted its own record company.
We never got on with the record company through the whole time that I was with the band. They didn't want a double album, let alone for the price of one. They didn't want a triple album. They didn't like the way we wouldn't do "Top of the Pops." Really, there's no way we should have made it. We wanted to be the best band in the world, and the biggest band in the world. But we wouldn't do "Top of the Pops" and we wouldn't charge more than this for a ticket and we wouldn't play seated venues."
What are your feelings on 1978's "Give 'Em Enough Rope?"
I think it was a transitional album from the out-and-out punk album that the first one was to what "London Calling" became. It was probably our worst album.
Is "London Calling" your masterpiece?
I think "London Calling" is where we peaked with the chemistry between the four of us. Bill Price was a fantastic engineer. We had this attitude we wanted to record all these different types of music. [Producer] Guy Stevens kept the whole thing live. He didn't let us disappear up our own arses, which is what began to happen with "Sandinista!"
Why was "Sandinista!" a triple album?
Mick took it to the extremes and wanted a triple album for the price of one. I think it would be an amazing single album [and] a very good double album. But there's no way there's three albums worth of material on it.
Though your composition "Rock the Casbah" broke the 1982 "Combat Rock" album, you got fired for drug use.
When I joined the band I didn't use heroin or cocaine and gradually over that five year period I just started using and then became addicted.
What can you tell us about "The Clash by the Clash?"
I was against the book coming out because it's a transcript of [2000 documentary] "Westway to the World" with photos. I don't think there's any need for another Clash product on the market. But I did get a copy of the book and it is attractive. Joe [Strummer] would be turning in his grave if he'd seen what the band have become today. You know what the Clash originally stood for and we don't stand for that anymore. The Clash were 30 years ago. None of us are really that bothered anymore and so people are moving in and making money out of it.
Terry Chimes had stepped back in by the time of the 1982 Shea Stadium gig on the new live album
Joe said after Topper left they never did another good gig. All of a sudden they've got the f*cking Shea Stadium thing coming out and it's not really the Clash. The Clash was a chemistry between the four of us. Fair enough to Terry, he's a very nice bloke, but he could only play the first album.
Are the Clash well remembered?
We sell more records than we ever have done. I've started going back into schools to talk about the dangers of drugs. I spent 20-odd years in hostels for the homeless and busking on the underground, squats, prison, bankrupt ... I just went back to the boys grammar school today where I was a pupil and all the kids there have heard of the Clash.
How do you look back on your time with the band?
It was just the best five years of my life and I'm really proud today that the records are still a global phenomenon. I think every band has a shelf life. We never grew old on the stage. We had five years, we released all that material, toured incessantly and then imploded right at the top.