December 1st, 2014
The Clash: The Only Band That Mattered and Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash
Here are two heady books about punk music legends the Clash, who, though beloved by fans and critics, eschewed "mainstream" success. Both authors get at the root of that independence and intentionality in slightly different ways. By providing an astute analysis of the band and the late 1970s and early 1980s British era from which it emerged, Egan's (The Mammoth Book of the Rolling Stones) title clearly shows how interrelated those musical and social contexts were: one could not have existed without the other. The Clash can be a bit academic and is even a somewhat sociological read. Still, Egan demonstrates what many other authors have failed to do: that the Clash’s intelligent, working-man's music provided an outlet for a groundswell of the punk generation's intellectual rebelliousness. Doane's (Oberlin Coll.) book is more a workmanlike rock-and-roll history, though still not the usual bio/tell-all—only a Clash book would require over 15 pages of endnotes. Thoughtful and enthusiastic, if laudatory, this work examines the Clash through the lens of 1977–83 punk rock and romanticizes the disenfranchised, alternative, DIY work ethic of the movement's leaders. When focusing on the band specifically, Doane is much less concerned with sex and drugs than politics and the battles fought with the record companies. It also features an intellectual foreword by Barry "The Baker" Augustine, the band's principal roadie.
VERDICT Both of these titles are fine purchases for large public libraries and deep music collections; for an intriguing take on punk history, try John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History (2006), or, for Clash-specific history, consider Marcus Gray's Last Gang in Town: The Story and Myth of the Clash (1995).
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