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White riot -- I wanna riot
White riot -- a riot of my own

Joe Strummer,
from "White Riot" by The Clash (1977)



This is a book, and a tragically short one, about The Clash. It's "by" a guy named Johnny Green ("with" a ghost writer named Gary Barker), who roadied for them from late 1977 until 1980 (or 1981?), when he left after the American tour for London Calling. He remained friendly with them at least until the book was published; Joe Strummer wrote a foreword for it, and he mentions discussing the project with Mick Jones. It's subtitled "Night and Day with the Clash."

What's inside is not bad at all: They tour and tour. They usually get paid, and sometimes they get arrested. The early days are grim. They skip out of the back doors of a few hotels when there's no money to pay the bill. There's a certain amount of social grooming and horseplay. Rock and Roll seems to exert a magnetic attraction on people who'd never be tolerated elsewhere, and they get their share of those. A few of them are in the band's entourage, to fight off the ones who aren't. "Stay Free" seems to have been written about one of those. It's entertaining stuff, even though I can't imagine wanting to live like that.

On the other hand, the author's hero-worship for Joe Strummer gets old sometimes, and once in a while you realize that your humble narrator here, your tour guide in these weird regions, is a hanger-on. He's somebody of no particular accomplishments who attached himself to some remarkably talented people and followed them around for a few years tuning their guitars, doing odd jobs, and getting lucky with women who were there because of the band, not him. It's a little bit creepy. Would "loyal retainer" sound better than "hanger-on"? It comes to the same thing.

Sometimes the loyal-retainer gig is worse than others. Mick Jones seems to have been a hopeless prima donna, dependent on having a roadie show up at 1:00 pm to entice him and the groupie du jour out of bed with cocaine, liquor, and a joint (ah, but wait: The author, in his preface, describes Jones encouraging him to include all the sex and drugs he can -- "I could use the credibility" says Mick -- so it might not all be entirely true).

The others are more normal than we're asked to believe Jones was. Topper Headon is pictured with almost the same doglike devotion to the band that the author has. The difference is that Headon was one hell of a drummer. He sort of earned his spot.

So, there's a lot of that sort of all-about-the-band stuff, and there are a lot of on-the-road anecdotes, and it's all worth reading, at least if you're a Clash fan. The best part is that Mr. Green was on board for the making of Give 'Em Enough Rope and London Calling. It's worth the price of admission right there, just to sit in the corner with the roadies and watch those records take shape.

Oh, and if you care about the politics: Joe Strummer seems to have been sincere about that stuff. Strummer comes off as very likable and decent human being throughout. There's a bit about how he wrote "Lost in the Supermarket" as a present for Mick Jones.


A Riot of Our Own was first published in 1999, with a wealth of Ralph Steadmaniacal illustrations by somebody called Ray Lowry.

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