For someone who a couple of years back was unceremoniously booted from a band he helped found--England's multi-platinum, proto-punk Clash--singer-guitarist Mick Jones is remarkably reticent to bad-mouth his old mates, given the opportunity.
He's more excited about pumping up the more eclectic new group he's formed, Big Audio Dynamite, which is currently on the California leg of a U.S. tour. And it's only when he thinks of his new band being constantly viewed in the shadow of his old one that irritation enters his voice.
He wasn't at all happy, for instance, that the debut album by Big Audio Dynamite came out at almost exactly the same time as the latest effort from the new and not-so-improved version of the Clash--resulting, predictably, in most critics reviewing both records together.
"It's a shame, that," said Jones, propping his feet up on a chair in a dressing room before Big Audio Dynamite's California debut Wednesday night at the Pomona Valley Auditorium.
"Even though the Clash LP wasn't as good as our LP--which it obviously wasn't--we would've done even better if it wasn't even in the same review," continued Jones, displaying the playful cockiness you'd expect from someone who's given his group a name with the acronym BAD.
"As it is, what I do is I just cut out the bit where they write about us, then stick a big picture over the rest."
That's about as much as you can get Jones to say about his former compatriots.
Were the reasons for his ouster more musical than personal? He says, "It was very frictional all around." What about rumors that the now-floundering Clash is yearning for a reconciliation? "It's got nothing to do with me."
Over the years Joe Strummer became the mouthpiece of the Clash, but it was Jones who was the singer and primary writer of some of that band's most popular numbers, including "Train in Vain" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
The last Clash tour still featured those songs, as performed by Jones' replacement--but don't expect to hear them from Big Audio Dynamite, whose local swing continues Wednesday at Florentine Gardens in Hollywood and next Saturday at UC Irvine.
"That's right, we don't do any oldies, so anybody who wants to hear that stuff can forget it," Jones said emphatically. "I like Bill Haley, but I wouldn't want to have been him, know what I mean? Say you have a great success and then you trot it out for the rest of your life. That's slow death, isn't it?"
It's ironic that the public walking papers Jones got from the Clash cited his supposed failure to live up to the "original ideals" of the band, for Big Audio Dynamite's first album manages to address ideological issues less pedantically and more palatably than the old crew--i.e., with winning wit and beat-box danceability.
Among the highlights: "E-MC2," a song about the neutron bomb as well as a tribute to film director Nicolas Roeg; "Stone Thames," a topical treatise on sexually transmitted diseases; "A Party," a dark look at the way the powers-that-be suppress minorities while grooving on their music; and "Sudden Impact!," a sharp jab at heavy-metal performers who lead teen-agers down the path of self-destruction for the sake of show biz.
Not that Jones and co-writer Don Letts will ever be the Washington Wives' pets. "We've got our own 'big mother' where we come from," noted Jones. "But I think that if music can have a positive effect, it must be able to have a negative effect as well. Some people in the promotion of their product are a little irresponsible.
"I think we probably come under all the ratings categories you could have," he continued. "In our songs we have drug abuse, we have sex, we have violence, we have swear words--but I think we use them intelligently, you know what I mean? We still set a good example, even though we're BAD."
If his smirk indicates that Jones isn't ready to give up being one of the bad boys of rock 'n' roll, BAD's wide stylistic range suggests further willingness to tangle violently with pop confines.
Mixing it up with Jones' lyrical verbosity and rock guitar are spaghetti-Western tape loops and--more importantly--a variety of black music styles, from Jones' usual Third World sounds to more modern New York dance rhythms.
Big Audio Dynamite's penchant for emphasizing the new over the old--and funk over punk--extends to the choice of outside material in concert. The current encore: Prince's "1999."
At the Pomona show Wednesday, one angry young punk grabbed the mike and profanely exclaimed just how low he thought BAD had degenerated by that point, but Jones and company held steadfast.
Elaborated Jones on the Prince composition: "It's the 'Twist and Shout' of the '80s. You laugh, but it's true."
LIVE ACTION: Simple Minds kicks off the Greek Theatre and Pacific Amphitheatre seasons April 15-16 and April 22, respectively. Tickets go on sale Monday. . . . The Pacific will also offer a five-show subscription series featuring Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Julio Iglesias and a jazz package. Information: (714) 546-9237. . . . Tickets will be available Sunday for John Cougar Mellencamp's April 6 show at the Forum.