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POP MUSIC : Strummer on Man, God, Law--and the Clash

January 31, 1988|RICHARD CROMELIN

And when we knocked out Topper for excessive drug abuse, I don't think, honest to God, we ever played a good gig after that. Except for one night in New Jersey we played a good one, but I reckon that was just by the law of averages. Out of a 30-gig tour, one night, you've got to say it's a fluke.

Q: Could Topper have continued to function?

Yeah, considering what happened straight after that when everybody I bloody knew in London was on smack. I mean it wasn't rare, it was like ho hum, who isn't? I think we could have. But then we were ignorant. It was like hoo hoo hoo, the big heroin, horse. I didn't know anything about it. It was only after we fired Topper and my friends began to go down like flies. Now most of my friends in London are in Narcotics Anonymous. They can't even have a glass of wine. Just cigarettes and coffee. It's forever.

. . . I never liked heroin. I never even took it. I might have smoked it once in Holland. I remember the bloke said, "Zis next joint has the heroin in it.' . . . I took like a show puff, the one where you keep it in your mouth. . . . And that was the only time I ever got really near heroin.

Q: Was the Clash as political as people made it out?

Probably not. I always tried to stress that in the later interviews. I didn't want to pretend to be somebody I wasn't. I kept saying, "Hey you know, we're drug addict musicians." That's what I used to say to journalists--"Hang on, don't get the wrong idea that were carrying around 'Das Kapital' and loads of pamphlets." We had Mott the Hoople records and reefer, you know?

I often felt that all got a bit unbalanced. I kept trying to stress that--"Hang on, we're be-bop guys, we're down in the alley on 57th Street. We're not in there with John Reed and 'Ten Days That Shook the World.' We'd be in the alley with (Charlie) Parker shooting up junk." That's where we were at really. I mean not shooting up junk, but if you had to say which camp are you in I'd have to say hey, we were up Bop Alley. I often felt worried that people thought we were Che Guevara.

Q: Where did the politics come from?

Don't misconstrue me. I'm a human being. I'm not dumping on what I've done. I mean I know we were doing social (stuff), all right? I just don't like boastin' about it, OK? I know what we were doin'. I know damn well what we did. But I ain't gonna start crying about it now, all right?

But the fact is that we were drug addict musicians first and foremost. We loved Chuck Berry, Slim Harpo. We never heard of Friedrich Engels, you know what I mean? The politics were on the street in front of us, man. I didn't have anywhere to live. Don't ask me where my politics came from. I couldn't find anywhere to live. I was willing to wash dishes. I washed plenty of dishes. I dug graves. I cleaned the toilets. I'm not joking on any of these. None of that is an exaggeration. I did exactly what I say. I washed dishes, made omelets, I dug graves, cleaned toilets. And cut grass in the parks. I did the usual things that young men do. I didn't have nothin' behind me. I didn't have nowhere to live.

Q: What are you proudest of that the Clash did?

"Rock the Casbah." . . . It's such a groove. Long live groove. Screw the rest of it.

Meanwhile can I interject something about "Rock the Casbah" here? The true genius of "Rock the Casbah" is Topper Headon. I was in Electric Ladyland (studio) and he said, "Look, I've got this tune, can I put it down?" I said, "OK, Tops, let's put it down. . . ." He ran out in the studio and banged down the drum track to "Rock the Casbah." And then he ran over to the piano and he banged down the piano track to it, and then ran over to the bass and he banged down the bass part. This is, like, I suppose, within 25 minutes, and "Rock the Casbah" is there, boom. Topper Headon did that in 25 minutes. And now he's serving 15 months in (prison). . . . For partially supplying the heroin that killed some guy.

Q: Where's your home?

I live in West London. I grew up in Ankara. It's the capital of Turkey. My father was in the foreign office. I was born there. I also have Armenian blood. And Scottish. . . . I grew up 18 months in Turkey, 18 months in Cairo, two years in Mexico, two years in West Germany, then I went to boarding school in Epsom and I visited my parents in Tehran for 5 years, and then Malawi for a few years, and then went to art school, dropped out, became a bum, better chew gum. . . .

Q: Are you married?

I have two children, with a girl I've lived with for 10 years. Two girls, aged 4 and 2. And we live in West London.

Q: Are you uncomfortable talking about your personal life?

J: Do I give that impression? Well I don't hide nothin'.

Q: Did the birth of your daughter change your outlook?

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