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Books - J

JOE STRUMMER AND THE LEGEND OF THE CLASH - Kris Needs {Plexus} (352 pages)
If ever a band deserved a plethora of literary works, be it good or bad, then it was THE CLASH. Thankfully, this book by former Zigzag Editor, Kris Needs, sits at the top of the pile. Unlike many of the other books, this is not a biography compiled studiously from old interviews (like Marcus Gray’s Last Gang In Town), or a retrospective tome incorporating circumspect new interviews. This has elements of both but, crucially, this reads like Needs’ own journal as he was an associate of Mike Jones’ prior to THE CLASH and became one of the band’s most trusted ‘insiders’ throughout its career, becoming not just an ally but a friend. The interviewees lose any inhibitions and open up to Needs as, it appears, he was/ is one of the few to be trusted.
The book begins with an analysis of Strummer’s conversion to Punk and the initial suspicion with which he was greeted. It then delves back further to the Elgin Road squat, the 101’ers and Needs associating with Jones via Mott The Hoople.
From there on, it is a detailed, authorative and enjoyable read on every aspect of THE CLASH as a band, as individuals and of the key players who operated with the band. Yes, it is a familiar story, but Needs’ narrative is an objective observation from someone who lived and breathed THE CLASH. Evidence of this critique-band relationship runs the course of the book: Needs witnessed practices at Rehearsals Rehearsals, was present at recording sessions for the iconic debut album, was responsible for the band’s first ever US review, attended the first listening of ‘London Calling’ in its entirety the instant the final mix had been completed (albeit mummified in gaffer tape via a Strummer prank), joined the band on tour... The list is endless - I could add the story of Needs changing his trousers at Mick’s grandma’s as Sid Vicious may have taken offence at his flares!
Post-CLASH, Needs digs up a massive amount of information on each band member. If there is a criticism, the only one I could consider is the fact that Joe’s stint in THE POGUES was virtually dismissed over a couple of pages. It ends, fittingly, with a virtual obituary on Strummer’s passing. The book’s finale and epilogue is a touching dissection of what Strummer, and THE CLASH, meant to so many.
Needs does not appear to sensationalise the band, or his involvement with them. His approach is very down-to-earth and sincere. He knew each band member intimately and does not shy away from identifying their errors, be it Topper’s hedonism, Jones’ rock ‘n’ roll ambitions, Strummer’s impatience when it came to the Bernie Rhodes-infuenced sacking of Mick and Topper, or of his complete disdain for the ‘Bogus Clash’ that created the crap that is ‘Cut The Crap’. At the same time, he empathises with each member - an empathy that could only come from someone connected with the band on a partisan level. The only person who really comes out looking like a manipulating capitalist is manager, Bernie Rhodes. Go figure...
Easily the best testament of what was the greatest of all the original Punk bands. Needs writes with verve, intelligence and wit (his dismal of BOOMTOWN RATS and THE POLICE is fantastic while his comment about Margaret Thatcher ‘goose-stepping her way to power’ is spot on). Most importantly, his first-hand accounts of what was his history as much as that of the band’s are gripping and unique. The only other CLASH book to do that is Johnny Green’s A Riot Of Our Own. That was good, but this is exemplary. (04.01.10)