And off, or on, we go with our current “As Others Cheese Us” theme, taking a look at how non-U.S.-based artists see America. And in the case of the Clash, it’s rather a jaundiced view.
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Is it wrong of me that I find this kind of adorable?
Yes, I know, I know. I have great respect for Joe Strummer, and there was no doubt that he was trying to address serious topics here, and if it’s not in the deepest way, well, when was punk ever deep?
He wanna shoot some skag
He met it in Cambodia,
But now he can’t afford a bag
Well, sure, I guess. An American veteran wandering around London in search of heroin — not exactly a pop cultural touchstone, but I guess it might’ve happened. But it’s not like heroin was unheard of in London’s punk clubs even without the odd drug-addled Yank hanging around, so there doesn’t seem to be much of a larger point here.
Yankee dollar talk
To the dictators of the world
In fact it’s giving orders
An’ they can’t afford to miss a word
Ah, here we’re getting into the real politics! American aid finances the dictators of the world! Can’t argue that it hasn’t been the case at some moments in history. But the idea that America could freely give orders to foreign dictatorships, which they would eagerly obey out of fear of displeasing us? Things have never, ever, in the history of the U.S. (and the world) been anything like that simple. It was laughable in 1977, and it’s flippin’ hilarious now.
He goes on to complain about America’s exported violent pop culture, where detectives are always on TV because “killers in America work seven days a week.” (Sure thing, Joe.) Of course, those shows were wildly popular in the UK, which is why they were and are on the air all the time, but I will grant he may have a valid gripe about the American influence on British pop culture. And Joe goes on to demand:
Never mind the stars and stripes
Let’s print the Watergate tapes
Watergate was an absurdly dated reference even in 1977, and I’m not sure how we got from a flag to audio transcripts — was the U.S. flag turning up in British publications with any regularity at the time? Or was there a big UK readership for U.S. Armed Forces publication The Stars and Stripes?
I’ll salute the New Wave
And I hope nobody escapes
Ah, when “New Wave” was almost a synonym for “punk,” and it was mean and dangerous instead of stylish and sardonic. It was a fun couple of months there.
But of course I’m being totally unfair here. Punk is about the attitude, not the specifics of the words, and despite the New Wave reference, this is genuine punk, and not the punked-out power pop the Clash soon became better known for. And as punk, it’s really all about the chorus:
I’m so bo-o-ored
With the U. S. A.!
I’m so bo-o-red
With the U. S. A!
But what can I do?
I’m sorry, but that just makes me laugh, though not in a mean way. All tough and offensive, yet “bored” is the best verb we can come up with? And melodically, if that is the word, it’s an absolute Ramones knockoff, which just contributes to the adorability that keeps poking through all the attitude. If you lift your style from partiers, then your protest song is gonna sound kind of like … a party.
The vocal’s all London diction and as close to unintelligible as a good singer like Joe Strummer could manage, and he’s accompanied by what is, for all of the thrashing about, a fine, driving, and tight ensemble — no anarchy for these guys. No wonder the Clash moved away from pure punk so quickly; they didn’t do it well, for the simple reason that they were better than that. And the Americans they were so bored with in ’77 made Joe Strummer rich, and deservedly so, and good for him. After all, that’s the American way!