Music Memory Lane: The Only Record That Mattered

 The Clash – London Calling (1979)

When I was a freshman in college there was a music war between the rock traditionalists who clung to The Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Who, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Ozzy, el al., opposed by the modernists who championed Punk and New Wave bands like Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and this band, The Clash, labeled by its most passionate fans as “The Only Band That Matters.” I loved “Classic Rock” but this new music out of New York City, London, and Manchester won me over by the sheer excellence and excitement of the music; it was my generation finding a voice and sound to call its own, and here it was in all its glory on London Calling, the greatest Punk/Post-Punk/New Wave record by the best band.

I realized something in early 1982 as I absorbed the ethos inspiring this new, radical, cool music: It was time to move on from the music and ideas from the 60s and 70s. It was time to change. It was time to grow. It changed my life in how I viewed everything, not just music, but also politics, society, culture, and my role in the greater world. Mainly it forced me to look at myself and change who I was—indeed, inspired by this new music and new ideas, I looked within myself to find what I could change, and change I did in radicals ways that I’d been previously frightened to even consider.

In 1981-82 I felt trapped in a life I felt I was living for others; I was a fat, miserable, decadent, substance-abusing mope wandering around without feeling or purpose. I felt myself wasting away in college, bored and throughly uninterested in the path it was taking me. One morning I woke up and decided to take control of my life, change myself, even reinvent who I was to the very core of my being. And I did–I dropped out of college, joined the Army, and got as far away from my previously miserable life as I possibly could. It was my act of rebellion on the one hand and a cleansing of all my previous sins on the other, a chance to reinvent myself as the person I wanted to be, not who I was.

London Calling is now, oddly enough, played on Classic Rock radio, and of course it’s classic Rock & Roll as much as The Who or Stones or Zeppelin or Rush. But in the early 80s it was a revolution of sound, style, and attitude, a new generation taking the music of Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Stones, Beatles, Who, Zeppelin, Bowie, etc. and taking it elsewhere, to different, newer directions. The Clash played a diverse melange of styles on this record, from Ska and Reggae to Punk and traditional English Rock, and even a little Blues and Country, all filtered through Joe Strummer’s unique voice and vision. It wasn’t Punk any more in the way Tommy wasn’t a Mod record by The Who. It was just Rock & Roll. GREAT Rock & Roll. It was rebellious. Cool. Intelligent. And of course it kicked butt. It was the defining work of my generation.

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