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On Sept. 19, upstairs at Wallplay’s multimedia event space in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a dapper-looking Paul Simonon was lounging on a couch with his old bandmate Mick Jones in front of a roomful of fans, friends and journalists. “If there’s anything you want to know about The Clash,” he said, “it’s all in this new box-set.”
Uh, yeah — maybe that’s because the new Clash retrospective, Sound System, is a 12-disc monstrosity containing remastered versions of the original band’s studio recordings, three full discs of demos, rarities and live tracks and a DVD of all their videos, as well as plenty of bodacious swag including official Clash fanzines, posters, stickers, badges and even Clash-related dogtags, all painstakingly packaged in an exact replica of Mr. Simonon’s beloved old boom-box.
The Sept. 19 event was a private/promotional Q&A moderated by Rolling Stone editor David Fricke, with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon accompanied by their longtime Clash associate Kosmo Vinyl. Sponsored by Sony Music, online gallery Rock Paper Photo and Sailor Jerry Rum, all things Clash converged as Jones, Simonon and Vinyl reminisced one more time for the sake of their adoring audience (and hustling some product) — with the presence of the late Joe Strummer hovering somewhere in the ether, of course.
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Surrounded by vintage photos, classic album posters and rabid Clash devotees, David Fricke noted the urgency of the original band and the vast amount of material they had generated in their six intense years together. “We were just very busy people with a 24-hour lifestyle,” observed Simonon. “There was always something to do.” The group’s special relationship with New York City was a prime subject of discussion, ranging from their show at the Palladium in 1979, a controversial series of concerts at Bonds Casino in 1981, and their historic opening for The Who at Shea Stadium just one year later. Mick Jones seemed especially partial to NYC as a wellspring of inspiration, citing groups like The New York Dolls and The Ramones as well as the original rapper Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
For all intents and purposes, one could take the immense Sound System collection and create a semester-long college course on The Clash. Besides the play-by-play evolution of this extraordinarily influential band, you’d also be compelled to learn all about the dawning of punk in both the United States and England and the integration of music, art and fashion in late 1970s and early 1980s. There’d be pop quizzes on the underground breakthroughs of reggae and rap, breakdancing, graffiti, and the dawning of dance, dub and club remixes in rock — not to mention the tumultuous social, fiscal and celebrity politics that drove Jones, Strummer and Simonon on to their creative peak as a group.
For those interested but not feeling quite so comprehensively inquisitive, there are also two new pared-down Clash CD collections, a 5-disc set of their timeless studio albums and a simple 2-CD Best Of entitled The Clash Hits Back.
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Reminiscing both jovially and graciously, Jones and Simonon noted the influence, support and sometimes subversion of the notorious characters that surrounded the original band during their brief time together, including much credit to longtime Clash manager Bernie Rhodes and London Calling producer Guy Stevens.
After the Q&A Jones, Simonon and Kosmo Vinyl patiently hugged and mugged for the camera as fan after fan posed with their favorite old rock warriors. Familiar and less familiar names from the distant past were evoked as generations of admirers lined up to get their fix. Some of the more clued-in folks made sure to take pictures of noted rock photographer/punk chronicler Bob Gruen as he himself took some new photos of the surviving Clash dudes for posterity’s sake.
So, is this it? Is Sound System the end-all/be-all for once and future Clash fanatics? Has the last historic stone finally been turned? Only time will tell.
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