Most people my age were raised by hippies. Their parents spent their young adulthoods listening to the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. My parents, on the other hand, were not hippies. My parents were punks. They spent their young adulthoods listening to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and my personal favorite, The Clash. After I was born, their taste in music did not get watered down; it just got more eclectic. Riding in the car as a child, the tapes often wavered between children’s performers like Sharon, Lois and Bram or Raffi, but also the 1979 hit album “London Calling” or 1981’s “This is Radio Clash” by The Clash. By the time I was four years old, I knew all the words to both “Baby Beluga” and “Rock the Kasbah”.
Led by frontman, Joe Strummer, The Clash sang songs about working class struggle and disenfranchised youth trying to find their ways through a world filled with advertising, war, violence and drug abuse. Sure, I didn’t understand what most of it meant. But it definitely struck a chord with me.
Thirty years ago, today, The Clash headlined a concert series called “The Carnival Against Nazis.” Organized by the organization, Rock Against Racism, in response to a series of racist comments made by British rockstars, The Clash along with X Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, and The Tom Robinson Band played in front of 100,000 fans. The Proceeds of the concert went to the Anti-Nazi League. This was crucial to the strength of the Punk scene in Britain. Many places had seen their clubs overrun by skin heads and neo-nazis. But the wild and passionate work against the established evils of racism and sexism had fallen away. For The Clash and X Ray Spex to speak out against Skinheads and Nazis was a very brave move.
Today, many of the original musicians have returned to fight racism. X Ray Spex and many of the original members of The Clash—Strummer died in 2003—have come out along with newer bands like Babyshambles and played the “Love Music, Hate Racism” concert in order to combat growing neo-nazi and anti-immigrant sentiments in Great Britain.
Even though Strummer died five years ago and many of the things the Clash stood against—war, poverty, violence and racism—still exist, their music has always been a call to action for many. To this day, “London Calling” has been one of my unofficial social justice theme songs: in a world of shiny distractions and war with no end—there is still Joe Strummer and The Clash reminding me that there is some truth in this world.