NEW YORK – Ah, the boom box. The portable stereo brings back memories of a specific time in music, when some of the sounds blaring from the speakers included the stew of punk rock, reggae and early hip-hop cooked up by the Clash.
Bass player Paul Simonon designed the group’s new box set to look like a boom box. Lift up the cover and you’ll find the complete recorded output of the classic Clash lineup – the late Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Simonon and Topper Headon – with outtakes, videos, fanzines, stickers, a poster and more. The survivors worked a few years to get back control of their music, remaster it and restore the original artwork.
The Clash were leaders of London’s punk rock class of 1977, made one of rock’s most enduring albums in “London Calling” and soaked up the sounds of the street in hits like “Train in Vain” and “Rock the Casbah.” Jones and Headon were fired in 1982, and although replacements were added and another album, “Cut the Crap,” released in 1985, that final chapter is ignored in the “Sound System” box.
The balding Jones now looks like a kindly British professor as he sits down to talk about the project. Simonon, who always looked better than he played, is impeccably tailored.
They confide a few myth-puncturing details in an interview with the Associated Press: “The Only Band That Matters” declaration was record company hype that they detested, and the band poked fun at their political crusader image in the song “Know Your Rights,” only people took them too seriously to notice.
Before the Clash, Jones went to art school not to learn how to draw, but to meet other musicians. He took a grant given to buy art supplies and bought an amp instead.
It proved to be a good investment.
AP: Were the Clash destined to burn bright and burn out fast?
Simonon: We didn’t know it at the time, but I guess so. When we first started, I was surprised that we got through the end of the week, really.
Jones: Nothing was guaranteed. I knew that we worked really hard, nearly every day.
AP: Is it a regret that you ended when you did?
Simonon: We were starting to lose track with Earth because fame and success brings you many things that you’re not really prepared for or know how to deal with as a human being. When it does happen, it’s very easy to get swallowed up and be taken along with it and become a casualty or lose touch with reality. The fact that we fell apart when we did, sacking everybody, in some ways stopped those potential problems.
AP: Did you make your peace with Joe Strummer before he died (in 2002)?
Jones: It was well before he died. It was just a few months after I left the group that we became friends again.
Simonon: We appeared in Mick’s B.A.D. video for “Medicine Show,” just to show outwardly that we were friends again.
AP: If he had lived, do you think the Clash would have gotten back together?
Jones: We had opportunities. That’s it, really. It didn’t happen. It never seemed right.
Jones: We didn’t want to do it.
Simonon: It’s a better story at the end of the day that we didn’t get back together. We saved all that time and effort by not reforming. It seems like we would have squandered what we’d achieved by reforming. Why do people get together? Why do bands reform? Oh, they’re good mates. Well, that’s nice. It’s usually because of a financial situation that has to be adhered to. Basically, everyone’s broke.
Jones: Our band is an idea as well. It kind of said, ‘You can do this.’ We can say all this now in retrospect and sort of understand it. When we did it, we just did it instinctively with no thought of future significance.
AP: Does the world need a band like the Clash today?
Jones: There’s not much going on, is there?