Book review / Rebels with a curse

A Riot of our Own: night and day with The Clash by Johnny Green and Garry Barker, illustrated by Ray Lowry, Indigo, pounds 8.99

The Clash were a potentially world-class rock band who became major casualties of the confusing battle waged over five decades of youth culture. When youth and leisure were a new invention, ideas, influences and creativity coalesced into the mass bohemianism that came to define being young. In the earlier postwar decades, all this activity - propelled by usury or utopianism - had a profound effect on the dominant culture.

Gradually, inevitably, it was then distilled down to its most basic impulses: energy, style, sex, dance, speed, chemicals - in short, ecstasy. On this shiny bubble of delirium bobbing atop real life, you pay for all the rides and retire sweat-sodden after a few years to strap on the unchanging manacles of marriage and mortgage, progeny and profit. The Clash were shot down in this great fight between youth as a credible creative force - and youth as passive style consumers, profitable and lightweight. The band combined these opposed forces and walked a razor blade. They were both scary, awesomely talented punk musicians, and very cute children who looked great and wanted to play with all the toys of carefree excess.

This is their story, told from the trenches of those old wars by their ex-road manager and partner in crime, and excellently adorned by Ray Lowry's manic, ripped, cross-hatched cartoons. Johnny Green was a big, truculent guy, a closet intellectual, his appearance deceptively mellowed by large specs suggestive of (as Joe Strummer says) "a librarian in Macclesfield". However, a river of pure madness and mayhem raged through Green's personality, fed by tributaries of sarcasm, irony, chemicals, fags and booze.

Some may hold that my having been vaguely privy to the events of this book equips me to pronounce upon it. Is it authentic? Yes. It is as true as a sequence of memories from a single perspective ever can be. Here it all is, London calling from the top of the dial: the low-life riggers, the bags of cash, the cops, the coke, the quarrels, up and down the Westway, drinking brew for breakfast, the great bass speakers, the driving rain and reggae, expectation, expectoration, the nuclear nights when the garage band revved it up to bone-breaking levels of intensity, warring managers, the winding-up of fellow soldiers such as Tom Robinson and Richard Hell, becoming less bored with the USA.

Others may consider that familiarity with the material obviates objectivity. So let me also say that the very authenticity of the book ensures intervals of monotony, known as "touring". Rehearsing and recording have conversational limitations; and this is largely Boys' Own territory, with female roles pretty much restricted to certifiable nags and slags.

But, overall, this is a great, witty tribute to the only lastingly listenable punk band. Weep for the lost lyrical promise of Jones and Strummer. Relive the exultant perversity of "London's drowning and I - I live by the river". And down they went.

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