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Saturday
Feb162008

This… Is… Radio… Clash

College radio may be the most subversive place in the world. Alone in the
studio, with a couple of turntables, a cart machine, a phone line and an open
mic, the moments and the music are exactly what you choose to make them. It
is filled with both possibility and community. Send your cry out and see what
comes back…

For a Midwestern girl, even one with a record collection as vast as mine,
the idea that total strangers were going to be influenced by what I played --
well, that was something that made my pulse race. And having driven by Record
Revolution in Cleveland Heights all through high school, sneaking in there
whenever I could to see what was below the radar of even Kid Leo's breaking
afternoon drive show on legendary rocker WMMS, I knew there were records that
existed beyond the pale.

The first time I heard the Clash, a guy named Tony Christy -- who college
dee jayed as Antonachem on WPRK, the teeny Rollins College station -- spun
them from a vinyl 45 during the schizophrenic thorazine-needed late night
punk programming that was the antidote to the afternoon and early evening's
classical offerings. Tony Christy with the 9 p.m. shadow, the olive skin, the
eyes that never stopped moving and the intense sense of what mattered,
leaning into the mic, barely breathing, uttering after a long rambling free
associative ramp up, "This… is… The CLASH!"

And what ensued was the jabbing herky jerky profession that "…this IS
radio Clash." Over and over. Around that 45 went. I was transfixed.

Electrical current ran through me. WHAT was it? How did it get like that? And
how did I miss this utterly vital thing… this life force that made me think
of how scary Keith Richards seemed, how out of control Keith Moon was?

The Sex Pistols were rage to rage. The Clash was a focus to their anger…
enragement based on something beyond selfish desire. It was Jackson Browne
with a hard-wired, hardcore reflex response. It was vicious. It was white hot
-- and there I was in that cobbled together studio, with the lights low, the
candles and incense burning, jumping up and down in a little white girl pogo.
It wasn't violent. It didn't seem to be the byproduct of electroshock
therapy. It was the energy that needed somewhere to go and the balls and
heels that knew what to do. If the Clash were pissed off… If they were the
Ramones with a political agenda… Then this was what the revolution would
sound like, and if Gil Scot Heron was right --and the revolution would not
be televised, at least it would chew up the airwaves like silverware in a
blender grinding and whirling and shattering the silence with the jarring
sounds of metallic fury.

But the Clash - like Elvis Costello's "Good Year For The Roses" (country
music? Yech) and Prince's "Controversy" (hormonally-adled funk) -- were
Tony's, not mine. I could watch him spin breathless, but I could never own
that kind of focused rage and intensity.

After all, I was "Muffy" in th first degree: a pink button down shirt and
a pair of espadrilles, a pony tail secured with a great big bow. Girls like
me, even if we slummed in the right record stores, didn't get to buy in,
didn't get to belong to that world. We weren't welcome… we were the problem.
Until I transferred. And I decided to jettison any sense of what was
appropriate.

When I hit WVUM -- the Voice of the University of Miami -- I reinvented
myself as Angel Dust and I was as downlow and worldly as any female voice
that ever worked that mic. Angel knew things -- and to that girl, the Clash
was anything but lost! They were Angel's birthright, and she reached for them
directly.

Sandinista. London Calling. The Clash. They all came with white stickers
that threatened in big black Sharpie scratched letters: "Remove from Studio,
Prepare To Die" and "Failure To Replace Means Instant Termination." Of
course, it did… Otherwise, how would the copies stay in the station.
Insurrection at 33 1/3. It was right there at one's finger tips.

In a world of Fun Boy 3, Banarama, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, the
Smiths, Souixsie Souix & the Banshees, the English Beat and the Pretenders,
not to mention Generation X, the Stray Cats, Romeo Void, the Ramones, Charlie
Picket + the Eggs, the Replacements and these new guys from Athens R.E.M.
(and later fellow Georgians Love Tractor), the Clash stood out. They were
integrity that was gritty. They were rancorous with a strong melodic sense.
They were backbeats to beat you with, to drive the point home -- and they
understood that rock & roll was about abandon, freewheeling and full-tilt.
It was a time of much personal and musical stratification -- coming of
age in South Florida, where nights were spent straddling the gay dance clubs
and a column about dance records for The Weekly News, the first Swatch Watch
Fresh Fest Tour with Whodini and Grandmaster Flash, plus Schlitz Malt Liquor
tours and profiles for Black Miami Weekly and the country freelancing for a
Top 10 daily newspaper you mighta heard of called The Miami Herald.
Each world was impossibly singula, rich with stories, ripe with moments
that opened whole vistas up. But they were bound together by the glory of
music's ability to deliver one's soul to the other side. There was plenty to
recommend each flavor… There was even a great deal of overlapping from one to
another… Which is the greatest beauty of the beat.

Still for the majesty and the spectacle, the moments where the rhythms
carry you along, nothing burned as bright or as insistently as the Clash when
they were on. Making you think. Making you jump. Making you scream. Making
you transcend moments to where there's nothing left.

My youth was scattered like so many fragments of broken glass. Bluffing
my way backstage for an Elvis Costello and the Attractions show. Waiting and
waiting in in the always dark and dank lobby of Cleveland's famed rock and
roll hotel Swingos for the U2 interview that kept slipping until it had
slipped away. Spending Thanksgiving at the Waldorf Astoria, watching the
rockabilly punks surrounding the Stray Cats cast against the opulence -- and
marveling at the contrast to the pasty Long Island white boys in the standard
Holiday Inn hotel room I'd interviewed them in my field hockey shorts because
it'd taken so long to confirm they'd do it, there was no time to change.
It was the blazing red burn on Modern English -- who hadn't discovered
sunscreen as they hit the beach for Spring Break shows in the name of "I Melt
With You," the exhaustion around Annabella Lwin's young eyes, sprawled in a
torn up dressing room before bounding onstage to exhort "I Want Candy" with
her multi-culti punkish new wavers Bow Wow Wow one more time. It was seeing
the Black Flag hand bills on the telephone poles for a 27 Birds show, and the
same kick-stepping socio-politcal fire igniting the Dead Kennedys mosh frenzy
in a castaway bar on Miami Beach.

You could say those were the days. Innocence and kerosene looking for a
match. Sid Vicious hadn't died. The rest of the Sex Pistols hadn't sold out.
Debbie Harry was still a vinyl clad siren walking the Phil Specter edge of
punk -- even as Patti Smith tore poetry by the roots from her desperation and
moved ever closer to rock.

It was all so RIGHT THERE.
But it all started with the Clash. And a timid girl. And a man who
smelled of musk and patchouli with a voice that was gravel and uncombed wool
and knowing something that "you, little one… will never figure out." I didn't
have to, because deep inside, I knew…

Today, came the e-mail from London. "Sad mourning…" wrote the friend from
the BBC. The one who explained that his pompadour wasn't an Elvis affectation
and that his life was littered with all the important Clash shows. He
believed from up-close, from the rush and the fury.
From across an ocean, how do you tell someone like that, you feel a part
of you has been snuffed out as well. An artist you never met, ever saw, only
genuflected before those burning records… And yet, those records threw me off
a balcony, left me grabbing for a meaning that -- imagine this -- had been
deep inside me all along.

And that's probably the biggest bitch of it: that part of me's flown up
to pink and black heaven, studded and leathered and agitating even as it
flies. These are the things we don't even think about missing 'til they're
gone… so vital how does something like this even happen? 50? Unimaginable,
and yet… but once they are gone, the numbness sets in, and you can only hope
the tears will bring a thaw.

Til then, it's not a matter of should I stay or should I go --
I'll stake my claim and fight that much harder because of what I was felt
in the lost hours. Something lost that shouldn't have been -- and shouldn't
ever again.

23 December 2002
Nashville, TN

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