Billy Bragg on The Clash
British folk-punk politico Billy Bragg has long been described as a combination of Woody Guthrie and the Clash, so it was no surprise that his 1998 collaboration with Wilco — setting unscored Guthrie lyrics to music — proved such a huge artistic success. Now they’ve just released a sequel, Mermaid Avenue Vol II. But Bragg hasn’t forgotten the other half of the equation, and he still cherishes his first encounter with the Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut.
”Me and my crew were fans of the Jam, and they had a gig opening for the Clash on their first big tour. When the Clash came out… Christ! They were just so full of energy. Then there was a riot, which I suppose helped imprint it in my mind. So the next weekend we went out and bought the Clash album. Up till then I’d been listening to music made by people of an older generation, and I had absolutely no idea how I could get from singing Rolling Stones songs in my mum’s back room to playing at Shea Stadium. When I heard the Clash, it swept away all my dreams of playing in a stadium and replaced them with dreams of changing the world by playing very loud fast songs. We immediately cut our hair and threw away our flare trousers. Now I realize I was naive to think the Clash could change the world by singing about it. But it wasn’t so much their lyrics as what they stood for and the actions they took. That became really important to me. Phil Collins might write a song about the homeless, but if he doesn’t have the action to go with it he’s just exploiting that for a subject. I got that from the Clash, and I try to remain true to that tradition as best I can.”