remnants: the excitement gang, or: dreams about the Clash

the excitement gang

remnants: the excitement gang, or: dreams about the Clash

It’s been 20 years since we lost Joe. I had flown home for the holidays, Seattle red-eye to NYC, and I walked into my parents’ house and hadn’t even taken off my coat when I got a text from my friend Joel with the terrible news, and then had to sit with it while I worked on the six dozen computer problems my dad had saved for me and the rest of the holiday family activities.

I was lucky to have seen the Clash back in the day; stupidly I missed Joe and the Mescaleros not once but TWICE: once it was raining and the fucking Wallflowers were opening at the Sky Church and I had stupid work and so sold the tickets very quickly to someone on the Microsoft concert ticket exchange. The other time it was at the Moore and it was the day after a Bridge School weekend. I was always exhausted and always went straight to work and so I knew better but now OH MY GOD WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WAS I THINKING.

I wrote this piece about the Clash years ago and have been thinking about it all week so I thought I’d recycle it since most of you haven’t read it. I’m also including a piece I wrote for in 2009 about seeing the first time Bruce Springsteen covered “London Calling.” And there’s a little video surprise as well.

the excitement gang

I used to dream about seeing the Clash live.

When I say “dream” I mean not that I used to wish out loud for it, but that I would have these vivid dreams about seeing them, reunited, on tour again. In daylight, I never ever thought about it – but in dreams, it would come. I was always standing towards the back of Key Arena in Seattle, the floor was GA, and the lights were red and I was hot and sweaty and jumping around and I’d turn around and run into someone I knew – sometimes it was Mark Arm from Mudhoney, sometimes it was Beth Liebling, sometimes it was just friends of mine, people I knew. It didn’t surprise me that everyone was there because it would be hard for me to know someone who wouldn’t drop everything to go watch the Clash play again.

The dreams stopped happening after December 23, 2002.

I will never forget landing in New York for Christmas and getting to my parents’ house and getting a barrage of simultaneous text messages, telling me that Joe had died. It was not a fun Christmas.

I never understood why I had these dreams. I was lucky; I saw the Clash, I saw them in real time, I saw them and talked to them and made a box of presents for them when they opened for the Who in Philadelphia, I went to see them instead of going to my senior prom, for heavens’ sake. I had actual, real memories.

Obviously, though, the dreams were giving me something that was missing at the time. And I don’t think I ever felt absence that as acutely as I do now, watching Springsteen in the UK, opening with “Coma Girl” at Glastonbury, dedicating “Badlands” to Joe, opening the show in Hyde Park with “London Calling” knowing that Mick Jones was in the audience. I watch the crowds and want to be there, because for two minutes maybe I could remember what it felt like. For those few minutes in Philadelphia (seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform “London Calling”), I was jumping around to someone playing “London Calling” live and in front of me, in an arena, not a cover band, not a band that wants to sound like the Clash (no names). And I could pogo and scream and feel amazing.

It was amazing.

That was the thing about those Key Arena dreams, it felt like I was really seeing the Clash. And it’s not just that I miss the Clash, or that Joe was taken from us too soon, or that there is some kind of colossal divine retribution that Bruce Springsteen is playing Clash songs (like my review of the Philadelphia show for said, “At the moment those chords came out of the PA, I wanted to call every single person I knew in high school and yell, ‘SEE? PUNK ROCK DOESN’T SUCK AFTER ALL!'”). It is having that part of me come out of mothballs. It is remembering. It is feeling. It is my standard retort to hipsters who try to cool me into feeling uncool, “Hey, I saw the Clash at Bonds.”

It is honoring Joe. It is honoring the Clash. It is honoring a time and a place that has long left us. It is fucking awesome.

originally published on 2009

Philadelphia Calling, 4-29-2009

20-something years ago, when I heard the line in “Jungleland” about kids flashing guitars just like switchblades, I didn’t think of New York City, I thought of Philadelphia. I thought of Philadelphia because the crowds down there were deadly earnest, did not trifle with their rock ‘n’ roll, and playing a show down there was taking a stand for or against something, anything, but it was taking a stand. Philly audiences would settle for nothing less than blood on the stage, but they gave as good as they got.

20-something years later, not much has changed.

Bruce playing the Spectrum was not about the new arena across the street being booked. It was because Bruce wanted to play the Spectrum. I have been to the Sports Arena Complex in Philadelphia many times over the years, but driving into the Spectrum parking lot this afternoon, knowing I was going to see E Street on that stage tonight guaranteed instant flashbacks. I can only imagine what it was doing for Bruce, and in my mind the setlist showed us, beginning with that opening one-two punch of “Badlands” into “The Ties That Bind.” (As a note, “Outlaw Pete” in the number-three slot seemed to flow much better.)

But the key ingredient in Philly is the audience, and they, too, delivered. The opening drumroll–not even the intro organ chords, the drumroll that opens “Spirit in the Night” generated the loudest response from an audience for that song within recent memory. The loud, welcoming cheer starting all the way in the back of the room when the camera went to the “Thundercrack” sign warned any pretenders to vacate the premises. And, when “Hungry Heart” gratefully substituted for “Sunny Day,” the audience gave the first verse back loud enough to shake the rafters. It was a singalong out of the ’80s, when the song was new and barely on radio but it was there and it was ours and we were going to sing it loud and proud. Bruce soaked it all up, running over to the side of the stage at the end to put his mother on the spot and made her sing along, too.

When someone in the GA line mentioned that “London Calling” had been soundchecked I paid them absolutely no mind, dismissing it as the uninformed ramblings of the delusional. I saw the sign get picked, but I saw a lot of signs get picked. I did not expect to hear this song played, and it completely blew my mind. It might seem hypocritical to dwell on a non-Springsteen song after my previous nostalgic waxing for Ye Olden Days, but to me, having “London Calling” here in this room, in this set, was no disconnect. “The River” says 1981? Well, nothing says 1979 in my house like “London Calling.” At the moment those chords came out of the PA, I wanted to call every single person I knew in high school and yell, “SEE? PUNK ROCK DOESN’T SUCK AFTER ALL!” — until I remember that those people didn’t much like Springsteen, either (at least until 1984, anyway). Special props here go to Garry W. Tallent, because that bassline executed anywhere south of flawless would have killed the song.

Joe Strummer would have been proud to have been in that room tonight. Joe Strummer would have been honored by that performance. I am still picking myself up off the floor.

From the Out Of Nowhere Department: “Red Headed Woman,” in a duet that I would like to say would have made Johnny and June Carter proud, except that I’m not sure about how June would have actually felt about it. In front of us, some proud parent seized the moment to put their child on their shoulders, and all I could think was, “Please put her down, do you really want your young daughter acknowledged during this song?” (And in case you were wondering, no, he didn’t sing that verse.) Compare that interlude to the lovely, appropriate “Streets of Philadelphia,” making its first appearance in Philly since 2003. (More kudos to the crowd who voiced their approval at the very first synth chords.) It is easy to forget how beautiful and powerful the lyrics of that song are.

And when we thought we were done, and we couldn’t stand no more: “One more for Philly!’ and Bruce in the spotlight and those knife-sharp chords heralding the return of–well, you know who: “Kitty’s Back.” No one was leaving early, no one was trying to beat the traffic. It was rapt, joyous attention to the very last note.

as originally published on, april 2009

p.s. a funny story about the Philadelphia show: it was my only show on that leg of the tour, and when I didn’t hit the lottery for front pit *and* was so far back the best I could do was front of the soundboard. I was absolutely miserable when a friend came over and was trying to figure out how to get me into the pit. Long story short, he mentioned it to Dave Marsh (who, of course, *was* in the pit) and bless his heart, Dave came and rescued me a couple of songs into the show.

On our way up front, he asked, “Did you hear the soundcheck?”

Afterwards, people in our group were congratulating me like it was my song. In a lot of ways, it was.