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In 1981 I Interviewed Paul Simonon Of The Clash For Creem… Now Read On!!!

That bastard Creem writer, I’d like to kick his head in












(In 1981 I was a hard drinking, extremely aggressive rock and roll writing gun for hire and never happier than when disagreeing with everyone! 32 years later, I read this and wonder what I was thinking of. I love London Calling and prefer Sandinista. Plus, why was I being so rough on Paul? He couldn’t have been sweeter. I guess I didn’t want to appear obsequious.  One other thing, the Clash didn’t feel like part of a musical community at really any point? Isn’t that weird?  Anyway,  I sure got the story and this interview got quoted in the Clash bio The Last Gang In Town. Thanks to Rock’s Back Pages who have archived loads of my old stuff, for finding it -IL)

Heart & Mind: The Paul Simonon Interview

Iman Lababedi, Creem, May 1981

WHATEVER YOU think of the Clash — and I haven’t much cared for them since ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’ — a couple of things are indisputable. They’re successful, and they’re sincere in their political endeavors.

That said, the result of this is somnambulistic, self-indulgent albums. Which leaves this writer in the strange position of loving the Clash despite their music, not because of it. Puerile lyrics, dated noises. When it works, on bits and pieces of London Calling,it was almost by chance. ‘Train In Vain’ wasn’t even credited on the album. ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ seemed easy going compared to the sloganeering bombastics of the rest of the songs. Their latest opus, the triple Sandinista! is simply awful. Besides the obvious tastelessness in calling a pop platter after a revolution, it found the Clash in a real mess, staggering around from style to style and theme to theme, like a guerilla with his head cut off. In a silly attempt to sound moderne, it sounded old before it was even released. The thing is, they’ve forgotten how to write a good tune. Not only is there no ‘Complete Control’ here, there’s not even a ‘Stay Free’. The Clash are not what they once could have been and if they aren’t just another pop group, if they don’t get their shit together, they’ll end up that way.

Whatever my own reservations towards the band are, I’d have to be a bloody fool to turn down the chance to talk to them. At 11:30 I present myself at The Black Hole (CBS Bldg. Manhattan), 13th Floor. I have a friend in tow for moral support, a tape recorder (broken, but I don’t know that yet) in one hand and a list of guideline questions (which I promptly lose) in the other. I’m greeted by P.R. agent extraordinaire Gale Sparrow, a chirpy, attractive young lady who seems constantly in motion, unlike me. I woke up late, haven’t shaved, and look more fit to be collecting the garbage than representing a national magazine. “Hello, you must be Iman” she shrills. “Paul was here a moment ago. He arrived before I did today. I didn’t expect to see him awake this early. Do you have a copy of the new album. Here’s one by Gary Glitter, Shakin’ Stevens. Have you the new Adam and the Ants. Leave your address and I’ll send one. A poster of the Clash fell off my window, would you like it?” I take everything they’re giving (avaricious little bugger). A tall, gangly, incredibly thin young man enters the office. Replete in two-tone Titfer, raincoat and dazzling red shirt. “There you are Paul. This is Iman from CREEM Magazine. Have you got those tapes you wanted? I think they’re in the other office. We’re going to see the video, then we’ll go across the street to do the interview. Is that alright, good.” Off we go to the video room. It could fit 30 people easy.

I’ve seen the video before. It’s the black and white one for ‘The Call Up’. Sitting alone in the dark I begin to get decidedly nervous. Paul is a notoriously difficult interviewee. I haven’t really listened to the new platter and the sheer opulence of my surroundings is making me feel insignificant. The lights turn on and we trudge out, pick up Paul on the way and cross the street for a coupla of bevys and a bit a talk. I order a scotch and coke, Paul, a double vodka straight up, and it’s all systems G.O. Except my tape recorder won’t work. The batteries are deader than Ellen Foley’s career. Gale phones to a lacky at CBS and a new recorder is found. Now there’s no socket for the stupid machine, so we all change places. Then neither I, nor Gale can work it. It’s left to Paul to figure out the mechanics. What follows is a practically verbatim report of our conversation. I found Paul a remarkably pleasant man. Very together, very polite and willing to answer anything I liked for as long as I liked.

CREEM: Are the Clash the quintessential political band?

PAUL: It depends what you call political. I think some people get the wrong idea when you discuss politics and us. We are more concerned with personal politics, even though calling our album Sandinista is quite a move. The reason for that is not to waste an album title, in that, we could have called it The Clash Are Back or Our Favorite Songs or something. But calling it Sandinista helps somebody. It helps the revolutionaries in Nicaragua and people in similar situations. It highlighted that situation to many people that didn’t know anything about it.

CREEM: Like ‘The Call Up’…

PAUL: Yeh, that’s an anti-draft song.

CREEM: How do you mean personal politics?

PAUL: Not lettihg people push you around. Questioning for yourself, their actions. Questioning what people are telling you to do. Instead of saying “oh, O.K. then” saying “Why not? Why can’t I?” which is what the Clash have been about since they started. That’s the general attitude of most people till they grow up, kids don’t want to be pushed around. But after awhile it comes to the stage where they don’t question anything, anymore. I think schooling blocks that need to know.

CREEM: So in some ways you’re giving knowledge.

PAUL: Yeah. We’re just highlighting facts 
about things that are happening, and things 
that affect us.

CREEM: How did you become involved with Sandinista?

PAUL: Through a friend of ours in San Francisco. He’s done a radio station in Cuba, fought in the Vietnam War, he’s got quite a history behind him. He keeps us aligned with what’s happening around the world. For those of you without such friends, try reading the newspaper. Like the El Salvador thing, not many people knew about it a year ago. We didn’t know about it a year ago. He gave us magazines and talked to us about it. There are struggles going on and we’re telling people about them.

CREEM: Obviously, you’re fairly big stars now…

PAUL: It all depends what you call a star. I’m just some bloke having a drink and talking to you really.

CREEM: Is there an urge, now that you’re successful, to move away from politics?

PAUL: We can’t really. We are what we are and what we are is people who discuss what is happening in the world. That’s what the Clash are about. Maybe if we split up and went our different ways it’d be a different story. Who knows?

CREEM: In the movie (Rude Boy)the Clash didn’t come across as very nice people.

PAUL: We tried to stop the film. Most of it was a recreation. It was boring, just Ray Grange walking in and out. The only good bits were the concert and it made out that all blacks were thiefs and pickpockets.

CREEM: Would you say the Clash are about the way people make choices?

PAUL: We just want people to wake up a bit. We want kids to think about their actions and what they have to say about things. The problem is a lot of people don’t think. The general bloke just goes through life, gets a job, gets married and all that, and that’s it, that’s the end innit?

CREEM: ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’?

PAUL: I’m not really into Bob Dylan’s work.

CREEM: Going back a bit, I felt that Give ‘Em Enough Rope was marred by the production.

PAUL: More or less. Highly polished wasn’t it.

CREEM: It didn’t have the roughness of the first album.

PAUL: No it didn’t but I think the songs stood up well enough on their own, so it didn’t make much difference. The songs were strong enough even if the production was a bit iffy. I think the production on the first album was a bit iffy as well.

CREEM: The first album doesn’t seem to have aged, the songs are still as true today.

PAUL: A lot of it still rings true in some ways. Like ‘Career Opportunities’ (sung by children a la ‘The Wall’ on Sandinista) is even more so today in England.

CREEM: Was London Calling a move away from punk?

PAUL: I think it was a punk album, so is Sandinista. Punk was about change. The thing is, a lot of people got upset with us ’cause of London Calling. Everybody wanted it to be the first album again. Like the Ramones, their first album was great, then they brought out their second album and it sounded just the same as the first. But come the third, I never bothered buying it ’cause I knew it would be the same. The thing is, we like to take a gamble, we like to take a risk, put ourselves on a thin line.

CREEM: How do you stay so thin?

PAUL: I have no sense of smell, so I don’t get that hungry. Like in Christmas, when everyone’s starving, I can’t smell the turkey.

CREEM: Do you take drugs?

PAUL: Yes. Drugs are O.K. if you use them properly.

CREEM: How do you see your American success in relation to what you’re trying to achieve?

PAUL: It really helps, it allows us to do what we want to do. We have a lot more freedom. Like, in England we said we wanted to release ‘Bankrobber’. CBS said they didn’t want to. So, of course, everybody bought it on import. By the time it was eventually released it went to number 11 in the singles charts. That’s about the best we’ve ever had in England. We wanted to bring out a lot of singles and CBS was really negative about it. Hindering us and not allowing us to do what we’re supposed to be doing. In America the situation is much better.

CREEM: When the Clash started, in London’s punk heyday, was there a sense of “this is a revolution?”

PAUL: There was just a thought. Sort of, do it yourself. There was an aura around it, but, what can three hundred people in a club do? Saying “There must be an independent radio station playing the music we want to hear.” Nothing came of it, that’s all. At the moment we’re one of the few groups surviving from that period and everybody blames us. They’ve all split up or got involved in a load of bollocks. As soon as everyone split up there was no more scene. Before, it was us and the Pistols. After they split it was just us on our own, and there was no one to join forces with. Then we decided to do it on our own. Which is why it’s so easy for people to have a go at us. It’s not as though there are two or three bands with the same general intentions.

CREEM: The Clash have had a hard time of it business-wise. First Bernie Rhodes, then Caroline Coon…

PAUL: Now we manage ourselves. The Clash are unmanageable. Back to what we were saying, in ’77 there weren’t any rules. We just went out and played, instead of practicing guitar chords for a hundred years. The thing was to get up and do it, which we did.

CREEM: Do you regret signing to CBS?

PAUL: Yes and no. If we had had a bit more sense at the time, we’d have made a Clash label. We will definitely have one in the future.

CREEM: Something like Apple?

PAUL: Yeah, we’ll call it Strawberry. No, I don’t know. We help people. Like Sandinista with that we helped a lot of our mates out. Just little things, you know. Well, they maybe little things to us but they’re big things to the people we’re helping.

CREEM: Is that the difference between the Clash and other groups? The fact that the Clash care.

PAUL: Exactly. I’d feel, like a right cunt if I had a hundred quid in my pocket and somebody had nothing, if they asked me to lend them 10 pounds, I’d feel really bad if I just walked off. I’d have to give the guy the 10 quid.

CREEM: In a recent commercial you allowed CBS to call the Clash “the only band that counts.” Isn’t that asking a lot of people to take offense?

PAUL: You better take that up with CBS.

CREEM: Surely you had some say in the matter.

PAUL: Yes we do but you can’t be in two places at once.

CREEM: Still, they must have asked your permission.

PAUL: No they mustn’t. We were in London fighting the record company there. That’s the thing, you can only be in one place at a time. The first time we went out on tour, we were in Amsterdam and CBS in London released ‘London Burning’, a live version, that was atrocious, without us knowing. That’s just one of the many things that have happened to us. It’s a fucking terrible contract. Which is why our advice to anyone about to sign their group is “Check out the contract, or else you’ll cop it.” We’re still paying for it.

CREEM: Are the Clash rich?

PAUL: No we aren’t rich, we’re paying off three managers at the moment and we’re paying off the money we borrowed off CBS. You go in the studio to record an album and the money you use to make that album gets stuck on the bill. The money you need to tour. We lose money whenever we tour. We’ve got to pay for the PA, we’ve got to pay for the lighting, we’ve got to pay for the damaged seats. We’ve got to pay for everything. All the people that get the equipment together, all the light crew, all the motels, all their travel, the other bands playing, everything. We ain’t fucking rich. I suppose it depends what you term rich. You could say that I’m rich in that I can come to New York. Not everybody can do that. In England some people have only $30 to last them a week.

CREEM: Is it nice to get away from England?

PAUL: Yeh, it’s nice to get away from some place that’s driving you crazy. It’s so boring, there’s absolutely nothing to do. Hardly any clubs. That new Blitz thing is horrid, just what we started off fighting against, putting on makeup, stupid. Just nothing at all to do.

CREEM: “…Everybody watching that fucking television?”

PAUL: You can’t even do that, it closes down at 11. People ask why in London or England, kids go around beating each other up, smashing cars in. There’s nothing for them to do, but people don’t seem to realize that. Since Thatcher has gotten in it’s a hundred times worse than it was. They don’t like the Clash in England anymore. That’s the impression I get.

CREEM: I don’t really think so, a lot of people still love them.

PAUL: Well, that’s the impression I get, from the press and like that. Some of my mates across England, phone me up to ask if I’ve got a job for them, or something, and they like the album so I suppose it’s not that bad.

CREEM: The most obvious complaint about Sandinista is that it’s self-indulgent to make a triple album.

PAUL: We never really thought of it like that. I don’t know. We just had a lot of songs. We could have left half of them in the can but we thought, why not bring the whole lot out.

CREEM: Will that count as a single with your contract at CBS?

PAUL: I hope not. In the contract it stipulates how long an album has to be before it’s considered one. With London Calling we were one song away from a double and we had the song as well. We don’t know what they’re going to consider Sandlnista yet.

CREEM: Are you doing anything outside of the Clash?

PAUL: I did a film with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. That was in Vancouver. It’s about a female rock ‘n’ roll group, an English group and a heavy metal group. There’s a big confrontation. The worst thing is that the writer walked off the set three days before it was finished, so God knows how that’s going to turn out. It should be released in February but nothing’s certain. I learned a lot from the experience though.

CREEM: What are you doing in New York?

PAUL: To do interviews really. Joe did a whole lot in London, so I’m doing my share. Mick’s here recording, producing the new Ian Hunter album. He’s been a big Mott The Hoople fan for ten years. I was supposed to be in Jamaica now, recording an album with Mikey Dread. We did a single together in London and it sounds really great. It should be released very soon. Stiff Records put up the money for us ’cause CBS fuck everything up. Stiff are giving us $30,000 to go to Jamaica in June and record it.

CREEM: What’s the story about the guy who interviewed Strummer for CREEM and got a bollocking for blowing smoke in his face?

PAUL: Well, that’s because Joe was about to go onstage. If you’re in the dressing room an hour before Joe goes onstage, and you’ve got a cigarette, you better get out quick. That’s only because Joe’s the one who has to sing most of the songs and it fucks up his voice. It really does.

CREEM: Why did you film the video for ‘The Call Up’ in black and white?

PAUL: It was cheaper. No, I suppose to evoke a World War atmosphere. Showing that we could be fighting at the front next week. Apocalypse is a real possibility, anything is possible.

CREEM: Although I liked some of London Calling, some of it I found offensive like ‘Four Horsemen’ (“Four Horsemen and they’re going to be us”)

PAUL: That’s people taking it the wrong way. People always figured that ‘The Last Gang In Town’ was about us. That’s totally untrue, neither is ‘Four Horsemen’.

CREEM: So what is it about?

PAUL: Fuck knows, I don’t know.

CREEM: ‘Train In Vain’ was a bit of a change of pace.

PAUL: The thing is we always like to tread a thin wire, to put ourselves in places people don’t expect us. We don’t want to be typecast as that sort of group. We just want to do what we want to do. We have that freedom, but a lot of people are having a go at us for having that freedom.

CREEM: In England there’s a feeling of sour grapes that the Clash didn’t remain a British phenomenon.

PAUL: What’s the use of staying at home, there’s a whole world out there. A lot of people really had a go at us when we came to America to tour. This is the group that, sang “We’re so bored with the U.S.A.,” but there they are, going over. What those people don’t realize is ‘Bored With U.S.A.’ wasn’t about that. At the time, the only thing coming into England was American television, and that type of culture. That’s what we were bored with.

CREEM: When’s the next tour going to be?

PAUL: Don’t know yet. We’re thinking of using the Roseland, which is a big dancehall just outside Manhattan, with seats and stuff.

CREEM: How about Madison Square Garden?

PAUL: Too big innit?

CREEM: Oh, come on (it seats 16,000).

PAUL: By too big I mean… Like in London, we played Wembley, and half the people couldn’t see the group. It’s too cold with that many people. It’s easier to play a club. It’s more fun when the people are right there. The only trouble with that is that if people hear we’re going to play a club it gets too packed. It’s not fair to the people that want to see us, then can’t. I think four, five thousand seaters are reasonable. It’s not fair to let twenty thousand come in and only half of the people can see us. I’d rather not do it at all.

CREEM: Any contemporary musicians you’re enamored of?

PAUL: Hmmm. The Slits. I can’t think of anybody I really like. Pearl Harbor, she’s got a great voice. I listen to a lot of reggae. Something about that beat that really gets to me. It’s really close to our own stuff. You know, what they talk about, everyday occurrences.

CREEM: But very sexist.

PAUL: Yeah. Depends what you listen to really. But that’s the whole Rastafarian religion innit?

CREEM: I’ve heard a couple of rumors. The Clash are opening a club in London, and the Clash are starting their own TV show. Any truth in it?

PAUL: First, about the club. There’s a building in Ladbroke Grove, in the center of London, that’s totally unoccupied. We’re trying to get together a load of groups together and playing a benefit to get the money and buy the building and open a club there. Our lawyers are sorting out the deeds for the place, so it’s still very up in the air. I haven’t heard anything about a TV show. The rumor probably started because we’re always complaining about it in England.

CREEM: Is the Clash’s position a little lonely at the moment?

PAUL: Yes it is. It’s really difficult. We’re trying to do something and there’s no one around to back us up. You’ve got to be strong-willed to continue doing that. We’re lucky in that there’s four of us, and if one of us gets really pissed off and wants to chuck it in, there’s always another one to help them through.

CREEM: The Clash are very big in the States, very big all over the world…

PAUL: I don’t know that. People tell me things but I’ll believe it myself when I see it. I’m not really seeing it. Depends what you term success really, doesn’t it. I mean, I’m not hearing our stuff on the radio all the time.

CREEM: Been a long four years I suppose.

PAUL: It’s been pretty quick actually. Time passes so fast. A lot of people should realize they aren’t on this earth for long and if you want to do anything you better hurry. I’m sure nobody wants to just work and earn money and all that stuff. I know it’s difficult for people to break out of the syndrome, doing a normal job. Make money, spend it on booze during the weekend, go back to work again. I was in that situation once. I’m 25 now. Not that that bothers me too much. You’re only as old as you feel, that makes me seven. When I first started playing bass, when the Clash started, I’d only been playing for six months. The Clash are the only group I’ve been in. At least people are beginning to understand what we’re trying to achieve.

CREEM: What are the Clash trying to achieve?

PAUL: God, I don’t think we even know. Certainly, not to be your average group, in terms of having a constant battle with our record company, general business and everybody else to get these changes made. They are pretty small at the moment. We aren’t going to change nations or anything right now and we probably never will. But, for example, bringing out Sandinista at that price, it sets a standard that other groups should follow.

CREEM: What about the future?

PAUL: Who knows? We haven’t even decided if we’re going to do a tour or return to the studio and bring out a single or an album or something. The great thing about the Clash is we haven’t broken up yet. It’s a miracle. Maybe we’ll do that next.

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