I was 16 and the Clash were my favorite band in the world. I’d get dressed for school listening to the first album, do my homework listening to London Calling, fall asleep with Side 382 of Sandinista playing softly on the stereo. (Sandinista had at least 382 sides, didn’t it?) You never love a band like you did when you were 16, and the Clash were it for me.
They release Combat Rock and announce a US tour, with the opening dates in Asbury Park, New Jersey. We get a bunch of tickets, and the morning of the show pile into my friend Scott’s puke green 1973 Dodge Dart for the hour plus ride to Asbury Park.
Asbury Park was at one time the playgorund of the rich and famous, but by this time it has fallen on hard times. Most of the boardwalk shops are shuttered, and families no longer go there in the summer for the beach. Bruce Springsteen’s lyrical bleak urban landscapes are no exaggeration. The only real sign of life is a small amusement arcade on the south end of the boardwalk, and the Convention Hall, where the concert will be, on the north end.
The boardwalk is milling with punk rockers and just general weirdoes in town for the show. We do as pretty much all teenage boys will do in that situation: drink our beer, smoke our pot, and get shot down by the punk girls who want nothing to do with us. Smart girls.
At some point during the afternoon, a woman reporter and a camera guy approach us to interview us. She wants to know what it is like being a Clash fan in America, how the band has impacted us, what we think of Combat Rock…all I can say is thank god no video of this exists, because I was a pretentious dolt, and I have no doubt my answers were asinine. As she finishes up the interview, she casually mentions the band is having a press party after the show at the amusement arcade on the boardwalk.
We get inside, worm our way to about fifteen feet from the stage, and wait. The Clash taking the stage is the only time in my life when I just pointed and thought “Oh my god it’s THEM!!!!!!” The show was incendiary. The second song is Safe European Home and nearly thirty years later that is still the most intense three minutes of music I have ever witnessed.
We meet up on the boardwalk after the show, jumping around, air guitaring to the ringing in our ears, saying “DID YOU SEE WHEN JOE DID THIS” and “HOLY SHIT MICK DID THAT” and “PAUL!” when one of us says, “Hey, should we check out that press party?”
We wander down to the south end of the boardwalk, and just hang out on the street, shooting the shit. We were probably down there for over an hour when I see Mr. JK’s eyes grow wide and he just says “turn around” and as I do, there is Joe Strummer walking across the street towards me. I go up to him, tell him the show was great, the new record is awesome, all that stuff. He gets to the door of the arcade and I figure ‘that’s it, I got to talk to Joe Strummer’ when he says “so are you coming in then?” I’m giddy and stammer “yesyesyes” and he says “who are you with?” so I point to my four friends, and then to three random guys just standing there, and he just laughs and brings us all in to the party.
Now, remember, I am 16 years old. I am in an amusement arcade. There is a DJ playing the deepest dub cuts you can imagine. There are kegs of beer and nobody cares that we are not legal. Oh yeah, THE CLASH ARE WALKING AROUND TALKING TO US. At one point, I am standing next Joe Strummer while he is being interviewed, and he just hands me the joint he is smoking, like I am his best pal. Mick Jones, who is the nicest, most personable guy imaginable, starts talking to one of my friends, and I walk over with Strummer’s joint, and he asks for a hit, and asks what we think of the new record (thumbs up!) what we think of Bruce Springsteen (I am the only guy who admits to being a fan, and Mick says “I think he is brilliant” and then everyone is a fan all of a sudden). A reporter from Rolling Stone comes over to interview Mick (I know he was from Rolling Stone because he announced “I AM FROM ROLLING STONE”) and Mick shoos him away until he is done talking to us, which was just so cool.
By now it is about five am. We were supposed to be home hours ago. The party is breaking up, the Clash go back to their hotel, and we wander up to the beach to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. Some of us puked, I just zonked out in the sand, waking up a couple of hours later when the beachgoers started to arrive.
I got grounded when I got home. Totally worth it.
JOE STRUMMER 1952-2002