The Clash - London Calling (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Clash

London Calling (1979)

CBS Records

This article is part of a series where we discuss editor Brittany Strummer's favorite records

                When I got the news of Brittany Strummer’s passing, I was certain we'd write do something about it. Later that night John Gentile asked if anyone wanted to review albums by some of her favorite bands, I picked the Clash from the list he provided. Since I volunteered I’ve been trying to figure out which album I should review. I spent a few hours combing through her statuses about the Clash, seeing if she professed love for one album over another. But Brittany, much like myself, worshipped at the Church of Joe Strummer. And while there’s a passage that can be applied to every part of life, nearly every word the band wrote or sang was like scripture. There were several instances where she, or her friends, referenced the song “Death of Glory” off London Calling. We published our “In Memoriam” article for Brittany just as I went on break at work today, I saw Sal Medrano mention them screaming the words to “Death or Glory” during the Clash cover set at Fest. I decided to go with London Calling. "Death of Glory" kept finding me while I was doing this, I figured I should run with it. 

This album opens with the title track and it’s everything good rock music should be. It’s defiant, poignant, confidant, and utterly scared at the same time. In short, it was a testament to the band’s humanity. The song touched on fear of nuclear annihilation, drowning in a flood caused by the River Thames flooding, and the band’s possible inability to remain relevant three years after the punk explosion pushed them into the limelight. The song closes with S-O-S being tapped out in Morse code. While so many of their peers sneered at longevity and didn’t seem to care if the world ended, the Clash closed out the first song on their album by asking for help as they feared everything around them might fall apart.

Elsewhere on the album, “Rudie Can’t Fail” profiles a young man trying to upend the status quo, which his elders just can’t understand. To these critiques he replies, “"I know that my life makes you nervous, but I tell you I can't live in service." And while the song was written as a conversation between two different people, I can’t help but wonder if it was the band questioning themselves as well. At this point, Joe Strummer was approaching his late twenties and Mick Jones was in his mid-twenties. While I don’t think either of them wanted to work a 9-5, given the fears of stability within the band they also had, one can’t help but wonder if some part of this song was them having a conversation with themselves or each other as well.

In the middle of the third side of the album, we find “Death or Glory,” the song that kept popping up when I went looking through Brittany’s old statuses about The Clash, the song that her friends mentioned a few times in statuses she was tagged in, and the song Sal Medrano mentioned in his memorial to Brittany. Aside from having a timeless melody and chord progression, the song is poignant as can be. The chorus to this song, “Death or glory becomes just another story,” was meant to mock people who felt like those were the only two options. That one would either wake up one morning basking in the glory of victory and meet defeat through death. You got the sense the Clash knew it wasn’t that simple, they seemed to grasp not every victory will be celebrated. And death ... well death isn't always defeat nor does one need to die to be left feeling defeated. 

It's at this point, I’m going to quit pretending like this isn’t more metaphor than review. Look, if you’re on this website chances are good you’ve heard this album. I’d also venture you’ve formed your own opinion of it and that I’m not the guy that’s going to change it by pontificating on chord progressions, lyrics, and song structure. There are plenty of other music critics who’ve already done that, most likely better than I can. Let’s talk about Brittany Strummer for a second.

Back in February, Brittany posted this on her Facebook page, “i am brittany fuckin’ strummer. i made this name myself. i built myself up. i stand for my friends and they stand for me.” So, it’s no surprise the Clash were her favorite band and she took her namesake from Joe Strummer. Those last two sentences of her status defined the ethos of Joe Strummer, and by extension, the Clash. While so many of punk’s first generation had songs embracing nihilism and not caring if the world ends. The Clash were about life, the endless possibilities of the future, building a community, and building the world around you back up when it’s falling apart. If you knew Brittany, even just in passing, that’s who she was. I’d venture to guess that’s why she loved the Clash and Joe Strummer as much as she did.

This weekend, here’s what you do. You get your friends together and you turn the music up. You raise your glasses in the air and you toast friendship. You toast supporting one another. You toast the people who keep pulling your friends’ circle back together when it seems like it might fall apart. I could tell you it would be a great way to remember Brittany Strummer … but most of the people reading this, likely, weren’t lucky enough to know her. But, you’re lucky enough to know your friends. So, tell them that. And the next time you’re at a show and you see someone who’s there alone, a kid who seems like this is their first time venturing into this world we call punk rock, or just someone who looks like they’re having a rough day. Invite them over. Make them feel welcome. Make this scene a little bigger and a little closer.