So, I resisted the temptation to go with “London’s Burning” or “Guns of Brixton” this week, as much as those songs might seem to fit the bill, because I don’t want to exploit the recent violence in the UK and I feel woefully ignorant about the real causes of what’s going on there. For further reading on that subject, local blogger extraordinaire Emily Hauser recommends this post by Londoner Penny Red. I’d rather read and listen to people who live there and are directly affected by the upheaval than speculate about it from thousands of miles away, but I’m sure the situation is far more complex than American media let on.
Anyway, in lieu of more obvious choices, I elected to go with “Somebody Got Murdered” from Sandanista! (1980) in honor of Tariq Jahan, a Birmingham father who rose above the tragedy of his own son’s death last week to promote peace:
In a message to the local community, [Jahan] implored: “Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united.
“This is not a race issue. The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of society.”
Visibly emotional, Jahan added: “I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.”
If that’s not one of the most compelling stories to come out of England these days, I don’t know what is.
So, about the song. Joe Strummer described the genesis of “Somebody Got Murdered” this way:
We got a phone call from Jack Nitzsche and he said “We need a heavy rock number for this movie with Al Pacino” so I said OK. I went home and there was this guy in a pool of blood out by the car parking kiosk. That night I wrote the lyric. I gave it to Mick and he wrote the tune. We recorded it and Jack Nitzsche never called back.
Maybe it’s just as well, because the song stands on its own as a testament to one of the band’s core principles: its longstanding opposition to violence, political and otherwise. More than anything, “Somebody Got Murdered” speaks to the utter futility of urban violence in a way that resonates this week, especially after the senseless death of Tariq Jahan’s son:
Carrying spare change
You wouldn’t cosh a barber
You’re hungry all the same
I’ve been very tempted
To grab it from the till
I’ve been very hungry
But not enough to kill
Somebody got murdered
His name it can’t be found
A small stain on the pavement
They’ll scrub it off the ground
As the daily crown disperses
No one says that much
Somebody got murdered
And it left me with a touch …
(A “cosh,” by the way, is a blackjack or bludgeon; the verb “to cosh” means “to hit on the head with a cosh.”)
It’s a haunting song, “Somebody Got Murdered,” but it’s further proof that the Clash were the moral voice of pop music at a time when no one else really cared to be. It’d be nice if people still listened to what they had to say.
So there you go. Your Friday Clash Song. Turn. It. Up.