If there’s one Clash song that encapsulates the band’s true manifesto, it has to be “Clampdown” from London Calling (1979). This is a great live version from April 1980 … which can’t possibly be true because that was THIRTY-THREE FUCKING YEARS AGO AND I WAS A SENIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL THEN.
Oh, good lord.
But anyway, Joe Strummer once described the Clash as “antifascist, antiviolence, antiracist,” and “Clampdown” is the musical expression of that general philosophy, graphically demonstrating that bigotry and violence are the tools of oppression:
They said: “Is this man a Jew?”
(’Cos We’re working for the clampdown)
They put up a poster saying “We earn more than you”
(We’re working for the clampdown)
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers
But you grow up and you calm down and
(Working for the clampdown)
You start wearing blue and brown and
(Working for the clampdown)
So you got someone to boss around
Make you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize
Make your first kill now …
While the objects of popular bigotry may change, this remains a time-tested method of the rich and powerful: To gin up or exacerbate existing prejudices, both to distract attention away from their grift and to keep the poor and the powerless at each other’s throats. As the song suggests, it used to be the Jews. Then it was the Catholics; then one immigrant group or another. And, of course, it’s always been people of color. But even as it becomes harder to be overtly anti-Semitic or racist (not that there isn’t plenty of that to go around; the cowards just won’t admit it), there’s always somebody to hate. As long as you can come up with a phony moralistic reason for hating the other, people will go for it.
I mention that because this week we’ve seen the latest iteration of that sorry truth as gay and lesbian Americans had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to secure what the Court itself once described as “one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.” Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967), quoting Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). Even so, as Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer explained, one of the rich and powerful Justices who will decide whether gay and lesbian Americans will get to enjoy that right can barely contain his contempt for them:
In his dissent in the 1996 case Romer v. Evans, which challenged Colorado’s ban on any local jurisdictions outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Scalia brought out an analogy that he’s used to attack liberals and supporters of LGBT rights for years since. “Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings,” Scalia wrote, in the classic prebuttal phrasing of someone about to say something ludicrous. “But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible—murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals—and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct[.]”
Ah, yes. There’s always a reason to make a scapegoat out of somebody, isn’t there?
By the way, according to The Clash Wiki, “Another working title for this song was ‘For Fuck’s Sake’ ’’ … which is kind of perfect when you really think about it. So, here’s another great live version of “Clampdown”:
The Clash - Clampdown by Inedire
The lads could play an angry riff, man.
Anyway, you know what to do …
Turn. It. Up.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]