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Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash Paperback – May 10, 2005
All Books, All the Time
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From Publishers Weekly
Former Mojo editor Gilbert presents an entertaining, definitive look at what is arguably punk rock's seminal band. For a group known for its integrity and political ethos, the Clash—Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon—had surprising origins, constructed and ruled with an iron fist by impresario Bernie Rhodes, a friend and contemporary of Sex Pistols creator Malcolm McLaren. Gilbert charts the Clash's rise—from long days spent in dank, freezing rehearsal spaces—to their descent: Headon's drug addiction and dismissal, personality conflicts, management problems and a bad record deal. Still, theirs is a triumphant story. The Clash bonded with fans like no other band in the late 1970s, choosing to play small venues over arenas, even designing their own fashions. Critically, the band was often vilified, especially for its experimental triple album, Sandanista! But, Gilbert shows, despite being called sellouts for signing with CBS, the Clash defined what it really means to be punk by eschewing the trappings of rock stardom, resisting the pressure to write hits and seizing the creative freedom to do innovative things, such as infusing their music with reggae and ska. Sadly, Strummer unexpectedly died in 2003 from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Photos.
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"A page-turning look at a band that blended fierce leftist politics with an eye for fashion." -- Rock Pile, November 2005
"Fills in [the Clash's] roots with admirable clarity...Gilbert not only does the Clash proud, he does them justice." -- Village Voice7/5/05
"Gilbert breaks some new ground while providing a detailed history of the legendary band from inception to dissolution." -- Idaho Statesman, 12/25/05
"Portrays beautifully the fine art of falling apart ...Likely to last while weightier tomes languish in dustbins." -- East Bay Express 7/27/05
"Rare and wonderful...[Gilbert] digs deep to tell the story of punk rock's most potent, powerful and political band." -- Eonline.com7/12/05
"The definitive biography of the band ...Entertaining and insightful...A must for die-hard Clash fans...and all those fascinated by pop culture." -- Curled Up with a Good Book 7/25/05
"This is a heartbreaking and heartening story of punks growing up and growing old, the real story indeed. Essential." -- Library Journal, starred review 5/1/05
"[Gilbert's] grasp of that band goes far beyond stale stuff...A model for all band bios." -- Illinois Entertainer, December 2005
"[Gilbert] weaves a blow-by-blow narrative rich in color and loaded with trivia." -- Harp Magazine June, 2005
"[Told] lucidly and readably, at a brisk, even pace...plenty of new information...research-wise Gilbert has done some serious legwork." -- Boston Globe5/29/05
Top customer reviews
As for the tale itself, Gilbert tells it with economy and precision (I think it's two-thirds the book that Gray's was), with lots of info even this diehard Clash aficionado was unaware of. Gilbert covers all the highs of the band--the knockout debut album that defined a generation and a whole new vocabulary of music and pop-culture style; the artistic triumph of "London Calling"; the outrageous intensity of their live shows; the conquering of America with "Rock the Casbah" and a Top 10 album... and then the fallout.
Gilbert covers the last days of the Clash, including interviews with the usually forgotten members of Clash mark II, who seem unwilling to discuss it. It's an ignoble end to an often noble and great band, written out of Clash mythology--I don't blame them. But enough time has passed that we can see the problems involved, which Mick and Paul talk about more openly than in previous interviews.
The book comes with a complete Clash discography as well as a bibliography, but one thing it lacks is a wealth of photos. There are a couple never-before-seen photos, but as Gilbert discusses, say, the changing look of the band (from Pop Art lettrism to black-and-white gangsters to military fatigues) some accompanying pics would've been nice. So, be sure to pick up Bob Gruen's peerless book of Clash photography, "The Clash," which spans just about the entirety of their career.
Clash PR man and confidant Kosmo Vinyl best sums up the inherent contradictions of the Clash this way: "We had so much fun robbing the bank, we forgot to take the money!"
Author Pat Gilbert has done all the right things: he has researched an enormous amount of archive material, made all new interviews with band members and entourage, and then assembled it all with great integrity (without trying to be too clever - as many rock biographers are unfortunately keen to).
The result is what I reckon to be the definitive tale of this band: four incredibly talented and yet unassuming, very British individuals who deeply respected and loved one another, with a strong ethic about their music, who together went on to become something greater than the sum of their parts.
This is quite possibly the most interesting, informative, funny, moving, affectionate rock biography I've ever read - and credit goes both to the writer and to the band for being such an unique, tight unit.
If you are a Clash fan, you absolutely MUST read this.
If you are not a Clash fan, you'll definitely be upon reading.
I'd give it 100 stars if I could.
Of particular interest to me, because I live in Thailand, was one of the later chapters that touched on the Clash's tour of Thailand in 1982. According to one member of the band's entourage, when bassist Paul Simonon fell ill and had to be hospitalized briefly in Bangkok, Joe Strummer invited some monks he had met earlier that week to come to the hospital room and "bless" Paul. While they were in Bangkok, the Clash wandered down to the railroad tracks near their hotel (somewhere in the Makkasan area on Petchburi Road) and a photograph from that session ended up being the cover of their popular "Combat Rock." It's cool details like this that make this book rise above the rest.