Customer Reviews: Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash
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on June 17, 2005
If only one Clash book is going to grace your shelves, it should be Pat Gilbert's "Passion is a Fashion." Gilbert, diligent music journalist he is, has gotten interviews with our beloved Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper (a feat Marcus Gray, author of the decade-old, the oft-maligned "Last Gang in Town" never managed). Particularly insightful are comments and insights the band members give after Joe's untimely death, and the knowledge of such imparts a poignancy to Gilbert's liquor-fueled interviews with Strummer. But Gilbert has also tracked down the erstwhile Bernard Rhodes, the "complete control" genius/maniac who managed the Clash in their early days and then again as they broke up. His quotes are marvelously irreverent and mythic, and are a part of the Clash history often overlooked.

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!"
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on July 1, 2005
This is quite a detailed blow-by-blow account of the history of the Clash, and even of its pre-history. Mr. Gilbert devotes the first 100 pages or so to the lads' pre-Clash lives, and he even reveals that the Clash were in fact originally a manufactured boy band. Their manager Bernie Rhodes put Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon together primarily because they looked good: the fact that Joe & Mick turned out to be arguably the greatest songwriting team since Mick & Keith (or even John & Paul) was just a happy accident.

There's not much about the band's post-history, which is unfortunate since the Clash were one of those bands who were more popular and more influential after they broke up than while they were still together. (And also, Mick Jones' post-Clash band, Big Audio Dynamite were important in their own right, and Joe Strummer had a noteable solo career.)

In any case, there's lots of lots of information in this book about the Clash and their entourage. All six core members of the band (including the two "other" drummers, Terry Chimes and Pete Howard) were interviewed, although Mick and Topper had very little to say and Joe (who was the central figure in the Clash legend) died in the middle of the project.

If you like the Clash, you will like the book, though you may not love it. The book has a few flaws: a meagre picture selction (even though the author talks a lot about how the band looks), a pedestrian writing style, and not enough info about the music itself. I am also not sure if all the details are 100% accurate. For example, on pp. 250-251, we were told that the shot of Paul Simonon smashing his bass on the London Calling album was taken at precisely 9:50pm at the Palladium in New York. I was at that show. It ended much later than that. At 9:50pm, Mitch Ryder (not mentioned in this book) would still have been performing. For another example, the Black Market Clash album was listed as having been released in 1991 when it actually came out in 1980.

This book does not quite rate the full 5 stars, but it does tell a fascinating story.
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on June 1, 2006
This review applies to the 2004 hardcover edition. I knew a reasonable amount about The Clash before reading this book but the author here opened my eyes to a number of things and helped to confirm some of my ideas and reject others.

This is an academic book in the sense that any university sociology or history department type would or should respect the high standard of scholarship here - painstaking research involving interviews with a large number of band friends, business associates and childhood and youth buddies - and objective and intelligent analysis throughout. Although the research is detailed and Gilbert takes the subject matter seriously, the writing is still lively and captivating.

The book first traces the childhoods, youth days and former bands of all members individually which is fascinating and well researched. A lot of this information would be new to even the diehard fans. It's fascinating to read about and see a picture of Mick Jones' gran's 18th floor council flat in South London overlooking the Westway - where Mick "practised daily in my room" according to the song Stay Free. We also get to learn about Mick's close friend, also written about in Stay Free, who in real life did serve time for a bank robbery offence.

The art-school beginnings and the "squatting days" in early 1970s London (living in vacated houses under the Westway without paying rent) and the members' pre-Clash bands are well documented. Overall, Gilbert does an excellent job in helping the reader recreate in his/her mind the world of 1970s South London where the Clash story was played out. That is one of the book's great strengths in my opinion.

The book demolishes some punk myths, but keeps others alive. Firstly, the book demolishes the cherished idea that The Pistols and The Clash were working-class lads who met up, decided to form a band, and sing about social and political topics. There is some element of truth in that idealised view. However, the bands' respective managers, Malcolm McLaren of The Pistols and Bernie Rhodes of The Clash, clearly manufactured the bands to a certain extent based on their personal visions of what they wanted to achieve. Joe clearly understood this and was willing to co-operate with Rhodes to achieve common goals - but Mick was less supportive, being more of a traditional old-time rocker.

Gilbert clearly describes the social changes affecting Britain in the late 70s - the rise to power of the Thatcher right-wing government and the first wave of West Indian immigrants into London (and especially Brixton). We see how all band members had a genuine and sincere desire for racial harmony - they were fascinated by Jamaican reggae music and later New York hip hop. The bands' involvement in anti-racism gigs and sharing the stage with acts such as Bo Diddley and Micky Dread were extremely influential in contributing to the unity of the streets.

Another Clash myth that the book does not debunk but strengthens is their closeness to the fans and genuine warmth they felt towards the fans and vice-versa. However, the bitter infighting and bad vibes involving Joe, Mick and Paul often seemed to take the joy out of their lives and the book exposes this fully. It ultimately led to Mick's sacking at the hands of Joe, Paul and Bernie.

Other highlights are detailed descriptions of the recording sessions that led to each album and brief song-by-song descriptions (however, the focus on the actual music is fairly brief - the book is more a study of people and society).

Producer Guy Stevens' drunken chair-smashing antics during the London Calling sessions are hilariously recounted. His crazy energy probably contributed to the eclectic joy that London Calling produced. The details of the football games during the London Calling sessions are also interesting. The orange mohawked Japanese guys they met playing football in the London park - who knew every note of every Clash song (and Joe's cynical reaction to them, in contrast to the other band members) - also is humorous in my opinion.

Lastly, we are also are given a rare insight into The Clash Mark II. The three young band members who replaced Mick and Topper are all interviewed. Naturally they were dissapointed with certain aspects of the Mark II experience - but they don't seem bitter and it doesn't seem that they were treated totally badly (at least not by the band - by Bernie Rhodes maybe). In my opinion "This is England" (from 1985) ranks in The Top 3 Clash songs of all time. Good to get an insight into this less-publicised and once-denied stage of the band's existence. It almost makes me want to go out and buy Cut the [...]!!

I enjoyed my trip to the world of South London that Gilbert offered and South London became a better place I'm sure due to the huge influence of Joe, Mick, Topper and Paul. Stay free...
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on May 17, 2015
Every page has something really interesting. Tons of stuff. Paul refusing to go on the dole and resorting to eating left over flour glue paste to fight off hunger after having posted flyers around town, Joe not really initially fitting in to the first arrangement of the band, due to his age and background, the London punk scene in 1976 not being anything known, much less well known, when The Clash began. I could go on, but I need to get back to the book.
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on January 22, 2013
This book serves as a fascinating window into the colorful personalities who comprised The Clash, one of the best rock/punk bands on the planet in the late 70s and early 80s. If you are a Clash fan, this is a MUST read. The book is well researched, full of great quotes and ancecdotes, and above all, very well written. Really, this is one of the better rock bios of any era that I have read. If you aren't a Clash fan already, you may become one simply by reading this book. At the very least, you will be intrigued enough to want to listen to their albums all over again.

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.
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on August 17, 2005
Fans of the Clash are blessed these days with so much media on the band, it's as if they never broke up. Between the internet, DVDs and several worthy books on the band, there's more Clash material out there now than ever before. Pat Gilbert's book is a welcome addition to the canon. As has been noted, Pat was allowed access to the band and their inner circle and many intriguing details missing from the other books are filled in. This book is an excellent companion to Marcus Gray's Return of the Last Gang in Town, for the two books look at the Clash from different angles and their differing outlooks compliment each other quite nicely. With insider quotes coming so fast in furious in its pages, Passion acts almost as an oral history. Many of the gaps in Gray's book are patched by the band themselves, such as the lost year of 1983 (when the band was idle and wasn't dealing with the press).

A great read for fans of the Clash and for anyone interested in the last Classic Rock and Roll band.
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on July 20, 2014
What a wonderful book!...
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.
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on September 7, 2007
A great,detailed and thorough history of The greatest Punk band ever. This is a MUST READ for anyone interested in the origin of contemporary rock music. The author delves into the personal history of the band members from childhood on. Pat Gilbert obviously has a passion for The Clash as every band today should and probably does. This book is an amazing overview, easy to read and impossible to put down. I bought this for myself but my 14yr. old son "permanently borrowed" it from me, reading it like crazy(he's not fond of reading) and I couldn't be happier.
Thank you Pat Gilbert for writing this awesome book!!!!!
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on February 23, 2009
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on December 20, 2005
I'm a big Clash fan. I don't read books that often. Usually magazine articles. In fact, I purchased the 2 Clash special issues from both Uncut and from Mojo. Both were wonderful with many pictures and lots of info about the making of the records. This book has only a few pictures, basically, it's only weakness. The ones it has are nice. Each band member is given a biography treatment, like four small such books in this one, as it should be, because a band is a group of folks who choose to come together and stay together, as long as they do, to make the music. And these four guys really did it. Just listen to the music they created, both on record and live recordings.

We get more than biography of the band members. The book is written like threads of a rope being pulled together. So there is also info about the various people in the band's life, not hangers on but roadies and the band's version of managers. I was pleased, as a punk for 27 years, to see how the band made it a point to invite fans backstage with them and speak to them, part of the breaking down of the barrier between bands and fans that punk accomplished in a big way. At the same time the Clash were on the CBS label. However, there were numerous punk type bands on big labels in England where that was quite rare in the U.S. And the Clash made it a point to not get sucked into the big business music machine and get turned into fluff haired sugary pop meisters to appeal to the masses. They made their music and CBS shipped it off to those who would appreciate it. Of course, there was plenty of back and forth between the band and the company while the Clash were part of the punk movement, redefining a band's relationship with big business. Thank goodness they didn't go the small do it yourself way, we'd likely never have gotten our hands on their records and they'd just be total rarities now.

It's odd to read about Bernie Rhoades, the guy who conceptualized putting the band together in the first place. In 1976 someone needed to invent it. This was a new path music was traveling in general and the Clash specifically. Sadly, we learn that this guy, while he helped bring the band to life as a unit, operated by making people feel insecure and unsure of their own fellow team members. We get to learn about the impact of drugs on the band. The more I listen to the Clash over the years the more I'm impressed with Topper as their drummer. He is able to modify his playing to whatever is appropriate for each song truely supplying the foundation for most of the songs.

It's clear that Mr. Gilbert has a strong affection for this band yet presents their story in a fact based manner that is very readable. I also appreciate the listing of the various records they released with song listings at the back of the book. I have a much fuller understanding of the band now than I did before I read this book. I also found it very satisfying to read about the making of each of their albums. The book is not filled with Gilbert's opinion. There's only a small amount of that. You can see he's citing a variety of people with comments from old interviews from back in the day as well as current interviews with both band members and folks who were in and out as intregal members of the team that helped the Clash make records and tour and keep their sanity.

The Clash did make amazing music. It stands the test of time wonderfully. This is a very honorable book that you will not be disappointed with if your're into the band. Well done.
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