During its heyday, The Clash was known as “The Only Band That Matters.”
In the five years that the group’s original lineup was together, it underwent an incredible evolution, taking the political punk fury that launched its career and adding reggae, rap, jazz and even disco into its sound.
This week, The Clash is being celebrated with the release of “Sound System,” a 12 CD/DVD box set that includes all of its albums, rare demos and previously unreleased live footage.
amNewYork spoke with Clash associate and video director Don Letts.
What struck you about the band when putting this set together? The energy and intensity of their performances. Some s--- looks like it’s sped up, but they’re really moving like that. … They didn’t need pyrotechnics or exploding cars. It’s just the chemical energy between those four guys.
The Clash is considered rock royalty these days. How do they feel about that? I think people look back on them as a band that had substance and depth and that wasn’t afraid to call it as they saw it. That’s sadly missing in today’s music. … Music has become the soundtrack for passive consumerism. You could say they were naïve, but they still believed in music as a tool for social change as well as entertainment.
You filmed the band’s famous 17-show run in Times Square in 1981. What was that like? 42nd Street was drug dealers, prostitutes and porno theaters. It had a real edge. For myself and the guys, they found it very inspiring. Hip-hop and graffiti were beginning to explode as well. There was a punky hip-hop connection going on. Those were really exciting times. There was a serious cultural exchange.
What would you say to a young person discovering The Clash for the first time? Dig the vibe, but do your own thing. The Clash didn’t originate the idea of using music to communicate. That idea has a heritage and a lineage. It’s very important for young people to realize that if they’re brave enough or have a good idea, they can be part of it, too.