Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash
Any mook can pick up a guitar and start a band. A few lucky mooks might even get somewhere with it. But the constant in any discussion of true rock ’n’ roll legends is the balls-to-the-wall dedication they bring to the game—not in the sense of the good old Protestant work ethic, but a deep and abiding passion. They work hard at their craft, and there is nothing else in the world they’d rather do.
That sense of passion is one of the overriding themes in Pat Gilbert’s enjoyable, exhaustively researched biography of the Clash. Common to all of the personalities in the band is the assertion that they were useless for anything less than fully expressed and realized lives. Gilbert takes great care in the backstory of each of the members, particularly the extraordinary Joe Strummer. Despite the Clash’s working-class, Marxist stance, Strummer was, while not exactly a child of privilege, certainly not poor, though his peripatetic upbringing did much to foster a sense of the outsider. Like Bob Dylan before him, he hid his middle-class roots under a variety of poses and names—born John Mellor, he adopted the name Woody for a few years before settling on the moniker he would make famous. This sense of reinvention and commitment to style was a cornerstone of the band’s ethos—its heady mix of street-savvy, alienation, hard-left political leanings, and art direction constituting one of the central flash points for the nascent British punk scene. Nobody could accuse the members of the Clash of being virtuoso musicians, which in any case would have been inimical to the band’s raw, vital sound, but Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones’ explosive songwriting remains as powerful today as it was 30 years ago.
Gilbert was an editor at Britain’s Mojo magazine, and Passion Is a Fashion reads like the longest, most satisfying rock article ever. He manages to keep the tone factual—he doesn’t allow himself any flights of fancy, putting thoughts in his subjects’ heads, making them into characters—but luckily for the reader, the story is so entertaining that even the driest account would be interesting to read. The personal history of these four iconoclasts, the intricacies of putting and keeping a band together, their positioning as rival to the Sex Pistols under the hand of Bernie Rhodes, trying to out-Malcolm McLaren Malcolm McLaren—all a fascinating read for the casual fan and the die-hard fanatic alike.