Thursday, September 21, 2006

Either I wrote the Billy Bragg post too late last night or my critical reading skills are deteriorating (or both)

Longtime friend of The Sandinista Project Robert Chandler writes in response to last night's Billy Bragg post:

"The band had split up, punk had come to nothing, (like) everything I believed in. We were going to change the world. The Clash had made Sandinista! It was a waste of time. I needed to press the 'eject' button on my previous life."

Surely Billy Bragg, when making the above remark, is referring to the negative impact Sandinista! had on him. Like many punks, he probably rejected the album utterly on first playing it. He would have felt that all the Clash’s fire had gone out, that they had softened, had sold punk’s ideals down the river. Most of us did feel that way when we heard it. It was the final nail in the coffin on what had once been a magnificently fierce and fiery movement. And here they were singing "Corner Soul" with backing singers, parodying their own work with children, or tackling a nondescript track from Mose Allison’s back catalogue, just because Topper had once been into jazz. I think, for many, it was only as it infected us and we started to discover its greatness track-by-track, lyric-by-lyric, that we were truly moved by it (start with "Somebody Got Murdered" and work your way out from there). I’ll never ever forget the moment I sat down to read Joe’s lyrics to "Broadway" and realised it was a story, from two points of view, that it was Joe’s take on the Great-American-Novel, surely influenced by Buchowski and Carver and Springsteen and Kerouac. Holy shit. I’d been listening to this record with a punk’s ears. That’s why I couldn’t hear it properly. Reading the lyrics to "Broadway" changed everything. Punk was never about the music and how it sounded. It was about the brain. How you thought about something. By rebelling against punk’s musical orthodoxy, Sandinista! managed to be The Clash’s most punk album yet. After that, the whole album unwrapped itself for me. I surrounded myself in it. Got lost in it. Loved it for its mistakes. I knew what it meant. What the Clash meant. Who I was. It was a magical moment. Sorry, I’m prone to enthusiasm when writing about this record.

As Robert's analysis, much more precise than mine, makes clear, Sandinista! is a bottomless record ... whatever Bragg thinks of it.


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