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Vice Blog

WERE THE CLASH BULLSHIT?

by VICE Staff
Oct 29 2010, 9:27am
Vince White ain't got no time for phoneys. In Out Of Control, his book about his time as a guitarist in a disintegrating The Clash, he rails across three hundred pages against the fakery of fashionable idealism, the coin-loving industry machine and the saucer-eyed, sycophantic fans, spearing every prick he meets. There were a lot of pricks to spear, a lot to rail against. White was the last man to join the band before their drawn-out decline mercifully ended with the release of pitiful final-nail album Cut The Crap. Original guitarist Mick Jones had been sacked for "being too lazy". Drummer Topper Headon had left to spend more time with his smack habit. Into their place two ringers—Nick Sheppard and Pete Howard—had been drafted. To shake 'em up, their control freak manager Bernie Rhodes also suggested employing a bit of rough to claw back the band's street cred. They held blind auditions, where 100-odd hopefuls were told they would be trying-out for the chance to join a "big band". Angry warehouse worker Vince, mouthing-off in front of the proto-Pop Idol judges, seemed to fit the bill, and so began his journey into outer space, sucked off the streets of Finsbury Park and slingshotted into one of the world's biggest rock bands. He hated it. Rhodes staged regular Mao-style self-denunciation "band meetings", where he'd divide and conquer—rounding on each member in turn by inviting everyone else to submit what they thought was wrong with them. Despite being billed as a full member, Rhodes kept them all on crappy £100 a week wages, while simultaneously massaging the ego of an increasingly needy and out of touch Joe Strummer. As things fell apart, Rhodes attempted to turn himself into an auteur; musically directing sessions for Cut The Crap to the extent that he would tell White to "play those three notes". And when Strummer decided he'd finally had enough, Rhodes decided that "the Clash is an idea more than a group of people", attempting to get the only surviving founder Paul Simonon to move to vocals while the three ringers filled in around him. This despite the fact that, as White alleges, Simonon only played on the first Clash album, and had all his bass parts recorded by others thereafter. It's a wonderful textbook of rockstar decline-and-fall, the sense being that when things get really bad, they're only about to get even worse: "Spinal Clash", as he tags it. A few years later the band imploded, and both he and Topper Headon were making a living driving minicabs around Camden. It seemed like a good idea to talk to the bastard. Initial email enquiries were met by the combative tone that growls through his prose. Two lines, no salutation: "I suppose it depends on whether you've actually READ my book and checked out my website or not. What would the tone of it be? I mean, what kind of questions will you be asking?" But he soon came round, and ultimately didn't seem nearly so PO'ed. Well, nearly. Vice: Hi Vince. How many copies have you sold of your book? Vince White: Not that many because no publisher would touch it so there was no promotion. I had to put it out myself. I sold enough to make it worth my while though. What percentage of what he ever said re: politics do you think Joe Strummer actually believed? I think he believed it all when it suited him and ignored it all when it didn't. The world is drowning in people who believe their own bullshit. What was the most shocking incidence you ever witnessed of Bernie brainwashing Strummer? I wouldn't get so conspiratorial about that. Joe wasn't helpless. He knew what he was doing. The root of all that is this: Joe gave Bernie a good deal of the credit for the success of The Clash from its beginnings. Bernie had turned average John Mellor into superstar Joe Strummer. He'd made him a success before and so he was willing to hand over control of the band for that reason. A sort of 'if he'd pulled it off before he can keep pulling it off' kind of thing. Also, Joe didn't have enough trust in himself or in a new band or want the responsibility. There was too much to lose. If things fucked up he could always blame someone else, couldn't he? See what I mean? Management were kinda dumb in recruiting you as an energy-injecting bit-of-rough, but not realising that bits-of-rough are how they are because they are real-life snotty, damaged, issue-laden arseholes, right? By that, I suppose you are referring to me as a snotty, damaged and issue-laden arsehole? I don't understand the question because that's not how I see myself, either now or then. In a recent interview you talked about how you don't believe in multiculturalism. But given that The Clash were fullsquare aligned with all that Victoria Park, Rock Against Racism, "black n' white unite" thing, surely you should've seen trouble ahead? Of course I saw trouble ahead on that front but it never happened. I explain that in my book. I was pleasantly surprised because political issues were hardly ever discussed within the band so I never had to feel compromised in that area. All that was really just put out there for public consumption. Bernie said he was against all that Victoria Park thing. I agree with him on that. Rock Against Racism? Pathetic. Should've been called MUZAK PREACHING TO THE BRAINWASHED. Let's be clear about multiculturalism: I believe a certain amount of immigration is good for a country but an open door policy of the free flow of people and goods across the world is part of an agenda to destroy culture and nations and create a standardised world culture which is not a culture at all but WORLD INC. What I resent is living inside someone else's business plan which hasn't been mine or anyone else's democratic choice. Do you find it hilarious that everyone sort of assumed that, by being young and punk, you'd have orthodox socialist/leftist views, when in fact you were nothing of the sort? There's nothing funny about the fact that people are so utterly indoctrinated and have lost their individuality to the point where they can't think for themselves at all and insist on measuring each other by the rules of thumb that are given to them. It's so degrading and disheartening. Did you ever meet Mick Jones? Did he treat you as a fellow trooper from the wars, or as a scab labourer? Yeah, but he gives me a wide berth. See, I think he might be a bit upset because I nicked his job. What about the rest of the cast? Did they have anything to say about your book? Nick and Pete were happy I put something out. It was my story but it spoke for them too, after all, they didn't come out looking too good at the end either. None of it was fair on us at all. Strummer's camp weren't happy; they don't like me and pulled a show I was going to play with the Mescaleros for one of their charities that provides poor kids with guitars that don't have them. There's a big cover up of that period, you see? A conspiracy of silence. When the Music Hall of Fame thing came up I offered to send them a copy of my book to put in the museum with the other artefacts! They never got back to me. You have a lot of scorn for Clash fans. Do you think the nature of fanhood is stupidity? Totally stupid. Fanhood is for girls. Music, art, literature or whatever should serve as an inspiration. That's its proper place and function. It should stimulate your imagination and get you out doing something of your own. That's really what was good about punk rock. But you see, Clash fans are a serious bunch of true believers. And a true believer will believe anything they're told and that's why most of them are of the liberal lefty politically correct variety who think truth is a product of a consensus opinion because that's what they've been led to believe by their Marxist professors at the university they went to. They HATE punk. It's a grubby, dirty word to them despite the fact that the Clash was originally a punk band. They want something elevated and intelligent and expert that they can slavishly kneel to. You should never put anyone's head above your own. What people worship is an image. In a technological society images are all that people have. They don't know the real people they worship. It's just something they're given that they want to believe in. Like when Princess Diana died. I was driving past Hyde Park back then and saw a mountain of fucking flowers and people everywhere crying and that and thought "WHAT THE FUCK?!" People getting all upset about an image they only ever saw on the TV and in the newspapers? It's unreal. You come across as a very angry young man. Has the passage of time dulled this anger? Not so much anger these days as riotous indignation and sadness and cynicism. It's what happens when you know things are bad and getting worse. You don't take it personally but at the same time you know you're powerless to stop it. There's so much injustice and ignorance going on. It will all end in tears soon enough. Do you think that the industry machine's grip over musicians has strengthened over time as it has become more systematised and cunning, or has technology, internet, etc. weakened it? Of course it's strengthened. The music industry is just one arm of the overall entertainment industry, which is a top-down structure. All technology centralises power and produces systems of uniformity and control. People living in such a system have no choice but to fit in and become products themselves. People like to think that they're free, that their music is real, that it's real culture, that it comes from the street, and blah, blah de blah. But the fact is, it doesn't. Not hip-hop, not nothing. Everything that's successful needs funding and funding comes from above. Just like left wing rebel militias in places like Nicaragua need funding. AK-47s and bullets cost money. You can't go round your neighbourhood with a tin cup and collect enough to put your record at number one. Or take over a government. You need the CIA for that. You want your art to get noticed you need money. You can't just knock up a shark in a tank in your Tuscan attic on a few pennies from your relative. Or a gigantic metal sausage dog. Where did Jeff Koons get the cash for that? It is the system of money which is the controlling factor in society. Who pays the piper, calls the tune. People dance to it. It's really that simple. Who's the biggest asshole in music today? I dunno. I don't really follow it much. I dislike all those lot who're up there supposedly trying to save starving people in Africa. You know, Geldof, Bono and Madonna and their ilk? The ones moaning about the planet heating up and the rainforest and all that bollocks. Probably Madonna is the biggest and the worst. She's truly disgusting and her offspring like Lady Gaga. It's so trite, predictable, disempowering and spectacularly meaningless. Check out Vince's website, here. GAVIN HAYNES