The appeal of The Clash often seems to hinge upon the band’s passionate
denunciations of a world ever more animated by the impulses of profit and
war. While the band are well known for their sense of passion, this chapter
suggests they should also be remembered for their profound, but often
overlooked, sense of pathos. This thread of melancholy is traced to twin
principal sources: the autobiographical detail of the peripatetic and
abandoned figure of Joe Strummer, and the ever more despondent geopolitical
context in which the charismatic front man crafted his indelible lyrics.
While the songs that The Clash committed to vinyl might well be heard as
documents of political defeat, it is perhaps that particular feel of pathos
that lends them their abiding, maybe even contemporary, political power.
Drawing on the work of cultural theorist Walter Benjamin, it is argued that
the vein of ‘left melancholia’ that courses through the band’s back
catalogue identifies them as resources for political struggle in the here
and now, requiring us to act as ‘ragpickers’ gathering the cultural tributes
from our dismal past that map a path towards a more progressive future.