‘Up in heaven (not only here)’
The Clash, left melancholia and the politics of redemption
in Working for the clampdown
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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.

Working for the clampdown

The Clash, the dawn of neoliberalism and the political promise of punk

Editor: Colin Coulter

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