"Like Four Sticks of Dynamite" - Clash Compadre Don Letts on Band's Videos
Even among music listeners used to lavish box sets, The Clash - Sound System (Sony) is something to behold.
The 11 CDs include every studio album the group released (save for, oddly, last gasp Cut the Crap), along with dozens of rarities, live cuts, B-sides, and remixes.
A remastered DVD offers seldom-seen early footage of the group, The Clash on Broadway film, and every music video. And ephemera goodies include posters, stickers, booklets, and reproductions of the band's fan newsletter Armagideon Times, along with a new effort compiled by bassist Paul Simonon. (A new 2CD anthology, Hits Back, is also out for the more budget-conscious)
"It's like the group. It's got some serious weight to it!" laughs Don Letts. The noted film and video director and close friend of the group has plenty of his own work represented on the DVD, including "Rock the Casbah." The clip served as the initial introduction for millions of MTV-era viewers (this writer included) to the group.
Filmed in Austin around a 1982 show the band did at the City Coliseum, the video is memorable thanks to the images of an Arab and Hasidic Jew rocking out to a boom box, the band miming the song in front of a pumping oil derrick, and one charismatic armadillo in a crowd of fans. Letts is clear on who the video's real star was.
"The way I got the armadillo to walk toward the camera was to get on the ground on my hands and knees and blow in its face. So you can imagine the scene with a Jew and Arab running around, and a guy with dreads laying on the ground," Letts remembers. "But what's amazing was that the armadillo attracted the most attention because the [crowd] had only seen dead ones! Or as ashtrays or handbags."
Curiously, guitarist Mick Jones is seen in the lip-synch section, with his face and head completely covered. Letts notes it wasn't a costume decision that he made for himself.
"Mick was having one of his Elizabeth Taylor moments and was [pissed off] at Joe [Strummer], so he showed up on the set wearing red Long Johns and black Doc Martens. Now, he's a skinny guy, so he looked like a matchstick!" the director recalls.
After pulling Jones aside and reminding him that "video is forever," the guitarist changed his outfit, but wore a camouflage hat and veil to show he was still upset. It was forcibly ripped off by Strummer toward the end of the clip.
More Clash madness continues on the next page.