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The Clash Interviews: Paul Simonon, Part II— Paul Goes To Moscow

The first half of this 1977 interview with former Clash bass player Paul Simonon— who will be 67 next month— ran Wednesday evening. At that point we left off just as we were about to get into a discussion about why he went to Moscow, just before the tour, if I remember this correctly.

“The basic reason I went to Moscow,” he told me, “was ‘cuz, well #1 I don’t think we’ll ever play there. I mean I don’t want to go to Germany for me holidays ‘cause we’ve played there and we’ll probably play there again. But a place like Moscow or Leningrad… it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever play there .[They never did.] Also I went over there ‘cause I just wanted to see what it was like in the way of a political thing. I had quite high hopes when I went over there. I ain’t got ‘em now— it’s horrible; it’s really horrible over there. It’s really depressing. I mean, I had a good time, but at the expense of all the other people there. They have a terrible time. You go in a shoe shop in Russia and you compare a Russian shoe shop to an English shoe shop. If you go in an English shoe shop, you pick up the worst-looking pair of shoes you can get and the cheapest, right? Well, in Russia, they’re the most expensive and the best. That’s the difference. There’s no clubs; there’s no groups. They’re really put down. The kids are always coming up and asking for jeans and bubblegum; it’s just really pathetic. And everybody’s drunk all the time ‘cause there’s nothing to do. They’re drinking vodka all the time. There’s nothing else to do. It’s just like 1984 over there.”

I wondered if the trip changed his preconceptions of Russia. It did. He said it changed his “opinions about communism— well Russian communism is quite a different type of communism. I’d really like to go to China… and I probably will someday. The Russian communism is quite different from the Chinese and I’d just like to see what the difference is and see what it’s like. It was really depressing in Russia. The people were really rude— rude to us Andrade to each other as well. Of course it’s better now than what it was like before 1917. They’re more freer than what they were with the tsars all all that lot— but the houses are really depressing; it’s just blocks of flats everywhere. Everybody’s crammed into these little rooms. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Italy.”

I don’t remember exactly but I think the Italian Communist Party had just had a big election victory (1976) and were invited into the government. That didn’t last long. I asked Paul he votes himself. “No,” he said. “I never voted. I should but the only party I’d probably vote for would be Labor— ‘cause I’d much rather have them in power than the Tories or the National Front or Communism; they’re what I’d tend to agree with more— and I don’t really agree with ‘em.But they’re better than any of the others. It really worrisome about who’s gonna be comin’ into power next in this country. For example, if the Conservatives get in… well, Margaret Thatcher made some speech about all these Black people and she’s sort of heading towards fascism. Only 3% of the whole countries Black and they’re sort of going on about how that’s gonna ruin the ‘British character.’”

Paul's sons Claude and Louis-- Prada models

The tape ended and I got a new one and asked him about his American label, CBS and why they didn’t release the first Clash album. “I think CBS didn’t think it was good enough or something,” he said. “I don’t really care what they think. A lot of people are buying it in America on export. They were even thinking of getting somebody to write some songs for us— getting somebody to write songs for us!! I mean we’ve got loads of material.”

He said the band tells them to fuck off. “We feel no ties towards CBS. We do exactly what we want. We’ve got complete control. Generally all record companies are pretty much the same. Look at this. [Shows me quote by head of CBS, UK a&r department about punk/new wave: “It’s a fad.”] “They’ve got no idea, them people. We don’t really have much of a relationship with CBS. Our manager’s checking things out to get it released in America.”

[Let me jump in here for a 2022 minute. This was at a time just before I made a deal with CBS to distribute my own independent label. I picked CBS because I knew they were the worst label and the most corporate and I was frustrated that the bands were pushing me to get major label distribution. Everything Paul said about CBS was true— and more. They hated the bands, especially the new wave bands— I mean the guys in top-level management; they were rotten conservatives and wanted to fuck them up and ruin their careers. One of the bands on my label, the Red Rockers was a lot like The Clash. They sounded like this. CBS got them an awful corporate-rock producer and took over their art direction and really wrecked the band— and didn’t even get them anything for all of it. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and I decided to get in a van and drive to Tierra del Fuego. Sorry… back to Paul.]

“Kids seem so bored from the last couple of years. I means one group like Led Zeppelin playing in some place like Earl’s Court— it’s just a whole star trip that these sort of groups are into. The kids can’t see ‘em or they get beaten up by a load of bouncers or not allowed near the group or anything. We’re not into that.

He talked a little about what the music they were doing compared to the hippie music of the ’60s. “It’s similar in the way that we’re sort of protesting against certain things. But the way they done it was in a different way— nonviolent: peace and love and all that stuff. Whereas it’s not peace and love now; it’s sort of hate and war. It’s more of an aggressive thing now.”

I mentioned that even if the music is, the people didn’t seem to be. Having just been on the road with them around England I mentioned that the fans seemed kind of nice. He said the things the band was saying was what’s different. “We’re not saying, ‘Flowers, man’ and stuff like that. We’re sort of pointing out the situation as it really is. I thought that whole hippie thing was like evading reality— all the spiritual stuff and all that sort of stuff. It’s quite different now. We’re the revenge of the hippies.”


1 Comment

Mr Sunshine
Mr Sunshine
Nov 20, 2022

Thanks, Howie. Can't wait for your book. Andy

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