Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Clash "Straight To Hell"

My relationship with The Clash started right at the moment that I began to develop an interest in more challenging music. I remember a cold winter day in 1991, the light of the sun faint over the snow-strewn flatlands of my Nebraska hometown as I drove to the local mall and browsed the Musicland, the one record store in town. I picked up the Story of the Clash compilation, which is maybe the worst place to start, since the track listing is pretty much nonsensical and the track choices dubious.  I'd heard they were an important band, and the local FM station, perhaps because it was located out in the sticks, still allowed their DJs to play personal favorites. One DJ evidently liked "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" and "Rock The Casbah," since I heard them on a regular basis, even though they came out almost a decade before.

Perhaps because of the Nebraska winter surroundings, I gravitated more to the spookier sounding tracks initially, including "Straight To Hell." It's a sign of how much the Clash evolved musically, since it sounds nothing like the distorted guitar attacks of their early days.  There's barely any guitar here, the rhythm is intricate and slow, and synthesizers dominate.  At times everything drops out except for the spare percussion.  It perfectly expresses a certain feelings of alienation and rootlessness, something I didn't understand until I started listening closer to the lyrics.

"Straight to Hell" is a song I always seem to return to this time of year, although political events have me thinking about it this time around. It's a song commenting on the hostility to Vietnamese refugees in America, particularly those who had American fathers.  People tend to forget this, but there was very violent opposition to refugees from Vietnam in the 70s and 80s, despite the fact that America's foreign policy was the primary reason so many were having to flee their homes.  The song's name comes from the expressions of xenophobia that greeted the refugees, many of whom had to survive unspeakable horrors to make it to these shores.

We don't hear much about the violent opposition to Vietnamese refugees these days, mostly because it would be embarrassing to talk about, considering that those refugees and their descendants have become such valuable members of American society.  I only hope that Syrians fleeing such horrific warfare are given the same opportunity to prove the bigots wrong.

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