The Rise and Fall Of The Clash

Shout! Factory continues its impressive strategy of releasing great titles. Despite an impressive back catalog of documentaries released after the band dissolved, this film looks more closely at the fall of the Clash than their meteoric rise.  Invariably, personality and money seem to be the culprits. The simplistic and occasionally relevant comparison of the Mick Jones – Joe Strummer relationship to that of Keith Richards – Mick Jagger does not tell the full story.  As the Clash attained gobs of money, Strummer’s more upperclass background contrasted with Jones’ squatter mentality in odd fashion.  Jones took to the rock star lifestyle with a model girlfriend but Strummer wanted to pull back from the madness of the US Festival. Sponsored by Steve Wozniak of Apple Computers, the California festival was the last Clash gig with Jones.  Back in London, Jones turned up early for rehearsals only to find the studio empty. Despite efforts by bassist Paul Simonon to be the ombudsman over the previous months, Jones was sacked from his own band that day.  Although Jones can tell his side of the story with recent interviews, Strummer’s voice is pulled from past interviews.

The Only Band That Mattered? Perhaps.

The Only Band That Mattered? Perhaps.

The Rise and Fall of The Clash features previously unseen footage of the band, as well as new interviews with the individual band members and with fellow travelers like Terry Chimes, Pearl Harbor and others who were on the scene.  Especially poignant are the interviews with the otherwise forgotten late stage replacement band members.

A magnifying glass is brought to the personnel changes – The Clash churn through three drummers and then two guitarists to replace Jones. Both guitarists bemoan the 150 quid per week wages they received despite the loads of money generated by the band. The music falters, but by the same token never would any band attain the apogee of London Calling or Sandinista. The look of the band became more overtly calculated, despite or because of  Strummer’s efforts to bring the band back to its punk roots. Indeed, Strummer seems a bit untethered.  The death of his father and cancer of his mother were likely factors.  Manager Bernie Rhodes and press consigliore Kosmo Vinyl come in for criticism. Strummer finally sees the error of his ways in relying on Rhodes.  The final spark of the band’s early glory is glimpsed in the song This is England, but all agree that most of the post-Jones Clash work is bollocks.

The film includes rare performance and archival footage from the band’s final years. It is great seeing myriad photos, magazine covers and other collected ephemera.

Jones went on to artistic relevance with Big Audio Dynamite and eventually Strummer gathered his Mescaleros for a series of remarkable albums, before his untimely death. Julien Temple captures Strummer’s last years in the brilliant The Future is Unwritten   Those post-Clash Strummer years are also captured well in Let’s Rock Again

After these documentaries and the cargo-sized box set reissue of the albums, The Rise and Fall of The Clash may be the last word on the band.  The film does a great job of exposing all the warts, pimples and fisticuffs. But is a tough viewing for fans, because the band’s old lyric proves true in the end when it comes to their manager “turning rebellion into money.”


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.