When The Clash released Sandinista in 1981, Rolling Stone music critic John Piccarella said the band "ha[s] the potential to organize a rock & roll audience into an optimistic political body, or at least to provide the right information."
When the album came out I was one of those college moderates who'd spent the first presidential campaign I was eligible to vote in working for John Anderson. I liked the music and kind of snickered at the politics.
Last week, a little more than a quarter century later, I finally replaced my vinyl copy with a CD version. Driving along listening to the album I was struck - more chagrined, actually - at how little the world has changed and how much I have. Listening to the tracks I was amazed at how radicalized I'd become. I'm not alone. It may not be to the same degree, but I know lifelong Republicans in their seventies who've abandoned the party since 2000, a change they would have thought radical before 9/11 and the chicanery that followed.
In "Charlie Don't Surf," the band sang "We've been told to keep the strangers out/We don't like them starting to hang around/We don't like them all over town/Across the world we're gonna blow 'em down."
Charlie still don't surf, and there's little reason to expect he ever will. Still, there are plenty of people who won't be happy until he does, because maybe once he's up on a board he'll stop being so angry at us. It's just that you can't get someone to hang ten if he's not interested or, worse, at the point of a gun.
I harbor some hope that the folks pushing surfing lessons around the world, and their compatriots who'd land us in another Persian Gulf war before this administration takes a powder, are on the wrong side of history.
But that hope is tempered with a sadness over the pace of that history. More than 25 years after its release, hearing Simenon, Headon, Strummer and Jones sing "It's a one a way street in a one horse town/One way people starting to brag around/You can laugh, put them down/These one way people gonna blow us down," makes me want to cry.
Not for a lost youth, but for all the lost opportunity.
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