The Clash: London Calling (1979)

Image: The Clash – Three of the band members (1980) Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simanon

Blog by Adrian M. McGlinchey || Re-posted from original, dated: July 09, 2020.

Editor’s Summary

This article was inspired by my thoughts on the British punk-rock band The Clash; more specifically their hit song “London Calling”.

Introduction

I wasn’t always a fan of the punk rock music scene because its material sounded a bit raw to me. I don’t wish to name names here and end up offending anyone. Afterall, music is a personal taste game. However, the British rock band The Clash had, in my humble opinion, better musicality and better lyrics than certain others. Some say that musicality is not the goal of Punk or, for that matter, Rap or Hip-hop; but a bit of rhythm, good singing, and great lyrics are always the key ingredients of any great song worth remembering, to my way of thinking at least. Reflection on these aspects brings to my attention one of my favourite songs by the Clash, “London Calling”.

We could debate whether The Clash were really Punk, but they did have their origins in the Punk style and went on to become Post-punk and New Wave, much like the band Blondie on the other side of the Atlantic in the US but in their own unique way. Both these bands eventually incorporated other elements into their sound, such as: Reggae, Dub, Funk, Ska, and Rockabilly, while retaining some of their Punk origins. So, getting back to the song “London Calling”, what does it all mean and what are my responses? Let me point out, before continuing, that pop and rock lyrics, much like lyric poetry, can have an intended meaning of its creators, and sometimes lyrics can be left open to personal interpretation of the reader or the listener. With this consideration in mind, I hope my thoughts do justice to The Clash band members and the fans, but please be lenient if I come up with a different take on the meaning intended.

Lyrically, the song “London Calling” evokes powerful frightening images of apocalyptic events that may happen to the world and particularly to the City of London. The words forebode the possibility of anything from nuclear annihilation to a flooding of Biblical proportions. These potential catastrophes have always been a concern to ordinary folk everywhere since the Cold War that began in the 1950s and lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; yet the haunting fear remains with the rise of political states such as China, Iran and North Korea, and also the prevalent alarmism about global warming. I won’t include the entire lyric here; simply visit the Song Facts website, listed in the Resources and Accreditations section at the end after reading this article if you wish to know the complete words to the song. I intend only to quote specific passages to back up the points I wish to make.

A Race to Destruction

The song seems to race from one potential disaster to another, either natural or man-made. These catastrophes include police brutality, martial law, insurrection, environmental collapse, and nuclear annihilation. Even the beat of the music has a strong heartbeat pulse that rushes toward inevitability. All these potentialities sound imminent. I love the throbbing bass line that adds drama to the words. The line, “Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” may have been a put-down of the Beatles, but it might also have also been an expression of a distaste for record labels pumping out Beatles tracks ad nauseum until they became as cheapened as elevator Muzak. That may be incidental to the song’s meaning anyway. The sense of apocalyptic drama is still prominent.

I would like now to deal with some expressions in the song that I must admit I don’t completely understand but I will take a stab at them, according to my own sensibilities. The first expression that I stumbled upon is the limitation zone. I can’t help wondering if that represents the private gated enclaves of the ruling elite – the phonies who lord it over everyone else with their platitudes of dubious virtue. The next one is, “I never felt so much alike/alone”. Is this about how, when devastation strikes, we are all reduced to one common denominator?… or was the word meant to be “alone”? I’m not sure The one that really mystifies me is, “… see we ain’t got no high except for that one with the yellow eye”. Hmmm… strange to me. In Australia we have a term, “The Yellow Peril” which indicates a fear of communist China. In the British context, though, I’ve really no idea what The Clash is talking about here. If anyone out there, living on the other side of the planet (especially UK) understands these Brit expressions, kindly post a comment, but keep it clean. Differences of opinion are welcome; profanity is NOT!

Another expression that fascinates me is this: “I have no fear ‘Cause London is drowning, and I… I live by the river”. I have saved this one for the very last because I have a deeply personal response to this, even though it may not have been what The Clash intended. I must say these words smack of dramatic irony and they are the most memorable to me. With lack of better information, I allow my mind to contemplate these words as they present themselves to me. I can’t help noticing the gaping chasm of contradiction between a city drowning in a great flood and the false sense of security in living by the river, albeit in a high-rise apartment. When the great flood is deep and wide, and all facilities are broken down and disconnected, how many electric pumps will you require to drain your humble abode, six storeys up, and to flush out the excess water and sewerage back into the River Thames which is already choked, I wonder? Will your pumps even work when electrical power runs out? Despite my flippancy, my observations of this specific piece of the lyric are important to my conclusion, which does take The Clash seriously. As is by now apparent, I have noted a dramatic irony in the song “London Calling” and I wish to bring this observation forward into my conclusion.

Conclusions: May I take it personally? I think I will!

Having done my best to take an objective view of The Clash and their song “London Calling”, I am left with all the personal impressions that I simply can’t avoid when I have a moment to listen. When I let myself drift away, I vividly see this potential apocalyptic world. The things I take from this song are profound with notions of how humans might endure, survive, or succumb to a cataclysm. Another angle that I see is the vanity of a new elitist political order in the West that that makes enemies on multiple fronts and yet maintains a false sense of security for its followers. We may wax and wane between preference for the royalist and democratic traditionalism of yesteryear or for the extreme cultural-Marxism of recent times, but we need to recognise that all total power is corrupt. Whatever our political stance, I can’t go past the lines, “London calling to the limitation zone. Forget it, brother, you can go it alone”. Let me explain in the next paragraph.

I hear in this statement, “London calling to the limitation zone…” something that seems indicative of the vanity of today’s ruling class. I can’t help but see this as a scenario of the political ruling elite living in their posh gated communities, while they virtue signal to the less fortunate. Once it was kings and queens who lived high on the hog at everyone else’s expense; now it is the cultural-Marxists. These fake, hollow people, like King Lois XVI and Marie Antionette of France, and the reviled King Charles I of England who all went before, seem to have transformed themselves into a new generation of champagne quaffing, upper-middle-class socialists in high professions. These people have never known what it means to go hungry and homeless, nor have they ever known any kind of wanting in their lives. The kind of arrogance this situation breeds is not unique to any political persuasion. The monarchist superpowers of Europe and Britain did it, as so do now the communists and the cultural-Marxist infiltrators into western democracy. These are not necessarily the views of The Clash, but the song does arouse this angst and feelings of hurt in me. Can’t help myself guys and girls – a bit of a rant! Sorry folks… Make yourselves a hot cup of drinking chocolate and hug your cat or snuffle your puppy dog if you feel uncomfortable with facing this modern reality. I don’t like it either. Let’s all take a few deep breaths.

The entire song comes absolutely together for me with the chorus-like verse endings, “… but I have no fear ‘cause London is drowning, and I live by the river”. This is a magnificent lyric. I’ve heard that one of the band members lived in a high-rise on the river, which could be the inspiration for this phrase. Perhaps, in exaggerated bravado, almost tongue-in-cheek, he would be entitled feel above all the suffering, and immune from all the damage; hence “I have no fear”. Was it meant to be sarcastic? I don’t know. Can we not see a deeper metaphor? The metaphor, to me, is one of corrupt people in ivory towers; a portrayal of the political elite forever looking down upon us and gleefully sneering at us? I have concluded with my own personal vibe and, if I got this wrong, it’s just what I take from a song (sorry about the unintended rhyme – wrong/song). Feel free to post your comments. Please keep the language decent! I would be interested to read your interpretations and ideas.

Special Note: Thank you for reading me. I realise I could do some splendid video presentations if I were determined enough but I honestly don’t feel ready or confident. I dearly would like to get to that stage but that’s for another day. In the meantime, I pray that you my friends enjoy good reading, even though I feel it’s becoming a lost art, alas!

Resources and Accreditations

Song Facts (n.d.) “London Calling by the Clash”,
      https://www.songfacts.com/facts/the-clash/london-calling, Accessed 5-Jul-2020.

The Clash (Official YouTube Channel) (2019) “The Clash – London Calling (Official Video)”
      Released on Vimeo then later on YouTube Premiered on Dec 14, 2019.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3XqMtam1I0, Accessed 5-Jul-2020.

Wikipedia (n.d.), “The Clash”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clash, Accessed 5-Jul-2020.

Photo Credits: Frame from YouTube (2019)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3XqMtam1I0
      Video: Duration 3:21 | Freeze Frame: 0:22 within the YouTube video Get the song lyrics at: https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/the-clash/london-calling

Tyger – A poem to music

by Adrian M. McGlinchey || Re-posted from original dated: September 18, 2020.

Image: Blake. W, (n.d). “The Tyger [Illustration]”, The British Library

Image: Blake. W, (n.d). “The Tyger [Illustration]”, The British Library

It’s 2020 now, and still I keep revisiting this. I knew the William Blake poem well from my high school years and my passion for the way Mister Blake put intense imagery into poetry has not died. I think Tangerine Dream did a great job of turning this poem into a song. The lyrics capture a sense of pure wonderment at the creation of nature and the universe. Whether one is spiritual or not, one would have to be as thick as a brick to not to at least be captivated by thoughts of what forces made the universe, the stars, and the animals to such an amazing design. With the opening words, “Tyger, Tyger burning bright in the forests of the night”, I sometimes imagine the Tyger not only as a majestic beast of the jungle or savannah, but as a constellation in the night sky, as there is also a line in the lyric that goes, “And when the stars threw down their spears and water’d Heaven with their tears, did He smile His work to see? Did He who made the Lamb make thee?” This could equally be a metaphor for the origins of the entire cosmos as well as about a species of animal. Great stuff… It sends a beautiful tingle down my spine.

The full lyrics to the poem/song are:

The Tyger
~ by William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Accreditations

Blake. W, (n.d). “The Tyger [Illustration]”, The British Library, on GoogleSearch at URL: https://www.google.com/search?q=william+blake+tyger+illustration&client=firefox-b-d&sxsrf=ALeKk03r5LRY08KBhcBkcsWzfcfPAdilBA:1600353686737&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=3rT-GnL-o4Xw1M%252CJf6nWFtrjmpWpM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kR_Hg_aH6grCmRJY07kWgn8yW78yQ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjO4oyItvDrAhUCcCsKHeodA7IQ9QF6BAgKEFg&biw=1552&bih=949#imgrc=QInFYjWpCkO7AM, Image detail, Accessed 18-sep-2020.

Poetry Foundation (n.d.). “The Tyger”, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43687/the-tyger, Lyrics, Accessed 18-Sep-2020.

Philosophy as a Science

by Adrian M. McGlinchey || Re-posted from original, dated: May 18, 2020.

Image: The Thinker – Rodin, The Imaginative Conservative

Philosophy is often considered a science, but this is difficult to prove when one must compare with an ordinary science, for example biology, chemistry, or physics. This is a question that turns into a burning issue among the scientists and linguists all over the world. Can philosophy be a science? What does philosophy operate with? It operates with categories, which can be as wide and as interchangeable as one can only imagine. Ordinary science operates with definitions, which are quite limited in their specific field of research. Ordinary science uses terms and laws of that very science to continue the research, uniting with the other branches of science only in rare cases. Yet Philosophy creeps into every science in trying to arrive at its conclusions.

We cannot correctly call philosophy a pseudo-science, for it also uses hypothesis and arguments to state an opinion, as do the natural sciences. But there is the obvious thing: there are laws in philosophy which will never be absolute or immutable, for the science changes with the age, and the needs, beliefs, and requirements of the citizens may change more gradually than the empirical data. To prove your opinion, you can write the definition essay and state all the facts and arguments you know to prove one way or another. This is also a nice way to research the problem and see what the solution is. But you must research it carefully; otherwise definition essays will not be fruitful, especially when the supporting facts undergo a process of change over time.

As with all ‘sciences’, philosophy has gone through its stages of development. Some scientists believe that the crib of philosophy was mythology and religion. We may see the principles of life in some primitive morals stated in myths, we may also see that a statement is true at the time, and philosophy continues to develop out of social beliefs and norms, while the progress of scientific facts marches on. Philosophy is a science which is learned by many a college student to establish his/her own philosophy of life. It is quite exciting to find answers to ever existing questions: who am I? What do I know? What can I know? What am I destined to do? Here is one more interesting observation. We can see that most famous philosophers were researching other science fields also. For example, Freud, Jung, Kafka, and others were doing research in linguistics and social sciences. Their numerous creations are the pride of human history for they revealed some secrets that remained undiscovered for a long time before their great contributions. Philosophy, however, needs to be informed by the other branches of scientific inquiry to keep updated on the assumptions that its propositions are based upon. The other sciences need philosophy to evaluate the significance of scientific hypothesis.

There are so many currents and branches, so many schools of philosophy, that it is hard to decide, which one you prefer and agree with. This much depends on the country, family, society you live in. This is one more difference between philosophy and other natural sciences. The law of natural science is stable for any country; gravity exists in India, same as in Brazil. Philosophy is a hard science, for it is difficult to analyse the sense of dogma versus fact when reading it only once. Despite these anomalies, we can now at least see a working relationship between philosophy and the natural sciences. It is of course, not easy to bring all these elements together in an infallible way. If all else fails, we can, when invited to a social event, quote one of the eminent doctors of philosophy, and make a great impression of an educated and intelligent personality that our host(s) will admire.

Picture Credits

The Thinker – Rodin, The Imaginative Conservative;
as accessed on Yahoo Search, sourced from:
https://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=AwrxhZV_B8Jezm0A_94W5gt.;_ylu=X3oDMTBtdXBkbHJyBHNlYwNmcC1hdHRyaWIEc2xrA3J1cmw-/RV=2/RE=1589803007/RO=11/RU=http%3a%2f%2fwww.theimaginativeconservative.org%2f2016%2f12%2fwhy-philosophy-thaddeus-kozinski.html/RK=2/RS=7omwZXm9r6sJIL085tI7SJxIOBY-

Bright Idea Light Globe Meme, University of Guelph (College of the Arts);
as accessed on Yahoo Search, sourced from:
https://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=AwrwJUhdCcJeLGwAbnQW5gt.;_ylu=X3oDMTBtdXBkbHJyBHNlYwNmcC1hdHRyaWIEc2xrA3J1cmw-/RV=2/RE=1589803485/RO=11/RU=https%3a%2f%2fwww.uoguelph.ca%2fphilosophy%2f/RK=2/RS=5fZU7lweSkHvTRY0os2TPLs2Pls-