Punk Historian Mark Andersen on His Forthcoming Book, We Are the Clash
Longtime District punk activist Mark Andersen is a passionate fan of The Clash, and he's teamed up with musician and writer Ralph Heibutzki on a book called We Are the Clash, an in-depth look at the band’s often overlooked "Clash Mark II" period of the mid-1980s, when they kicked out pivotal members Topper Headon and Mick Jones and released the poorly reviewed album Cut The Crap. Andersen believes that this part of The Clash's story deserves a richer telling, and that the band’s music during this time reflected major societal struggles in the United Kingdom and America that continue to linger.
Andersen and Heibutzki created a Kickstarter campaign to help cover research and publishing costs, and last weekend they surpassed their goal of $15,000. We talked with Andersen about the campaign and his work on the book.
Washington City Paper: How does it feel to have reached your Kickstarter goal?
Mark Andersen: We're very happy. It’s been a lot of hard work and it’s also been energizing. People are excited. People are supporting it and want to see the book happen.
WCP: Were you worried about meeting your goal since it came down to the last few days of the campaign?
MA: There was a point when it was unclear to us if we were really reaching the people who were interested, so we just had to work a little harder to send the message out a little further. These campaigns are kind of a leap of faith. You believe something you’re doing is something that matters to people, but you don’t know. You do your part, but the rest is whether or not it touches people. In the end we felt very gratified. It did really touch people. Beyond the financial assistance, the moral support we felt is just a huge boost to our work.
WCP: What was the fundraising process like? Did you have specific challenges with the Kickstarter model?
MA: This was the first time that either Ralph or I had run a Kickstarter campaign. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of friends who have done them in the past, and those friends were generous with their time, giving us advice on how to do it. We really have so much gratitude for them and all the folks who helped us because it was a little bit of unexplored terrain for us. It was good to have some folks who could show us the ropes.
WCP: What’s next for you and Ralph?
MA: We want to continue with what we’re already doing, gathering all the documents we can from that time: photographs, interviews, old ticket stubs—any of the little bits and pieces that can help us flesh out the story. We need to continue to do our interviews. We’ve had tremendous ones, but are still hoping to talk with Paul Simonon and Kosmo Vinyl—we hope and we believe that we will win their trust, and they’ll see that what we’re doing with this book is very truehearted and in the best spirit of The Clash. We’re trying our hardest to do justice to this story, and support from Kickstarter will obviously help that.
WCP: Are you targeting hardcore fans with We Are The Clash, or do you think the book will resonate with a wider audience?
MA: We’re certainly hoping to touch a larger audience. We know, of course, that the test of this in a certain sense is with the die-hard audience, and we definitely want to make a book that will resonate with them and be worthy of a band like The Clash. Part of what is different is the fact that we’re trying to place the story of The Clash into a larger context, the sociopolitical context. That ‘s what gave The Clash their vibrancy, their relevance.
1984 to 1985 was a turning point politically, not only in the U.K., but also here in the United States. With the breakthrough of Thatcher and Reagan, a certain right-wing economics and politics gained ascendance. That moment set the stage for the challenges we face today. We’re trying to place this poignant, sometimes inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking story of The Clash into a broader context, in which their struggles parallel and echo the larger struggle in British and American society. In the end, I hope we’ll be making a book that has a broad relevance.
My approach to history is not simply looking backward. We’re looking backward in order to get beyond, to quote Rites of Spring. The study of history informs us and inspires us in the present moment, and this book is absolutely about the last years of The Clash. But in a deeper sense it’s about now, where we as individuals and a broader community want to go, what kind of a city, country, and world we want to have. In that sense, it’s about not simply examining the past—it’s about inspiring action now. [The Clash] are one of the most significant and lasting inspirations in my own activism and study of the world.
Photo by Per-Ake Warn