BY LAURA JANE FAULDS (ILLUSTRATION BY JEN MAY)
“I did not believe that I would ever love the Clash,” I told him, “But it was February- which is bleak, and dull- and I had nothin’ much else doin’, and I wanted to be a good friend to Charlie and Nadine. They love the Clash so much, and they let me stay in their home- home, you know? Not just, like, apartment; it's so different- last time I was in New York, when it snowed on Hallowe’en- it was so weird! It snowed on Hallowe’en. That never happened before. And then it was the mildest winter, but now that it’s not winter I can’t remember the “mildness,” I can’t remember it, I can’t remember winter- but it snowed on Hallowe’en. The news kept calling it Snowtober, but Charlie thought of Octsnowber, which is brilliant, and you just can’t do that. You can’t not listen to the Clash; you can’t do that to people, the people who thought of Octsnowber and let you draw a weirdly good eyeliner Misfits skull on their arm on Hallowe’en- you can’t not listen to the Clash, just to be a dick about it, just to have a jerky perspective on things because every dude I've ever, like, looked at, told me to listen to Sandinista!, like, every single second of my life."
"Well, they were right, right?" he asked.
"Well, there you go."
"Well there I go what? What? I should have listened to more men? Of course you'd say that. See? Ew. This is exactly why I was so resistant to the Clash for so long."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Oh it makes all the sense. The Clash are the official band of dudes. That was what I thought about the Clash, before I loved them: The Clash are for dudes, The Clash are the official band of dudes. I can't decide whether The Clash or The Who should count as The Official Band of Dudes, those were some of the little anti-Clash jokes I liked to make, and I thought, I don't mind that the Clash exist. I have no problem with the Clash existing. They're... they're a good band for someone else to be listening to, and I felt very comfortable existing within those tried and true Clash-opinions of mine. But, like, it was February, and it wasn't now yet, it was then then, and like I said, I really had nothin' doin', and I wanted to do something nice for my friends. And I wanted to show that I could at least try something new- boring eaters drive me crazy, and I didn't want to be the music equivalent of a boring eater, and what's interesting, looking back on it, is that everything about myself that made me not want to listen to the Clash- my issues with men, mostly- were the things that listening to the Clash eventually saved me from-"
"Did you start at the beginning?" he asked.
"Well, there's really no other way," I said, "I mean, it's inevitable. There's really no other place else to start."
"No," he said, "I'm not asking you an interesting question. It's not, like, deep or meaningful or anything. All I'm asking is if the first Clash album you listened to was The Clash."
I started with the first Clash album, from 1977: The Clash. It was a weekday, and I was on my way to work: a late shift in the early evening, and I was overwhelmed by the dirtiness of the world- that's where I was "at," in early Feb- I was, most prominently, a person overwhelmed by the dirtiness of the world. There was muck in the snow, and I'd gotten fucked out of my job dressing baby mannequins at a GapKids/BabyGap by an evil bitch who once booked the day off to go to a Tori Amos concert and then skipped the Tori Amos concert because she had a cramp in her elbow, so that's basically the least rock and roll chain of events anyone ever participated in ever.
In January, the evil bitch screwed me out of my job by hiring a person who wore an ADD ME ON FACEBOOK t-shirt to take over my job without bothering to fire me first, so all of a sudden I was getting scheduled to work four hours a week and had to figure the whole coup out on my own. It was a very unpleasant sight, watching myself get gaslit by people who weren't clever enough to properly gaslight me; they probably don't even know what the word gaslighting means. They probably don't even know what light is, really, or have ever considered that it is beautiful. They've probably never even seen the Darjeeling Limited for God's the fuck sake or know Wes Anderson's name, or even that Wes is a name. I bet they dream only of wooden hangers and believe that heaven is eating cupcakes with your dead grandmother. They probably have only read one book in their entire lives, which is Eat Pray Love.
In Feb, I was stressed I didn't have a job, but not that stressed- it was actually amazing, because I almost never had to go to work, which was amazing, because I hate work. I hate work, work itself, physically working, the concept of working, the concept of "jobs," jobs, why people have to have jobs, the way the world worked out so it's all jobs jobs and more jobs, listening to people talk about their boring fucking jobs I don't give a shit about, etc. The only downside to that phase of barely having a job was that I had to find a new one: a job-related task. Ew.
February, God, what did I even fucking do? I was living off an inheritance, and my mother projected mystical properties onto the coincidence of my inheriting said inheritance at a moment when I otherwise would have been broke, and I went with it; it was way more pleasant to be all "Oooh! Gratitude! Spooooky!" than to berate myself for pissing away a dead relative's hard-earned money on fucking trinkets. "Go with it, Laura Jane. He wanted you to have trinkets."
I ate Thai take-out every night, binge-watched Downton Abbey, went on record-buying excursions where I told myself, "Laura Jane, you are allowed to buy every record you want" and it was heavenly. I went to the gym every day but also drank red wine and coffee until my tongue turned black as a Chow-Chow's and I believed I could feel my internal organs swimming around a pool of poison. I detoxed, drank, detoxed, drank, wrote, wrote, thought maybe today would be the day I finally booked myself a dentist's appointment but it never was, bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles, bought myself a toaster oven, made a little pizza ONCE, smoked about a cigarette per hour, and when trinkets grew tiresome, I started thinking a lot about death and "the meaningless of everything." I began to feel like a hole had been blasted through my forehead and now I couldn't see things properly- it was more than just jobs I didn't understand, and nothing sparkled loud enough to override the violence with which I hated how life, real life, when I walked out onto the street and saw it, existed only to fill up space.
Cars, bars, restaurants, stores, all the things they sell in stores, the sidewalk, buildings, street signs, stoplights, clothes, bags, keys, wallets, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, cigarettes, lighters, bottles, bus shelters, buses, the ads on buses, billboards, sex, weddings, "starting a family," hair dye, nail polish, airports, phones, chairs, books, jobs, music, the Internet- they're all just another something we use to fill up space, and I wondered, "What is it about us humans, that makes us so averse to space?"
Why do we hate space? Why can't we just have space? Silence, too, is space, so we have to go and talk all over it. The world is space, the planet is space, and so, too, are our lives. We're born on a day and we die on a day, and all we are is the space between those two days, and we perform strange tasks, arrange objects into orders, so now it's not just space: it's life.
"Maybe I should join a commune," I thought, but I knew if I joined a commune I'd just end up hating all the other people in my commune, and leave the commune. And then I'd have to face up to being a human being so fractured that I couldn't even make it in a fucking commune, because that's how much I hate things.
Looking back, it's so obvious: I was a person perfectly poised to start loving the Clash. See, the thing about the Clash is, they never try to lie and tell you the world isn't awful- "The world is totally awful," they concur, but, they don't want you to let it get you down. It really bums them out to think that that might happen.
Unless you're a soulless asshole, the Clash are always on your side. It's you and the Clash against the world.
"So do you think you'd ever, like, fuck Joe Strummer?" she asked.
I was sitting on a bench built into a wall, and my feet didn't properly touch the ground. We kept stretching our arms out so our backs cracked; I couldn't believe how much my back hurt. I feel as though, on the whole, humans have chosen generally uncomfortable places for ourselves to sit on.
"I can't even, like, conceptualize myself being in a situation where that could be, like, even a possibility," I said, "Joe Strummer is, like, some dude who'd be dating one of my friends, one of my friends who'll just date, like, any guy, just to try it out, like, some weird anarchist in a bad mood all the time, some dude going on and on about, like, "false economies." Everything would be a "false economy" to Joe Strummer, if he lived today, I feel. So I'd just be out at a bar with my friend and her new boyfriend Joe Strummer, and, like, we'd all be out, and when she went to the bathroom, Joe Strummer and I would just be sitting there, like, in silence. We'd each make an effort, periodically... one of us would conjure up some meagre attempt at small talk, to which the other's response would elicit no opportunities for... pursuance- is that a word? Pursuance? I'm pretty sure it's a word... and then we'd just, just, sit there again, Joe Strummer and I. But it wouldn't be a terrible round of just sitting there."
I pretended to myself, for the sake of it, that I was a person who liked the Clash. I wanted to be. There could be this whole other person, this whole other Laura, and everything about me would be the same, only I'd like the Clash, which would change some other things about me- I'd have all those things a person has that come along with liking the Clash: hating corporations, hating oppression, knowing my rights. Oh God how I'd know my rights. Clash Laura, I'd be Clash Laura, who wears her bangs in a different way.
I teased my bangs back into a pomp, painted my lips red, wore a leopard-print dress and a giant men's army parka stolen out of a dumpster a freegan from Montreal gave me one thunderstormy night when I was cold and sad because as it turned out some dude who'd told me to listen to Sandinista! was too in love with his ex-girlfriend to fuck, and the leaves on the trees on my street weren't only not verdant, they were not there.
I wished I could go back to being the person I used to be, when I'd listen to Norwegian Wood on headphones and it sounded more like I did than I did. I felt sick of spending so much energy trying to get myself to mean something to somebody else- I needed something to mean something to me.
The song starts with the drums, but I don't hear drums, I hear the bass; I'm fine-tuned to hear the bass. It sounded like staircases, which is my favorite way for a bass guitar to sound, and all the words were true words. They said a lot of things that I could bend to mean a lot of things, but I couldn't hear it, I couldn't feel it. I knew what it was supposed to do to you, but it didn't work, Janie Jones, it didn't work on me. I didn't want to hop around or feel connected to the idea of rock and roll meaning anything.
But I was bored by my life, and I was in a phase of being bored by all the music I normally listened to, so even though I didn't like it, at least I wasn't bored by it. I imagined an alien coming down to Earth and asking me what punk rock was, and if I'd had to answer that question, I would have played him this song.