The image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass on the cover of The Clash’s London Calling is one of the most iconic images in all of rock ‘n’ roll. While you can’t always judge a record by it’s cover, in this case, you can.
London Calling is a great record in a great looking package, but Marcus Gray’s new book Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling is a different story. While the book’s cover – and its title – implies that this volume is an examination of the band’s 1979 release, and a critical analysis that would argue it’s place among rock’s best records, covers can be misleading.
This is actually much, much more.
Route is easily the most exhaustive volume ever produced on The Clash, let alone an almost-omniscient examination of the London Calling record. Before Gray even alludes to the project, he sets the stage for it and the entire career of the band. With colorful language and textured, layered details, Gray takes the time to tell the story of every member of the band and thoroughly describe the world that London Calling came crashing into.
Like other volumes, Gray exposes the Clash’s contradictions: Joe Strummer was a diplomat’s son who had to learn to be a working-class-hero; Mick Jones cared more about fashion than politics. He also brings clear-minded analysis to the band’s myth, effectively interjecting likely-truth into threadbare “official stories”. Gray’s commitment to the truth about his subjects and their masterpiece more than pays off, and this book puts you on the street, at the club and in the recording studio with the band in a way that few rock books even attempt.
This is far more than just the making-of one of rock’s best records. This is a passionate work of scholarship by a gifted, loving writer and it’s the book that this record – and this band – deserves.
Visit Joe Nolan’s Insomnia for a 90-minute, London Calling era Clash performance in New Jersey (1979).