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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Clampdown’ by The Clash

Today, several radio stations celebrated International Clash Day. KEXP Morning Show host John Richards was largely responsible for the idea of a day for the seminal punk rock band, The Clash.

“The message of The Clash, so influenced by the international sounds they grew up with, is both powerful and uplifting especially now in this time of struggle,” said Richards. “The Clash represents what KEXP is all about–music, rebellion, and pushing boundaries. KEXP is infused by international sounds, songs of protest, and believe strongly in the power of the airwaves to affect change.”

As a way of marking the day, Shadowproof’s “Protest Song Of The Week” is the classic punk tune from The Clash called “Clampdown” about repression and freedom, which appeared on the band’s 1979 album, “London Calling.”

The “clampdown” is the system that younger people join because they want to make money or need jobs in order to get by and life.  But when someone joins the “clampdown,” they are part of the repression and subjugation of people throughout society.

Those working for the clampdown entice younger people. As Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote, “They put up a poster saying we earn more than you.” They are also bigoted. “Taking off his turban, they said, is this man a Jew?”

Strummer and Jones view the workers at factories in fueling the engines of capitalism as “old and cunning.” He warns younger people through the song that they want to steal the best years of their lives by convincing young people to work for the factory.

“I’m not working for the clampdown,” Strummer declares. “No man born with a living soul can be working for the clampdown.”

Strummer advises, “Kick over the wall cause government’s to fall. How can you refuse it? Let fury have the hour, anger can be power. D’you know that you can use it?”

“In these days of evil presidentes,” as Strummer sings, the best thing people with presumably long lives ahead of them can do is not give away their humanity. That’s Strummer’s message: to not become a cog in the machine and become part of the “Clampdown.”

As Marcus Gray wrote in his book, “The Clash: Return Of The Last Gang In Town,” the song “seems torn between the fatalistic belief that aging automatically equates with becoming part of the machinery of repression, and the desire to encourage organized resistance with the assertion that ‘anger can be power.'”

Part of the backdrop for the “Clampdown” was the prospect of nuclear disaster. The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had a near-meltdown. The event inspired the line, “Begging to be melted down,” which is a terse way of saying citizens of a society deserve misery and despair if they are not going to struggle for dignity and rights.

Whether it is capitalism or fascism, the song shows The Clash were keenly aware of how power can corrupt the souls of humans. First one gets to make decisions, then they get the authority to use force, and then they are sanctioned to kill.

Authorities are likely to punish those who do not join the “Clampdown,” but that is a point of pride for The Clash. At least they are not growing up and working for the “Clampdown.”

In the era of evil presidents, where communities contemplate general strikes and making society ungovernable, The Clash’s call to channel anger into defiance and even organized resistance carries great resonance.

Do you really want to be a part of the machinery of self-destruction that leaders like President Donald Trump are expanding? Do you really want to be working for the “Clampdown”? Or will you harness your anger into power?

Listen to “Clampdown” by The Clash:

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Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."