I was 12 years old when The Clash had their first big hit on American radio: ‘Train in Vain,’ that weird hidden track tacked on to the London Calling album. (You know the song. Everybody thought it was called ‘Stand By Me.’)
That summer of 1980 it got heavy play on WIFI 92.5 in Philadelphia. I loved the song, took my allowance to the record store at the mall and bought the 45. And played it a bunch until it finally started to wear on me.
Eventually I got curious and listened to the B side. (To those who don’t know: 45s were small records with one song on each side. The A side was the hit; the B side was just some song from the album.)
I didn’t expect much — B sides usually sucked — but what I got was the song London Calling. I’d never heard anything like it before. Those driving drums with synced guitar chords. That growling bass that started in the underworld, climbed up, then climbed back down even lower. The raspy, pitch-approximate, yelling and howling voice detailing the end of the world.
‘The ice age is coming!’
That guitar solo that sounded like machines breaking down. And, finally, the end: ‘I never felt so much alive...’
I had never, ever heard anything like it before. It changed everything for me. That was the sound I’d been waiting for, without even knowing it. I didn’t expect it; it seemed to come out of nowhere; and I loved it.
And I still do.
In 2004 we were watching the Democratic National Convention on TV, and were mesmerized by a speech from a state legislator from Illinois. ‘Why aren’t we voting for him?’
I feel like, this year, I get to vote for the new sound I’d been waiting for without knowing it. It seemed to come from nowhere. There was no reason to expect it.
I never felt so much alive.