We’re digging deep into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you the sad ending to one of the most vibrant stories rock has ever known—the end of The Clash as we know it. While the legend of ‘the only band that matters’ continues to this day, their demise, noted here as the moment Mick Jones left the group as it should be, was a colossal crucible of flared tempers, bitter tastes, and the Woz.
It’s one of the weirder stories of The Clash career and suggests that though they may have burned brightly, their flame was always destined to be extinguished by the corporate greed of eighties America. It’s true too, aside from the memory and spirit of the band which lives on to this day, after this event, nothing was ever the same again and The Clash were reduced to being a footnote for the time being.
As part of the team that co-founded the tech mega-giant Apple, Steve Wozniak is widely considered a genius. His determination and intelligence set the foundations for the growth of the biggest technology company in the world. However, his name will also go down in the annals of another history book. This one is labelled rock history and sees Wozniak’s name down as the organiser of the infamous US Festival.
First held during Memorial Day weekend in 1982 at the Glen Helen Regional Park outside of Los Angeles, the US Festival (or “Unite us in Song”) was a hopeful look toward the increasingly neon-lit, fast-paced future—a welcomed departure from the drug-fuelled decadence that was the 1970s. For Wozniak it was a difficult time, on leave from Apple after surviving a destructive plane crash, he was trying to find some solace in life and some hobbies to keep him entertained.
The 1982 festival which Woz wanted to be the “Super Bowl of rock parties” had a quite incredible lineup. Featuring acts like The Police, Talking Heads, The B52s, Oingo Boingo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, and many more the three-day event was set to be one of the musical moments of the year.
Sadly, due to the intolerable temperatures that made the festival site an arid desert land, and high ticket prices (a whopping $37.50 for three days) the first-ever US Festival was a commercial flop. But Woz, ever the determined tinkerer, pushed on with the planning of 1983’s event—this time enlisting the help of Colorado promoter Barry Fey. The event would see the three-day event split by genre, from New Wave, Heavy Metal and Rock.
As this was 1983, the heavy metal day was a mammoth sell-out with Van Halen headlining and receiving a gigantic $1 million cheque for the privilege, at the time it was a world record for the highest amount paid for a single performance. That was until they that late addition David Bowie would also be on the bill and receiving the same payment for his performance. The band quickly demanded an extra $500,000 and Woz’s team wrote them an even bigger cheque. Van Halen arrived at their set three hours late with David Lee Roth so drunk that he could barely stand let alone sing. Not a pretty sight.
“The festival was completely booked,” Fey recalls, “and Van Halen had a favoured-nation clause in their contract that said no one could get more than them – and they were getting $1 million. Then Steve came to me and said, ‘God, Barry, I really love David Bowie.’ I say, ‘Steve, there’s no room. Let’s put this to bed.’ And he says, ‘Well, I really do love David… could you try? It is my money and my festival.’”
Fey called Bowie, who was touring Europe a month after the release of his blockbuster album Let’s Dance. He would return to America that August for two sold-out shows at Angel Stadium. Fey continues, “David tells me: ‘We’ll have to interrupt our tour and charter a 747 to bring our equipment and get it right back again.’ So I went to Steve: ‘David’s gonna cost you a million and a half, but it’s gonna cost you an extra half a million for Van Halen.’ He just shrugged his shoulders: ‘So?’ The addition of Bowie ultimately cost $2 million.”
Van Halen was not the only issue among the headliners though and trouble would arrive on the very first night. The Clash, the cresting foam of the new wave were atop the bill for the opening day of the event and were in the middle of their own inter-band turmoil. The punks had become a worldwide smash in recent years and like all bands who ‘make it’ the group were starting to find cracks in their solid punk foundations, cracks which were only worsening with time.
The first problems would rumble with that old age issue, money. But unlike Van Halen, Joe Strummer and The Clash weren’t demanding extra zeroes, they were concerned about the gratuity of the event. After hearing about the amount paid to David Lee Roth and his band, Strummer demanded that the bigger acts donated a portion of their proceeds to charity. Then, following the discovery of a ticket price hike, The Clash refused to play unless Apple donated $100,000 to charity. Their guarantee was $500,000.
Then came their now-infamous performance. Strutting out on to the stage following the commercial success of their 1982 LP Combat Rock, the band arrived two hours late to their headlining performance. Strummer, along with the rest of the band, were in full guerilla warfare mode. Instead of being the main attraction at Wozniak’s glittering fair they became hostile participants in the event and aimed to bring it down like a runaway circus elephant with the tent attached to its tail.
Approaching the stage behind them the words “THE CLASH NOT FOR SALE” were projected on to a screen as the group somewhat sloppily raced through their set—hurling figurative shit at every member of the festival with every note. The Clash were unhappy with Van Halen, unhappy with the event’s commercialisation of rock and roll, and unhappy with the crowd. But as their swashbuckling, freedom fighter act continued, The Clash had not realised that they had pushed the event’s organisers over the edge and they were ready to blow.
The crew decided to change the previous projection of the band’s proclamation that they were not for sale and instead posted their $500,000 cheque for performing up on the screen behind them.
Naturally, the band was furious. They ended up in a physical altercation with the event’s crew and refused to play an encore. Little did the crowd know that only four months later, guitarist and founding member of The Clash, Mick Jones, would leave the band after falling out with Joe Strummer. The two creative powerhouses were beginning to cause increasing amounts of friction as they continuously butted heads. It finally sent the dynamic duo on different paths—paths which would cross again in 2002, just a few short weeks before Strummer’s untimely death.
Though the band had already recently parted ways with original drummer Topper Heddon following his heavy drugs use, Jones’ departure was a nail in The Clash coffin. While he was replaced by Vince White and Nick Sheppard the band would never be the same again.
The US Festival wouldn’t return for a third edition in 1984, and it was later reported that Steve Wozniak lost $20 million dollars of his own money on the event over the two years. Barry Fey labelled it as the “the most expensive backstage pass in history.”
Watch Mick Jones’ last ever performance with The Clash below and listen to the bootleg below that.