The Clash, in 1983, were on top of the world. A time when the group were firmly living up to their moniker as being “the only band that matters”, their stint at the mountain top wouldn’t quite last as long as their journey toward their destination.
Mick Jones’ departure on September 1st, 1983, signalled the beginning of the end for the band who would eventually call it a day for good three years later. The fire, would seem, had truly burned out in their bellies and it was time for the remaining members to move onto pastures new.
The situation with The Clash had become unendurable even before the release of 1982’s Combat Rock, a period of time when they were forced into firing drummer Topper Headon due to his heroin addiction. The three remaining members carried on without Headon and recruited Terry Chimes who played on their 1977 debut. However, Chimes would quit twelve months on from rejoining the group due to the toxic atmosphere within the band.
Combat Rock was the highest-charting record in the States and equalled their highest position in the UK and, at this time, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon wanted to take full advantage of a higher level of fame whereas Mick Jones wanted to rest up rather than live on the road. “Mick was intolerable to work with by this time,” the late Strummer remembered in the Clash documentary, Westway to the World. “He wouldn’t show up. When he did show up, it was like Elizabeth Taylor in a filthy mood,” he added.
Jones later discussed his regret about his behaviour. “I was just carried away really, I wish I had a bit more control,” he said. “You know, you wish you knew what you know now.”
“We had to change the team because the atmosphere was too terrible,” Strummer later said in The Rise and Fall of the Clash, before adding. “We got so much work to do that we can’t waste time begging people to play the damn guitar!”
Simonon’s personal relationship with Jones had wavered so much that they were no longer on speaking terms and felt as though it was either get rid of him or the band splits up. “We felt we’ve had enough, let’s kick him out and that’s what we decided on and to hell with the consequences,” the bassist added.
Following Jones’ departure, the band were never quite the same after losing half of their creative force and, with their final album Cut The Crap, the taste of commercial flop was clear that The Clash were unable to cope without Mick’s masterful skillset. Thankfully, Jones and Strummer remained friends and the duo even played together just a few weeks before the singer’s death in 2002.
“Whatever a group is, it is the chemical mixture of those four people that makes a group work,” Strummer said, a few years before his death. “That’s a lesson everyone should learn: you don’t mess with it. If it works, just let it, do whatever you have to do to bring it forward, but don’t mess with it. We learned that bitterly.”
You live and die by these big decisions that sometimes that seem like the right decision at the time. The truth, however, is that as the years went on it was evidently clear that The Clash should have rested up rather than stay on the road in a bid to chase fame which was the antithesis of what The Clash was initially about.