“Happy Pay-sack.” Mick Jones’s opening greeting at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, reliably delivered in his South London brogue, won roars of approval from the assembled crowd, many of whom were skipping the second Passover seder to see the original line-up of Big Audio Dynamite in the flesh. As a collage of sampled voices erupted from the stage, I was nudged by the man next to me. “Mick’s Jewish, you know,” he shouted over the first bars of “Medicine Show,” from BAD’s debut album. The undertone of pride in his voice was unmistakable. Kvelling, they call it.
For a short time, it seemed like this gig was going to be all about identity and politics and identity politics. Next up was “Beyond the Pale,” another deeply personal composition in the tradition of earlier Jones tracks like “Stay Free” and “I’m Not Down,” in which he sings about his Russo-Jewish roots. “I’m half Welsh and half Russian,” he explained, by way of an introduction.
Then came a brief interlude when the focus shifted to Libya. Jones told us that he’d done a radio interview earlier in the day. The presenter had asked him why he was supporting Gadhafi. This was, he continued, a shocking accusation that was completely unfounded. To prove his pro-rebel credentials, he dedicated the next number to Omar al Mukhtar, a teacher of the Qu’ran who became the leader of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonization in the early twentieth century. Al Mukhtar, canonized as as the “Lion of the Desert,” had a grandson who was presently, Jones reported, fighting with Libyan rebel forces. Only then did BAD launch into “A Party,” a song originally written as an indictment of South African apartheid.
I was, I must confess, a little bemused at this point. In part, because al Mukhtar’s legacy has been embraced by both Gadhafi and various Islamist currents but not, so far as I know, by purveyors of groove. In the main, because I couldn’t believe that I was contemplating such issues at a BAD gig. While Jones was never a vacuous celebrity type, he was also the one member of The Clash who despised the posturing of ultraleft groups like the Socialist Workers Party and never apologized for his rock star ambitions. Jones, don’t forget, was the man whose petulant love song, “I’m So Bored With YOU,” was hacked by Joe Strummer into the anti-American chant, “I’m So Bored With The YOU-S-A.” And yet, here he was, delivering a political lecture of such complexity that the audience missed their applause cue.
Here’s a gem for mishpachologists: [British Conservative] housing minister Grant Shapps and Mick Jones, ex-guitarist of punk band The Clash, are cousins. Jones was reportedly born to a Russian Jewish mother and lived for a time with her mother Stella in South London before joining the group… “Not sure how Mick feels about having a Tory as a cousin,” the minister confided in a recent interview.
- Libyan “Lion of Desert” with rebels in spirit: grandson (reuters.com)
- Mick Jones: the return of the BAD times (telegraph.co.uk)
- Big Audio Dynamite at Coachella (ickmusic.com)
- Gregory Weinkauf: So Good It’s Bad: The Men of Big Audio Dynamite Rock Non-Stop (huffingtonpost.com)
Filed under: music | 1 Comment
Tags: Ben Cohen, Big Audio Dynamite, Clash, Grant Shapps, Libya, Lion of the Desert, Mick Jones, Omar Mukhtar, Roseland Ballroom, The Clash