The Clash by The Clash

Short Review
If you are a Clash fan, buy this book immediately.

Long Review
At the end of last year a new book about The Clash was released. It’s a year by year history of the band and it’s terrific for three reasons. First, most of the book is simply the band telling their own story. Many hours of interviews were recorded during the making of Don Letts’ excellent documentary Westway to the World and these form the basis of the book. There are many entertaining anecdotes and I learned quite a bit about the band’s history, the origins of the various songs, and the tensions that led to the breakup. We are fortunate the interviews took place before Joe Strummer’s untimely passing. Second, it’s packed with great photos and other interesting visual bits like pages from songbooks, Topper Headon’s postcards, and record sleeves. Third, it lists all the dates of the various tours and recaps the set list on each one. It’s cool to be able to see how the set list changed over time and the covers they chose to do. I think the bridging material could have used another edit, as there were a few errors that crept in. One tour had its final date in Turku, a city in Finland, and this is correctly listed in the tour schedule. The text, however, says the last show was in Turkey. That stuff is generally minor though and perhaps it’ll be cleaned up in the softback edition that’s due this year. Overall The Clash by The Clash is a essential document of one of the greatest punk bands of all time. No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977!

Thrilling Tales of Retail Hell, Part 2

Since part 1 was foul, I’ll tell a less hellish story this time.

It was 1989 and I was in college at NYU and working at a video store in the Village called The Video Store (yes, really). It was originally a small home grown chain of stores called New Video but some corp from the Midwest bought it out and re-named it. It wasn’t bad as retail jobs go and getting free access to the entire video library was a nice perk.

For several months I had this regular customer, a woman of about my age who was smoking hot. I would always chat her up and she was charming and friendly. Of course, she had a boyfriend.

She came in one day and was clearly upset. It seems she and her boyfriend had broken up. Turned out she had been dating one of the Beastie Boys (MCA, IIRC) and renting on his account so now she needed her own. I thought, “Ah ha, here’s my chance.” But of course you don’t want to ask a woman out when she’s just broken up with her boyfriend.

She continued to come in and rent and we continued chatting. One day one of my co-workers said, “You’re getting pretty friendly with Heather.”

“Yeah,” I said. “She’s nice; I like her.”

“Did you see her in Drugstore Cowboy?” he asked.

“Uh, no. She was in that?”

“You didn’t know?” my co-worker laughed. “That’s Heather Graham. She’s an up and comer.”

In my defense, Drugstore Cowboy had been her only role of note to date and in fact she was a year younger than me. I never did ask her out though and probably should have. She almost certainly would have said no (she later dated James Wood, who was old enough to be her dad; ew) but it would have been worth a shot. I think she moved shortly thereafter because she stopped coming in. A year and change after that she showed up on Twin Peaks and I thought. “Cool, she’s got a shot at a career.” Yeah, you could say that.

Thrilling Tales of Retail Hell, Part 1

Until I finally got a full time gig as a game designer, I had a succession of shitty retail jobs. My first job was at a department store in Danvers, MA called Ann & Hope. That was also the first time I got fired. Years later in NYC I spent about four years working for the Porto Rico Importing Company, first at the original Bleeker St. location and then at the St. Mark’s store. Porto Rico was an old school Italian coffee importer dating back to 1907. The business was mostly selling beans, but the St. Mark’s store also had a espresso bar. I learned a lot about coffee working there, but retail in NYC is nothing if not unpredictable. One day I’m selling chocolate covered espresso beans to Dee Dee Ramone and the next I’m having to kick out the heroin junky who comes in periodically to harass the customers.

One day I was chilling out during a lull when a unassuming guy walked in. He looked over the many burlap bags of beans and then asked, “Which one of these is best for my enema?”

I laughed, assuming he was joking. “Well, I guess you want something low in acid, so it doesn’t burn your insides.”

He looked at me coldly. “I’m serious,” he said,

“Oh,” I replied, stunned. “Well, in that case I suggest you get this week’s sale coffee. It’s only $2.99 a pound and it should do the job.”

I thought that would be it, but no. He began asking me questions about the qualities of the different beans. I answered his queries for a good five minutes, all the while thinking, “Just buy the cheap one, you’re going to be putting this up your ass!”

Eventually, he decided to go with a coffee that was $7.99/pound instead. I never saw that guy again, so I don’t know how it went for him. And I’m totally OK with that.


Sometimes I have to step back and just gape in wonder at how much information and entertainment is at our fingertips compared to just 25 years ago. I have a friend who has a tablet PC with almost every comic published by Marvel and DC ever that’s updated on a weekly basis. Other friends have hard drives with thousands of albums ripped to MP3. You can own every episode of your favorite TV shows going back to the beginning of TV or stream them to your TV through your X-Box. Basically, if you want it, it’s probably out there. On the one hand, this is awesome. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming. I find I just can’t keep up with all the things I’m interested in. I don’t have enough hours in the day to read all the books and comics I want, watch all the movies and TV shows I want, and play all the games I want. It’s sometimes just too much; it’s overload.

I look back on being a teenager, when my tastes were forming.

I remember when buying any gaming book was an event and each purchase was carefully considered.

I remember hunting through the used bookshops of Boston trying to find all the Eternal Champion books by Michael Moorcock. Elric was easy and Hawkmoon not so bad. But Corum and Erekose? It took me years to track them down.

I remember reading about games like Swordbearer and Lace & Steel in Dragon Magazine but never seeing copies until I started going to GenCon.

I remember endless searches for out of print albums by bands like the X-Ray Spex, Toxic Reasons, and Negative Approach.

I remember coveting this red leather single volume edition of Lord of the Rings. I read the books every year back in those days. And I still don’t have it.

I remember watching Hong Kong action movies and anime on VHS bootlegs because they simply weren’t available any other way in the US.

I remember reading issue #20 of White Dwarf magazine over and over because I could neither find or afford any other issues.

Today it is certainly cool that so much material previously hard to find is available easily, but there are downsides. We miss the thrill of the hunt. I remember my glee at finding a bundle of all the original issues of the Watchmen in the era before graphic novels or finally finding a copy of “The Kids Will Have Their Say” by SSD. I think we also sometimes miss out on a deeper appreciation of the things we’re consuming. These days I read a book or watch a movie once for the most part. Many games I play just a few times and they go on the shelf. Some things really benefit from repeat use. Sometimes you only really get what an author or artist is driving at after having the experience multiple times. With so much stuff to choose from, there’s always something new trying to get your attention. More games, more movies, more books, more comics, more TV shows, more music, more performances–more, more, more. Overload.

Oftentimes I love the way the world is laid before me. Other days I just want to shut everything down, forget the world, and read the Lord of the Rings again.

If Heroes Were Gamers

The ability to stream Netflix through the X-Box 360 is pretty damn sweet I must say. It’s allowing us to catch up on some serial TV that we missed without renting one disc at a time and we can watch it whenever we like. The last month or so the whole family has been watching Heroes, Season 1. It’s been fun watching it together, particularly with Kate because she still has her sense of wonder. When future Hiro shows up with a katana looking all badass, she was out of her chair squeeing, “That’s so cool!” It was very cute.

Tonight we watched the finale of Season 1, which Kate loved but I felt was a bit unsatisfying. I kept thinking that that the Heroes characters would be better at using their powers if they were gamers. A gamer would figure out how to use power X to solve problem Y, and then do it immediately. How do you defeat Sylar when he has all those powers? Well, if you are Hiro, it couldn’t be easier. Step one: freeze time. Step two: chop off Sylar’s head with a katana. Because if you give gamers the power to break the rules (like, say, stopping time) they will use it. I will grant you that such outcomes would lose a little something in the drama department though.

Spirit of the Ramones

As a gag I was going to design a short Ramones RPG, in which you’d make characters and then throw them away and shoot heroin. My thought was that you’d define your character with a series of I Wanna/I Don’t Wanna statements in the spirit of many Ramones song. Then I thought those would make fun aspects in Spirit of the Century, so why not just go with that?

So if you want to play a Ramone in Spirit of the Century, it really couldn’t be simpler. Try to make all your aspects sound like they could the names of Ramones songs. If they start with “I Wanna” or “I Don’t Wanna”, so much the better. If you know what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, that’s a good start on defining your character.

Here’s an example using actual Ramones songs.

Dino Ramone (10 Aspects)

Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
I Just Want to Have Something to Do
Can’t Control Myself
I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement
I Wanna Be Sedated
I Wanna Live
I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
I Won’t Let It Happen
Beat on the Brat

How easy is that? I think it’d be pretty fun finding creative ways to use those aspects. Or make up your own Ramones-style aspects, like “I Wanna Win the Internet” and “I Don’t Wanna Discuss Theory With You”.

All the kids want something to do! All the kids wanna roleplay with you!

Still D.O.A.

In 1985 I went to an “Unpatriotic 4th of July” festival on the Boston Common. This was the year I really into punk rock and I saw some formative shows (like Black Flag) that summer. A bunch of bands played that day but two stood out for me. First, the Dicks, led by the mighty Gary Floyd, a self-proclaimed “fat faggot from Texas.” I had never heard them before that day but I instantly became a fan and I still love their stuff. The headlining band was D.O.A. from Vancouver, BC. They had been around for six years at that point and they put on a ferocious show. I enjoyed those performances so much that I went to see the Dicks and D.O.A. again a few days later when they played at the Channel.

I didn’t think too far in the future in those days, so it certainly never occurred to me that 24 years later I’d be going to another D.O.A. show, but indeed that is where I found myself this past Friday. The band is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a tour and they came down to play El Corazon with Ch3 and the Cute Lepers. The last 10 years have seen a lot of old bands get back together but what makes D.O.A a rarity is that they have been recording and touring the past three decades. There have been many lineup changes, of course, but Joey Shithead is apparently unstoppable. He’s pushing 50 and he was still up there tearing it up like it was 1985.

The show was a blast, with D.O.A. playing a great selection of material from across their career. As the show went on, I found myself wanting to hear “Fucked-up Ronnie” (about Reagan, natch, so rather dated). Later in the show when Joey asked what folks wanted to hear, there was a chorus of “Fucked-up Ronnie!” He smiled and said, “He’s retired, or hadn’t you heard?” Then during the encore they broke into “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and I wondered what was up. Then Joey sang, “…the village idiot has gone home,” and they did “Fucked-up Ronnie” as “Fucked-up Bush.” A perfect way to celebrate the end of 8 years of bullshit that makes the Reagan Era look tame by comparison. Now Reagan’s dead and Bush is disgraced, but D.O.A. is still rocking out. At least some things are right in the world.