Westway to the World
Directed by Don Letts
Featuring The Clash
The current trend in music seems to be the reformation of “classic” bands. Punk has not been immune to this — witness The Sex Pistols’ “Filthy Lucre” tour, or the sporadic sightings of X on festival stages. While this gives younger converts a chance to see their heroes live — and provide boatloads of cash for artists who were probably screwed out of it the first time around — it doesn’t necessarily make for good music. Punk is a young man’s game. It needs the energy and anger of youth to propel itself forward. To their eternal credit, perhaps the greatest punk band of all, The Clash, have stuck to their guns and resisted the impulse to reform. Instead we get dribbles of “new” releases, such as the live album From Here to Eternity a few years ago, and now the DVD release of longtime Clash cohort Don Letts’ film Westway to the World. In it, Joe Strummer states an obvious fact — obvious, but all too often ignored by those bands who get back together, 20 years after the fact — that The Clash existed as the result of the chemistry between four people at a certain moment in time. While he regrets it didn’t last longer, he is proud of what they accomplished, and has moved on.
The film is based largely on interviews with almost all members of The Clash (the hired guns Strummer used on Cut The Crap are thankfully nowhere to be found, nor is the album mentioned at all). Mick Jones and Strummer look largely unchanged from their heyday of the late ’70s, while bassist Paul Simonon seems to have etched a few lines in his matinee good looks. Drummer Topper Headon, whose drug use got him bounced from the group shortly after Combat Rock, appears small and frail, almost ghostlike in his interviews, and is moved almost to tears when he admits his drug use was a factor in the falling of a great band.
The film traces the history of the band well, from Strummer’s pre-punk days to early versions of the group featuring Public Image Limited mainstay Keith Levine on guitar. Strummer’s comments on the bloated but still somewhat magical Sandinista! album are illuminating, and the footage of the band taking over New York’s Times Square for the Bond Theatre run (as well the group at Shea Stadium) shows just how far they traveled from the London squats that birthed the group. Strummer makes note of the fact that along the time of the second album (Give ‘Em Enough Rope), the band had been slammed in the English press for abandoning the sound of punk for American hard rock, and the group found this liberating. Now they could explore new avenues of sound, and the result was their masterpiece London Calling, one of the greatest albums of any genre, but certainly head and shoulders above anything else the punk movement ever birthed.
While longtime fans might have wished for more complete live footage, this DVD does tell its story well, and sounds and looks top notch. The additional feature of the only surviving footage from The Clash on Broadway, which was filmed during the Bond run is largely duplicated in Westway, so its inclusion on its own wasn’t necessarily needed, but all in all, this is a great look at a great band.