Daniel's Staff Pick: February 9, 2023

The other day I was standing by the stage at a gig, chatting with my friend Billy as Flower set up their gear. Talked turned to the band Nausea, and Billy mentioned he first heard Nausea when he picked up one of their Punk Terrorist Anthology CD collections on a school field trip to Florida. That made me remember that, coincidentally, I also discovered Nausea on a school field trip to Florida. My senior class trip was to Disney World in Orlando. On the way back to Virginia, we stopped for a day in Daytona Beach, and since I went to the beach all the time back home, I skipped out on frolicking in the sand with my classmates and went looking for something more interesting. I ended up at some kind of record store or another and bought a copy of Nausea’s Extinction on CD. I didn’t like it then, thinking it was too metal. I can’t recall hearing it since then, so maybe I would like it now. I’ll get around to that one day, perhaps if a reissue comes through the distro.

Remembering how I found that CD unlocked a bunch of memories about school field trips. As I’ve noted many times, I grew up in an isolated environment. “Small town” doesn’t even cover it… soybean fields surrounded my house for at least a mile in every direction, and the nearest city was Norfolk, about 50 miles away. As a teenager into punk rock and skateboarding, I took every opportunity to get out of there. Whenever there was a school field trip, I signed myself up. I’m not sure if it was still the case, but it was a tradition at my school that, every year, the 9th grade class went on a field trip to Washington, DC. I figured out that you could sign up for the trip even if you were no longer in 9th grade, and I’m pretty sure I went on the DC trip all four years I was in high school. The bus would drop us off at the National Mall, right in front of the Smithsonian Museum, and while the rest of the class filed in to the attractions there, I ventured out on my own, looking for punk. This being pre-internet, I didn’t know where to look, and sadly I never made it as far as Georgetown, where Smash Records was at the time.

Another field trip I signed up for was when the French club went to a French restaurant. After years of studying French culture, the teachers had the idea to treat us to some French cuisine, but the closest French restaurant was four hours away in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember liking the meal, though the only dish I remember was a bright green soup the color of the walls at Sorry State.

After our meal, we had a small block of unstructured time in Old Town Alexandria, where I found a small record store. I don’t remember what it was called. In my mind, it was on the second floor of a building, though I may be mixing it up with one of the other hundreds of record stores I’ve visited in my life. While I remember little about the store, I remember exactly what I bought: a single by the Holy Rollers (which I bought because it had the Dischord logo) and this single by the Clash.

I haven’t listened to any of my Clash records in years, though I have a lot of them. I have mixed feelings about them as a punk band, but it would be hard to argue they didn’t have talent as songwriters, and their tunes got hooks into me early. Exploring punk in the pre-internet days, they were one of the biggest names associated with the genre, and (some of) their music was easy to find. In high school I thrifted a cassette of Combat Rock that I listened to all the time. To me, it seemed at least as punk as Black Flag’s Slip It In or 7 Seconds’ Soulforce Revolution, other releases I stumbled upon in my early days. The Clash also rivaled the Sex Pistols in terms of the attention they received from mainstream media, so I read several books about them back when the only punk bands that featured in libraries and bookstores were them and the Pistols.

Whenever I get a hankering to listen to the Clash, as I did the other day, I end up spinning this single. As many great songs as there are on the Clash’s albums, many of their best ones only appeared on non-album releases like the The Cost of Living and Black Market Clash. This single features two songs from The Cost of Living, which was never released in the US. This single was never available as a stand-alone item… it was only sold as a bonus item that came with initial US pressings of the Clash’s first album. As a single, it’s a monster, with a Strummer song on one side and a Mick Jones song on the other. The Strummer song, “Groovy Times,” is good. It’s a lot like the material on Give ‘em Enough Rope, which makes sense because the Clash first demoed the song during the sessions for that album.

Truth be told, though, I’m a sucker for the Mick Jones songs, and “Gates of the West” is one of his best. From what I can gather, the song is about the Clash’s desire to break it big in America, a task they’d only started to tackle when they wrote this song. They pack the song with great melodies, and I love how the music has a similar mix of swagger and trepidation as the lyrics, with Mick belting out the chorus but more hesitant, almost mumbly in the verses. It’s crazy to me they never put this on an album, as it’s one of my favorite Clash songs.

That’s a rather roundabout way to recommend you a single tune, but if you haven’t heard it, here it is. Here’s to field trips!

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