Few bands in rock ‘n’ roll history have faced as many charges of selling out—back when the term meant something—as The Clash. Even before they’d released their first record, they were accused of killing punk rock by signing to major label CBS. And 1985’s Cut the Crap, the final Clash release (hardly a Clash record at all by any true fan’s measure) has more or less been seen, rightly or not, as a money grab. For a band who stood in solidarity with working people and revolutionary leftist movements, The Clash walked a delicate line between financial success and political credibility.
Most critics date the end of the band well before that hated final album, made without guitarist Mick Jones and longtime drummer Topper Headon. As Rolling Stone writes, “The Clash came to a rather sad ending in May 1983,” when they accepted a $500,000 offer from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to headline the ‘New Wave Day’ of a massive festival in San Bernardino, California. By this time, Headon had been kicked out of the band for drug problems, replaced by 23-year-old Pete Howard, “and Mick Jones and Joe Strummer were barely speaking.”
By the time they got to San Bernardino, California for the festival, they were in complete disarray. Things got worse when they learned fans were paying $25 to attend the show. They had been told previously that prices would be set at $17, and shortly before they went onstage, they held a press conference. The band announced they wouldn’t go on unless Apple gave $100,000 to charity. It was chaos. Some later claimed the real cause of their rage was the knowledge that Van Halen were getting a million dollars for their set.
Arriving onstage two hours late, under a banner that read “The Clash Not For Sale,” they played an angry set of songs, between which Strummer taunted the crowd. He opens with a sneer: “Alright then, here we are, in the capital of the decadent U.S. of A. This here set of music is now dedicated to making sure that those people in the crowd who have children, there is something left for them later in the centuries.” It’s an odd statement, announcing Strummer’s sense that The Clash were leaving a legacy, and that they were exiting the cultural stage.
Despite their rage, they still walked away with half a million bucks. Four months later, Mick Jones was out—the San Bernardino concert would be his last with the band—and The Clash, as the world had known them, were effectively dead. As a swan song, it’s a hell of a show, infighting and lineup changes aside. See the whole thing above (except “London Calling,” which cuts off midway through). It’s maybe a shame they didn’t retire the name after this performance, however. Though Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon toured with three replacements as The Clash in the years to come and, writes Dangerous Minds, “did a few things worth remembering between 1984 and 1986,” in most people’s minds, that part of the band’s history is best left out of the official record.