The Clash Play Their Final Show (San Bernardino, 1983)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Live Footage Doc­u­ments The Clash From Their Raw Debut to the Career-Defin­ing Lon­don Call­ing

Doc­u­men­tary Viva Joe Strum­mer: The Sto­ry of the Clash Sur­veys the Career of Rock’s Beloved Front­man

Allen Gins­berg & The Clash Per­form the Punk Poem “Cap­i­tal Air,” Live Onstage in Times Square (1981)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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