I was in a little punk band and we put out a few punk records that weren’t very political, at all.
My upbringing was very straightforward suburban working class upbringing.
That taught me one lesson which is that you’re naive to believe that bands can change the world. Bands are very naive to think that just if their audience thinks that they can change the world, that they can. That was quite a lesson for my career, really.
I try and write honestly about what I see around me now.
By the time I was 19, punk had occurred. It had a completely different cultural dynamic to it which rejected everything and started again from the year zero.
It’s not a very popular subject amongst my audience, who are by nature more internationalist, but I don’t choose what to write about, I don’t choose my subjects, they kind of choose me.
An isolationist America is no bloody use to anyone.
We read our own political content into The Clash, and they accepted it.
But, in the end, even a song that’s as politically bland as Blowin in the Wind, you probably wouldn’t get up and sing that now, whereas some of Bob Dylan’s love songs that were contemporary with that, like say Girl from the North Country, you can still get up an play now.
I’ve had songs written during the Falklands war, and during the first Gulf war I got letters from soldiers saying they were listening to these songs, like Island of no return.
Most of the people that I went to school with – I went to secondary school – we were educated to go and work in the line at Ford’s, and if we were lucky, technical skilled labor. I sort of rejected that, and thought I wanted to do something else.
Even with politics, stuff comes around again. Woody Guthrie would recognize America today.
I came into this whole business by going to see Rock Against Racism gigs with the Clash.
I enjoyed so much working with the guys from Wilco, and riffing off of them, and having someone come up to me with ideas, because normally in the studio it’s me who has to come up with all the ideas.
All the great political music was made at the height of political confrontations.