Why Pirate Satellite
by Joshua B. Hoe This seems like as good a time as any to explain this one.
If the reference is not obvious to you, it is a line in the chorus of the Clash song ‘This is Radio Clash.’ The inference was that the song was being broadcast via Radio Clash was from a pirate satellite (what other kind would they use?).
The first band I was ever in ended up more an exercise in guerilla marketing than it was a band. I was a frosh in high school and my friend Michael asked me to start a band with him and call it ‘70 Animals’ (Michael insisted that was the number of listed animals in the Noah story - I never checked because the name sounded cool and mysterious enough to me no matter what the backstory was).
I grew up playing drums (this does not mean I was a great drummer only that I grew up playing drums) and was also a singer...but, I had never seen Michael play anything or sing anything...Theoretically, he was a guitarist and songwriter, but I had been to his house and never saw a guitar anywhere. I kept waiting to practice, and it never actually happened. Michael, however, talked it up enough so that someone spray painted ‘70 Animals’ graffiti a few well-traveled places around Tulsa. For the rest of High School we would tell stories of many legendary performances we had gigged in clubs around town. People kind of believed us because everyone had seen the graffiti.
But, truth is, we never played a note together.
The second band I was in was also during my frosh year of high school. Several seniors heard that I played drums (70 animals lore I guess) and asked me to play with them.
This was around 1982 and most of my musical knowledge came from my Dad’s exhaustive and massive jazz collection. Virtually all I had ever played to was Jazz and Blues music. I was not very good (certainly not compared to my Dad who played professionally in NYC at one point) but I figured I was good enough to play in a high school band. Anyway, I asked what kind of music they played and they said “Punk Rock.”
I knew what the rock part meant.
The first album I ever owned was Sgt. Pepper’s by the Beatles, so I was at least aware of Rock and Roll. My best friend in Junior High school played me all of the Led Zeppelin albums and I had found Pink Floyd and eventually the Stones in junior high...so, I knew about that stuff. But, punk rock? I had no idea, so I just nodded my head and said fine.
The first rehearsal happened and I was totally lost, they wanted me to play a song by a band called ‘The Clash’ that I had never heard of and I kind of plodded along but I really did not ‘get it’ while we were playing. As the rehearsal broke up, the singer came up and handed me a copy of The Clash ‘The Clash’ (their first album) and told me to listen to it until I could play it. I took it home and found, after repeated listening, that I really liked it. It wasn’t the musicianship as much as the heart and the politics...and the sheer joy of it. You could feel a joy in their playing and in the songs, despite the often serious subject matter.
I had no idea who these guys were but I started to want to know more about them.
After my second band broke up (I actually do not remember the name for some reason) the seniors all graduated and I was left the only young punk rocker in a mandatory 50/50 integration magnet school that was dominated by rap and funk players in Tulsa Oklahoma. The white kids mostly liked Rock and Roll and they certainly did not like punk. The black kids were listening to the GAP band and the white kids were listening to Pink Floyd.
This started my descent into unpopularity and being a high school outsider. Oddly enough, perhaps spurred on by Joe Strummer and the boys, I started to relish the role.
Being an outsider certainly had its problems (no girls like you, people threaten you all the time, etc) but there is a freedom in it as well (of course this was also the time when I got hit with massive and persistent acne - so it could have been that I looked terrible too).
Gradually I expanded my base to bands like the Sex Pistols (whole different feel - never loved them as much) and then eventually, after I got a car or access to a car around 16, I started exploring the surprisingly good record stores in Tulsa (RIP Starship Records, RIP Record Stores in general).
I found more Clash Records...Found the Ramones...Found Iggy Pop and David Bowie. I had no means of really getting good information on this new kind of music...I started to buy records after seeing the cover art and trying to guess what the music might be like from how the band looked. I started to love Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, and the Cure. Eventually, I met my longest term high school friend Paul who turned me on to Prince.
I had one other small passion that started growing at the same time. I was really into the hip hop of the 80’s….Well, I still am into hip-hop...But, I liked punk and also loved hip hop. I found myself hanging out with the black half of the school and listening to rap and funk when I was at school. I loved Grandmaster Flash, I loved Kool DJ Herc, I loved the culture of bboys….And I also started to appreciate funk (Parliament, Ohio Players, Prince, GAP Band etc.).
But always there was The Clash.
And in The Clash I found the bridge between growing up on black music, loving hip hop, and starting to dig funk.
Here is what I loved most about The Clash, and I am not sure that I could have explained it then,
The Clash was a punk band in the purest sense (DIY, low-tech, 50’s style simple and clean song constructions, punk attitudes etc)...But, they clearly loved black music...I was raised on black music...The Clash did not hate the blues, plus they LOVED an entirely new form of music to me...Reggae. Later I would find out that they played at clubs where DJ Don Letts would play reggae songs on the soundsystem between Clash sets.
Feeling their integration of black music tropes into punk really made me feel connected to The Clash in ways I was not connected to the other punk bands of that time period. Later, as my love of the Ramones deepened I started to appreciate how heavily Joey was influenced by Black doo-wop singing around NYC (who knew Joey Ramone and Paul Simon shared some influences).
To me, the Clash song ‘This is Radio Clash’ is the purest statement by them of their love of black music (in this case rap/hip-hop). They are clearly identifying themselves as an urban group and clasping arms in solidarity with all of the other forms of urban music.
The Clash were ‘of the ghetto’ and they embraced the music of the ghetto (they famously met mostly while squatting in abandoned buildings in London).
So, when the Clash said that they broadcast on Pirate Satellite….I always wanted to broadcast on that same frequency. So here we are.
Did the Clash influence you? Were you into any of the bands I am talking about? I would love to hear your stories, this blog is really about sharing how music tells the story of our lives, so, leave a comment and share!