TOMMY GUN (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Nicholas Headon)
CBS 6788 (1978) 3.15
From Show 25 “Guns”I'm not sure if I was there when Tommy Gun was cut but I was there when the Give 'Em Enough Rope sessions were just starting, in a deconsecrated church in west London, with war films projected on the studio wall. And I was there when they were finishing, too, in an office block in mid-town Manhattan, with three studios running simultaneously - one each for recording, overdubbing and sequencing. New York and London, war and grandiosity: the story of the Clash. One of them anyway. Nostalgia is another.
The Thompson gun was the very first hand-held machine gun, developed in the aftermath of WWI. By 1978, it had long been a museum piece. Once upon a time, though, it was the the Depression era rum-runner's Chicago typewriter, the rat-tat-tat of the St Valentine's Day Massacre. It was John Dillinger's chosen weapon. Baby Face Nelson's and Pretty Boy Floyd's, too. That's why Joe Strummer wrote a song about it. It was a gun with history and meanings: romantic, sexy ones.
Like so much about the Clash, Tommy Gun seeks to have it both ways - and manages, it mostly, too. It's a violent song about the horrors of violence. It knows how much fun shooting and killing people is - in our secret thoughts anyway. But it also knows how terrible guns and death are in reality. Its power and meaning distills from the tension between those two tragically incompatible thoughts. Oh, and from Topper Headon's drumming, too.
Next up Jonathan Richman's journeys through the outskirts of Boston, Mass