Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Clash's "Ghetto Defendant"

"Ghetto Defendant"
Though the Clash ranks as one of my favorite bands, for their unique blend of raucous punk energy with world music, their trenchant and acid lyrics (all hail Joe Strummer!), their album Combat Rock never stormed my attention. There are, of course, the inimitable "Rock the Casbah," "Should I Stay or Should I Go," and the haunting "Straight to Hell", but too many of the other tracks feel like the band has run its course. So when I started listening again, absent-mindedly, I was surprised to hear a familiar voice, Allen Ginsberg, mono-intoning amidst a song on the second side, "Ghetto Defendant." Ginsberg, like Dylan and Strummer, never wanted his art to be limited to coteries or crowds, so collaborations were natural, even if spastic/awkward the way Allen could be. Here it is.
by The Clash, with Allen Ginsberg

[/=allen ginsberg lyrics
everything else is the clash]

/ do the worm on the accropolis
/ slamdance the cosmopolis
/ enlighten the populace

Hungry darkness of living
Who will thirst in the pit?
/ hooked in metropolis
She spent a lifetime deciding
How to run from it
/ addicts of metropolis
Once fate had a witness
And the years seemed like friends
/ girlfriends
Her babies can dream
But dreams begin like the end
/ shot into eternity
/ methadone kitty
/ iron serenity

Ghetto defendant
It is heroin pity
Not tear gas nor baton charge
That stops you taking the city

/ strung out committee
Walled out of the city
Clubbed down from uptown
Sprayed pest from the nest
Run out to barrio town
/the guards are itchy
Forced to watch at the feast
Then sweep up the night
Flipped pieces of coin
/ broken bottles
Exchanged for birthright
/ grafted in a jiffy

/ strung out committee
/ sitting pretty
/ graphed in a jiffy
/ no pity, pretty

The ghetto prince of gutter poets
Was bounced out of the room
/ jean arthur rimbaud
By the bodyguards of greed
For disturbing the tomb
/ 1873
His words like flamethrowers
/ paris commune
Burnt the ghettos in their chests
His face was painted whiter
And he was laid to rest
/ died in marseille
/ buried in charleville
/ shut up

Soap floods oil in water
All churn in the wake
On the great ship of progress
The crew cant find the brake
Klaxons are blaring
The admiral snores command
Submarines boil in oceans
While the armies fight with suns

(and more...listen to Allen closely)...


Stephen Schwink said...

Who was "the ghetto prince of gutter poets" mentioned in the second half of the song? Jean Arthur Rimbaud does not seem to fit as far as I can tell.

Philip Metres said...

I think that's who Ginsberg meant, even if his description is a bit wonky.