Friday Afternoon Musical Memories Pt. II: When It Comes To Rock Criticism, Bob Gruen Makes A Great Photographer
It was important for the band to be in touch with their fans but at Shea the stage was high with a security zone that kept them right back. I was surprised when The Clash broke up a few weeks later but I understood why. They didn’t want to be so big that they couldn’t reach the people. It’s great that we now have this album to remember the power and the intensity that was The Clash live. – Bob Gruen, from the liner notes to The Clash’s ‘Live At Shea Stadium’.
Putting aside Gruen's laughable claim that a 1983 stadium gig supporting The Who --- with ham & egger Terry Chimes on drums no less --- represented "the Clash at their peak", let's consider the legendary rock photographer's insistence the band's breakup had anything to do with becoming inacessable to their fans. In a portion I've not quoted, Gruen states the Clash allowed non-VIP's into their dressing room on a regular basis, even when the likes of David Bowie and Andy Warhol were propping up the walls. This is true. To their credit, Joe Stummer and Mick Jones had few hangups about associating with drooly fans, even those who weren't passing around class-a drugs. But the "security zone" Gruen speaks of at Shea was not particularly different than any of the hockey arena staging requirements the band had dealt with throught 1982.
There are any number of legit factors that might've contributed to the Clash's breakup. Musical differences. Bernard Rhodes' alleged tendency to amplify or create tension within the band. A highly contentious relationship with their record label. The firing of Topper Headon. But the notion the quartet split because "they didn't want to be so big they couldn't reach the people" is ridiculous.
None of this is to say 'Live At Shea Stadium' is entirely without merit. As a document of the Clash at their slickest, most AOR-friendly moment, it's an interesting artifact. Strummer, fully aware of the absurdity of the situation, is a rather efficient enormodome banterist. But the CD in question is no more representative of the Clash at their best than 'No Security' captures the Rolling Stones in top form. The canned screams might've made sense, had say, Joel Youngblood hopped onstage and dropped his trousers, but not so much in this setting. Phony Beatlemania still hasn't quite bitten the dust.