The Clash “Lost In The Supermarket”
Call it a warning to holiday shoppers. And a reminder of this band’s greatness.
It’s a mortal sin, I suppose, for punk bands to get too good. You will immediately be tarred with accusations of slickness, as you watch your audience move on to the next DIY sensation who have just figured out which end of a guitar to attack. It’s a weird Bizarro world and it stems, I’m guessing, from a sincere desire for authenticity in facile times. Aren’t you glad that thinking doesn’t extend to other professions like surgeon or airline pilot?
Breaking the don’t-get-good rule in the grandest fashion ever was The Clash. God, they were fabulous at what they did! They started with all the other primitive snarlers and quickly got bored with being merely bad. Without losing one drop of bile, they quickly assimilated large tracts of world music, reggae in particular. The best political band of their time and maybe anybody’s, they managed to be largely entertaining as they made the soapbox their stage. Try it sometime — if there is any more self-canceling approach to music, I’ve yet to come across it. Being entertaining often infers a lightness that might not involve serious thoughts about justice and world politics. Somehow they did it. The Clash were hard to ignore and even harder not to enjoy, a perfect spoonful of sugar for every dose of reality they served.
Since Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other sacred days marked on every retailer’s calendar ushered in the only season where eggnog is tolerated, my hackles are up in their usual position. It starts before Halloween now, when I’m still mourning lost summer and at this point I’m now a big scrooge-y mess. I will enjoy the holiday — I always do, but no thanks to all the marketing and advertising geniuses who would place pop-up ads in your dreams if only they had the technology.
Thus The Clash and their brilliant song, Lost In The Supermarket. It’s more personal than I probably perceived when it was first released. Told from the point of view of a glaze-eyed zombie seeking the ultimate blue-light special, it’s both funny and, in the true Clash spirit, spot on. The wandering and distracted feel is the way we all feel in the big boxes, and I suspect it’s exactly what they want you to experience. I suspect a lot of thought goes in to the design of the places just to achieve that effect. A distracted buyer is more prone to impulsive purchases. Anyway, the guy singing this sounds like one of their success stories. He’ll have empty pockets when he comes to — sitting in his car staring at bags full of goodies destined for little use before they go to their eternal life in the landfill.
I’m all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality
I wasn’t born so much as I fell out
Nobody seemed to notice me
We had a hedge back home in the suburbs
Over which I never could see
I heard the people who lived on the ceiling
Scream and fight most scarily
Hearing that noise was my first ever feeling
That’s how it’s been all around me
I’m all tuned in, I see all the programmes
I save coupons from packets of tea
I’ve got my giant hit discotheque album
I empty a bottle and I feel a bit free
The kids in the halls and the pipes in the walls
Make me noises for company
Long distance callers make long distance calls
And the silence makes me lonely
And it’s not hear
I’m all lost
© Joe Strummer/Mick Jones
The golden age of video is much in evidence here. The production of this one must have cost upwards of a hundred dollars. Nevertheless, the kid is cute, so post him on Facebook as you try to get this ditty out of your brain before it fills up with more seasonal fare.
The song features Mick Jones on vocals and one of the better rhythm sections in punk, Paul Simonon on bass and Topper Headon on drums. Headon was referred to as “the human drum machine” by Joe Strummer. There are worse things to be called if your job is keeping time. Strummer wrote the lyrics, which recall his childhood home. In true Monty Python fashion, he claims “I wasn’t born so much as I fell out.” That is the kind of line lesser writers would kill for. He, along with Jones seemingly had an endless supply of them. That’s talent.
Strummer is gone now, a very sad loss of a truly unique voice. He was only 50 years old. We could use him now. The band was considering a reunion shortly before his death. What a great Christmas present that would have been.