Detained for humming ‘London Calling’
Is The Clash’s classic punk song ‘London Calling’ a dangerous song? In England in April 2006, a taxi passenger was detained for simply singing along to it
Mobile phone salesman Harraj Mann, 24, was detained for questioning by British anti-terrorism detectives after they received a phone call from a taxi driver who had taken Harraj Mann to the Durham Tees Valley Airport. The driver had become alarmed after hearing Harraj Mann sing along to ‘London Calling’ – the famous 1979 anthem by the British punk band The Clash. The lyrics in the song that triggered the taxi driver’s concern were lines such as: “Now war is declared – and battle come down” while other lines warn of a “meltdown expected”.
‘London Calling’ is a song about terrorism, but not the kind of terrorism the world has become familiar with after the September 11 attack in New York. Written in 1979 by the late Joe Strummer, it describes the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe, environmental disaster, starvation and war.
When Antonino D’Ambrosio from The Nation met Joe Strummer for an interview in 2002, shortly before his death, one of the first things they discussed was the suppression of countervoices as the United States banged the drum for war, made the Patriot Act law and established the Department of Homeland Security. Joe Strummer said that there was a very real – and frightening – possibility that music like his would not only be censored but held up as subversive or dangerous.
In the interview in 2002, Joe Strummer said to D’Ambrosio: “We had trouble with these songs then…you have to wonder what is wrong with singing about working people [‘Clampdown’], racial unity [‘Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais’] and censorship [‘Rock the Casbah’].”
Reuters UK – 5 April 2006:
‘Man held as terrorism suspect over punk song’
Yahoo News – 20 April 2006:
‘Joe Strummer, Terrorist?’