Charlie Don’t Surf: The Clash Protest Imperialism

1986 words - 8 pages

By definition, imperialism is extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force. That ideology is best exemplified by the Vietnam War because the United States invaded North Vietnam to prevent the dissemination of Communism into South Vietnam, which is ultimately an attempt at exuding power and influence by using military force. The Clash recognized the homogeneity between the American imperialism of the Vietnam war and the forced Westernization of the non-Western world, particularly third world nations; thusly, the band chose the Vietnam War as a backdrop for “Charlie Don’t Surf” because of it’s relevance to American culture at the time. The Clash released the album Sandinista! in 1980; this album is home to the highly overlooked song “Charlie Don’t Surf.” The intent of this paper is to analyze the song “Charlie Don’t Surf” and examine it’s use of historical and cultural components to protest imperialism forced upon third world countries by the United States. This paper will specifically analyze The Clash’s emergence from a tumultuous political climate as well as the decision to title the album Sandinista!. Musical composition and lyrical structure aids in demonstrating the protest of imperialism upon multiple levels and distinguishes the link between the “Charlie Don’t Surf” and a similar scene in the film Apocalypse Now.
Emerging from England’s punk rock scene in 1977, The Clash morphed from traditional punk beginnings into the new wave movement. Described as “a more genuine, radical, proletarian,” sector of the punk genre, it was evident the band was destined to transcend musical boundaries.1 The Clash’s trademark idiosyncrasy is their layering of cultural remarks with historical relevancy throughout their songs. This technique is executed with such perfection, each song is not only musically rich, but lyrically intense. Sandinista! shows no exception. The album “rails against social and political inequities” while still providing evidence the band is just as skillful as they are adaptable2. The infusion of rap, reggae, jazz, rock, folk, and dub within the Sandinista! provides a culturally sophisticated sound. The response to the album in England was mediocre at best because the use of several different styles of music frightened the British. Not only did the album protest against social and political injustice in England, it also declaimed against unfairness in other countries. For this reason, Sandinista! was deemed too globally conscious for it to be a hit in Britain, solidifying the band’s decision to announce they were “anti-ignorance.”3
During the launch of Sandinista! England was in the midst of a “social, cultural, and political counter-revolution” effectively tearing apart British morale.4 With the election of Margaret Thatcher came record breaking layoffs, failing public sector industries, distinguished British companies were nearly bankrupt; this catastrophe was coined as the “deindustrialization of...

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