So it was a bit of a shock to discover during an interview session conducted by Mojo magazine editor Phil Alexander at this year's South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Tex., that the Clash's former guitarist/singer Mick Jones is hardly the serious, solemn and outspoken person one might have expected.
Sharing a ballroom stage with guitarist Tony James, his musical partner in the new band Carbon/Silicon, Jones turned out to be downright funny and at times silly as he and James worked their way through the 75-minute session in front of a small but highly interested audience of conference attendees. James, known from his stints in the bands Generation X (which featured Billy Idol) and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, most often played straight-man to the convivial Jones.
The session seemed more like a breezy chat on late-night television than a true interview. One had to feel sorry for Alexander.
Early in the interview he seemed to want Jones and James to talk seriously about their perspectives on Punk in England the mid-1970s and their experiences in The Clash and Generation X. But Jones and James didn't follow that script, except for an occasional insightful comment. Perhaps in another less public setting, Alexander's questions would have elicited more straightforward and revealing answers. But on this day nearly every query found Jones and James quickly going off on a tangent that had little to do with the subject at hand.
James and Jones lightheartedly told of their days living together "Rat Pack-style" in a London flat, of meeting Bob Dylan, seeing the MC5's first British show and the influence of American Blues music on their generation of musicians.
In between the colorful and quite random stories came a few comments that did offer insight. On Punk, James observed, "For musicians, we didn't think Punk was some kind of music. We were just playing simple Rock music. We liked those groups on (the 1970s Garage Rock compilation) Nuggets. It was people like you, the journalists, that made (Punk) what it is, some kind of cultural revolution."
Jones at one point addressed the breakup of The Clash although what started as an intriguing explanation gave way to a typically humorous conclusion.
"The more The Clash got famous, the more messed up we became," Jones said. "We couldn't handle it. It was too much. We tried everything. We tried drug addiction, ego-mania, some stuff we thought up on our own special, you know, like building a spliff bunker."
One subject that did prompt some serious commentary was Carbon/Silicon, as Jones and James discussed the beginnings of the group and how they feel fortunate to still have careers in music more than 30 years after they recorded their first albums.
Friends since they were both in the pre-Clash/pre-Generation X band, London SS, James and Jones didn't set out planning to form a group, but rather simply to see if they could write a song together.
James said that he and Jones liked what they were creating in those early sessions, but it still took time before they decided to turn Carbon/Silicon into a full-fledged band. Well before bassist Leo "EezyKill" Williams and drummer Dominic Greensmith were added to the lineup, music was surfacing on the Carbon/Silicon Web site. In fact, since 2004, the group has been posting songs in all, three albums and a pair of EPs were available for download before the release late last year of The Last Post, the first Carbon/Silicon album to be sold in brick-and-mortar stores.
The Last Post suggests that Jones and James have been musically re-energized. Songs like "The Whole Truth," "The News" and "Caesers Palace" combine the catchy, Big-Rock-Riff-style of The Clash on its early albums with the poppier dance-oriented sound Jones fashioned in Big Audio Dynamite. Live, the band is rockier, as Jones and James beef up the guitars and Greensmith brings a harder attack to the drums than the combination of programmed rhythms and real drums heard on the recordings. There's even a bit of an Arena Rock dimension to the band in concert, as Jones and James unleash extended guitar solos.
James said the enthusiasm that seems obvious on stage and within the music is no illusion.
"To be here today, we're going, How lucky are we to still get to do this, to be in a Rock & Roll band at 50-plus?' " he said. "So every day and every month feels great, and you really appreciate every moment, because when you're young, it all just goes by so quick. You never stop to look around."
CARBON/SILICON performs at the 20th Century Theater on Wednesday, April 9. Before the show, Jones and James do a meet-and-greet at Shake It Records. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.