Aiming for the Eye of the Storm

The morning after, still high from the Jonesy interview, Robin decided to call Bernie and engaged with him in what seemed an amicable conversation for almost an hour trying to convince him to join us and speak for once about his times with The Clash. ‘You have to do it sometime Bernie!’ Robin kept saying. When the call was over he told me ‘he wants to speak to you, call him back in ten minutes’.

Soon I was talking again with the mystery man. This time around his tone was different, he no longer sounded inquisitorial and defensive but rather relaxed.

Suddenly he started going on about how The Clash had got rid of him in the first place. I told him I’d heard he wasn’t communicating with them, messing around with their wages, and so on… as soon as Johnny Green’s name came up he called him ‘an impostor’ and referred to his background (surprise, surprise!) as something he couldn’t trust. ‘But you didn’t care about Joe’s background when you asked him to join the band!’ I replied, disgusted by Bernie’s classism and in defense of Johnny, someone who I admire for his work as well as his sense of humor and who I owe for hooking me up with Mick.

I passed the phone back to Robin and he was soon shouting things like ‘Bernie! don’t talk like that about Johnny! He’s one of my best friends!’ There was nothing doing with Mr. Rhodes and it soon became clear that what Mark Helfond told me was 100% accurate: ‘Bernie will never agree to talk about The Clash on camera’.

That evening Mick was recording a song up in the Library with Gaz Mayall and an array of Notting Hill acolytes as a tribute to Great Train Robber legend Ronnie Biggs, still in custody and suffering from pneumonia in a Norwich hospital at that point.

By the time we got there, the Strummer and Jones rooms of the Library were already in full swing. The track ended up being nothing more than a jam but the lyrics in the chorus were kind of funny. I remember when Mick sung it for us days before they recorded it: ‘Ronnie Biggs should be knighted, Ronnie Biggs should be delighted. With his get out of jail free card, getting out shouldn’t be so hard’.

As the days rolled by I also met filmmaker and BAD founding member Don Letts with whom I spoke about the possibility of having some of his Clash archive on my film. Although he refused to be interviewed for the documentary, Don was cool about it and we decided to meet another day when we could watch his collection of super-8 footage dating back to 1976.

Don’s stepbrother, Desmond Coy, was running the Library during the day and we had some interesting conversations about the beginnings of BAD. Desmond used to road manage them until he got fired for taking his job too seriously. He was in charge of the party department and apparently they were partying too hard given Des’ expertise in that particular field.

One Wednesday night we were relaxing in the Green Room when Damon Albarn and another guy showed up. Damon was really drunk and left a few seconds after walking into the Library and saying: ‘what is this?’. Just when we were wondering what the fuck was going on, Paul Simonon showed up with Mick and a couple of guys. Apparently they had left a Gorillaz session and decided to pop in for a private view of the exhibition.

I shook hands with Paul and reminded him about the time I interviewed him in Barcelona back in 91. ‘That’s a long time ago!’ he said smiling, and after small talk disappeared into the main hall with the others to enjoy Mick’s installation.

An hour later Paul was getting ready to leave; I knew I had to seize my opportunity and ask him if he’d like to be part of the documentary. I pitched the project like my life depended on it and then he said: ‘Look, the best way to put it… it’s like a rocket. You light it, it goes up, it frizzles a bit, explodes, lands on the floor… and there you are!’.

Wow! That was so cool that I immediately framed him with my fingers from the distance like movie directors do and I said: ‘If I could get that on camera that would be amazing!’ Paul said, ‘Okay, well call me tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do about it’. We exchanged numbers and moments later I watched him disappear into the night on his bike heading towards Ladbroke Grove. I called Robin right away and gave him the news, he couldn’t believe his ears specially since he was the one who’d recently told me: ‘forget about Paul, getting him would be a miracle’.

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