Charlie Don’t Surf: The Clash Protest Imperialism

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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 througho...

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...rus of “Charlie Don’t Surf” in the car, or helicopter, does not provide the background knowledge of the songs origins. In a way, without paying attention to the song, it mocks the ability to lose people into the music.

Works Cited

1 Moore, Allan F. "Punk Rock." In Grove Music Online: Oxford Music Online.2 Browning, Boo. "The Clash: Another Flash of Lightning." The Washington Post, 1981.3 "The Clash Official Site." Cowley, Jason. "The 1980s: 'England Was Convulsed by a Social and Political Revoltion'." Guardian, 2009.5 Ibrahim, Youssef M. "Britain's Economy Is Worsening Despite Mrs. Thatcher's Policies." The New York Times, 1980, 1.6 "Augusto Ceasar Sandino." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition: 1.7 The Clash. "Charlie Don't Surf." Sandinista! 1980. CD.8 Coppola, Francis Ford. "Apocalypse Now." 153 min, 1979.

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