“Go Straight to Hell, Boy”

International Clash Day at Chickie Wah Wah

I headed out to Chickie Wah Wah around midnight on Tuesday, February 7. This midnight was a special one, marking around the world the commencement of International Clash Day, a sort of holy day of punk rock obligation, which the Canal Street club would observe for 24 hours straight.

The day was born in 2013, when a series of call-in requests for Clash songs at the Seattle radio station KEXP spiraled into an all-day marathon of Clash music. Now that marathon is a yearly occurrence, manifesting in radio binges, festivals, panel discussions and, here in New Orleans, a midnight-to-midnight concert spectacular at Chickie Wah Wah.

Activity was low when I first arrived. The crowd was a sparse patchwork of quiet regulars and a few young folks in silky party garb. DJ Rusty Lazer presided over this first graveyard shift, hunched over the small soundboard near the ticket desk, stringing together a medley of Clash and Clash-adjacent tunes.

Go straight to hell, boy.” These lyrics were some of the first words I heard. Over the course of the seven-ish hours I’d spend at Clash Day, I would hear the song many times, and I came to consider it a sort of theme, an appropriate bookmark to my series of weird excursions to this marathon tribute to the Only Band That Matters.

For that first excursion I spent the majority of my time not inside the bar, listening to the Clash, but outside, talking to a man who identified himself as Telluride Tim. (Back home in Telluride, he said, they call him New Orleans Tim.) He told me about meeting Mick Jones and Joe Strummer in the early ‘80s at a club called Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut. “Cool, regular people, man,” he said of the Clashers. “We had pizza.”

I left that night around 2, regrettably missing Rusty Lazer’s successor, a DJ named C’est Funk, who would carry the function through its twilight hours. I left reflecting on the many interesting—if dubious—anecdotes of Telluride Tim.

I returned around 2 in the afternoon. Parked at the curb in front of Chickie Wah Wah was the NOLA Crawfish King Seafood & Barbecue food truck, operating that day under the tagline “I Fought the Claw, and the Claw Won.”

There were more people this time, and they were more talkative. I spoke to Steve Rapport, a prolific rock‘n’roll photographer who had many of his shots of the Clash displayed throughout the venue. He told me about one trip to Hollywood in ‘82, when he was rolling with Bow Wow Wow and happened to stay in the same hotel as the Clash. “We had some kind of weird drinking game,” he recalled, “where you had to name the first album you ever bought—which would’ve been vinyl back then—and Joe [Strummer] said Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart, and that was mine as well.”

I spoke also with Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne, who later in the night would head up the Radio Clash Allstars band. We sat together at a picnic table in the patio area, and I drank up his stories and insights as he pinched tails, sucked heads, and sipped a brew.

At 4:30 a young punk band called Ethanol Merman took the stage. I noticed they started precisely at their allotted time, which seemed a little un-punk, but they compensated with a performance of proper Clash homage, complete with mullets, mohawks, and combat boots. Their sound filled the room with a dense metallic crunch. At one point I observed an older gentleman pop the collar of his polo as he watched them play—a heartfelt salute.

They played Clash covers and originals that sounded at times more like the Clash than the covers. And they played, you guessed it, “Straight to Hell,” a little slow and dark-dreamy, with lead singer Alex Teetsel’s gravelly low-register vocals biting down nicely on that galvanizing refrain: “go straight to hell, boy.”

When I returned later that night the place was buzzing. The crowd had grown to fill most of the indoor space, and on the stage the Radio Clash Allstars rocked out with Mali at the helm. They were joined by a rotating cast of guest performers that included MC Sweet Tea, Anders Osborne, Jenavieve Varga, Rene Coman of the Iguanas—the list of local legends was staggering. At one point there was even a solo jazz guitar rendition of “Jimmy Jazz”—pun intended—by Phil Degruy, fraught with embellishments and heady reharmonizations.

During this set I began to really comprehend my predicament. I had exhausted myself—the red wine wasn’t helping—and here I was at the awesome main event of the evening, feebly straining to match the energy. The music and the buzz of the crowd washed over me like I imagine many hazy nights washed over a boozed-up Joe Strummer. But this was not entirely a loss. This was, in a way, what I’d come for. I came for an endurance test—because endurance is certainly a cardinal virtue of the punk spirit—and to see how much of this crazy undertaking I could swallow.

Put another way: Should I Stay or Should I Go? I stayed somewhere near eight hours, and I think I got a decent grip on what lay at the core of this Clash Day business. I believe it lies somewhere in the words, “Go straight to hell, boy.” It was a pleasant hell I found that day at Chickie Wah Wah, one that left me ragged and weary and grateful to have glimpsed something so odd and bold and wonderful.

Top: Fiddler Amanda Shaw with the Radio Clash Allstars. (Photo by Dalton Spangler)

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