Paul Simonon: “The Clash” Rocker, Artist, Rider

“Without music, life would be a mistake” - Nietzsche

Paul Simonon.

Paul SimononDave Norvinbike

From 1976-1986, The Clash were “the only English band that mattered,” mixing searing social irony with catchy punk beats, landing them on American pop charts in the ‘80s, and every critic’s list of 20th century greats. Clash frontman Joe Strummer was a diplomat’s son, who retained his childhood taste for global musical cuisine, taking punk places nobody expected. Songs about forgotten veterans, Amerasian children post-Vietnam, and lousy “Career Opportunities” in ’70s England mixed with “Rock the Casbah,” which predicted America’s Middle East excursions years before we “dropped our bombs between the Minarets.” Nowadays, there’s more politics in Pop Tarts than pop music, but The Clash co-starred reggae DJs, Beat poets, and NYC graffiti bombers for ultra-relevance, so far ahead of the game that their increasing legions of fans mistook the beat for the point.

Paul Simonon and the Sex Pistol's Steve Jones in LA.

Paul Simonon and the Sex Pistol's Steve Jones in LA.David Lancaster

Clash bassist and style leader Paul Simonon guided them to sartorial perfection, inspiring a generation ready to move beyond leather and safety pins toward heritage clothing and Rocker gear. Simonon was the motorcyclist of the band (something to do with his almighty cool, methinks), and an early fan of cafe racers and vintage iron, long before the world agreed. London’s pioneering retro-cafe racer club the Mean F-----rs counted Simonon among its friends, and the second wave of Rockers were all culled from the mosh pit. Post-Clash, Simonon played with Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad, and the Queen, but he also returned to his first loves—biking and painting. It’s well known that most pioneering punks were artists originally, and Simonon currently has an exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, appropriately titled “Wot! No Bike?” referencing an iconic 1950s-era photo of a young rocker’s painted jacket.

Boot and jacket.

Boot and jacket.David Lancaster

How's the work? A member of an iconic band could be forgiven churning out dreck, but here's zero cringe from Simonon's paintings; the man has more brush-skill than any former President, and the work is based on his own life, gear and garage (he owns a Hinckley Triumph, and he's painted that too). His painting style is relaxed, loosely consistent, and terribly appealing, but hardly pushes Fine Art boundaries—thank goodness—and I reckon demand will be high for those jacket-and-helmet canvases. I want one too; barring actual ownership, writer and vintagent David Lancaster penned the text for a book accompanying the exhibit (and also the Mean F----rs tale for my book "Café Racers"), which is available—signed!—on Simonon's website, as are the usual giclée prints, plus a few limited-edition linocuts…for about the cost of a new Lewis Leathers jacket. Since "old leather never dies," perhaps we'll sacrifice cladding our shoulders in favor of our walls this year.


Gitanes.David Lancaster

Red and Black, in studio.

Red and Black, in studio.David Lancaster

Paul Simonon.

Paul SimononDave Norvinbike

Simonon on his Harley FLH in the States.

Simonon on his Harley FLH in the States.David Lancaster

Harley mounted in El Paso 1987.

Harley mounted in El Paso 1987.David Lancaster

Johnny Stuart's Rockers! of 1987.

Johnny Stuart's Rockers! of 1987.David Lancaster