Where’s the slot machines? I swear, those were my first thoughts after entering-no, being forcefully picked up and rolled inside by an out-of-control mob acting like a massive wave-the inexplicably-named Bond’s Casino, a run-down concert hall in New York City’s deservedly notorious Times Square. It was May 28, 1981 and I had journeyed into the heart of the city to see my heroes, the Clash, on the opening night of what unexpectedly became an eight-night residency. Unscrupulous promoters had oversold the show by at least 1,000 tickets. Outside the decrepit theater on the hot New York night, people holding tickets were being turned—shoved—away by security. The mood was ugly, violence was in the air. Cops on horseback jockeyed the perimeters of the mob. Very quickly, it became obvious the show was a powder keg. New York City’s police and fire officials huddled in the lobby, threatening to pull the plug, risking massive rioting. And so, the Clash, led by the proletarian Joe Strummer—the man who had penned the punk anthem “White Riot” (“White riot / I wanna riot / White riot / A riot of my own”)—held an impromptu press conference and offered a solution: They would play an indefinite number of consecutive shows, until each and every ticket sold was honored. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before. In all, the Clash performed 17 shows, including several matinees, making rock and roll history—and I was there, at the show that started it all.
But honestly, what possessed me to take my then-girlfriend Mary with me I’ll still never know. Mary hated the Clash. She hated all the bands I liked. But then, she had terrible taste in music. I mean, really rotten. I realized this the first night we went out, when I went through her record collection while she was in the next room. Kenny Rogers. Barbra Streisand. Air Supply. Christopher Cross. Clearly, Mary—who was cute and funny and sweet—was in need of some smartening up music-wise, and I was just the guy to do it, or so I kept telling myself. But when I played her the Clash, she called it “noise.” Even my parents had stopped referring to my music as noise. I decided that drastic measures were in order. I had to change Mary, and quick. She could run from the room when I played my Clash records, but she couldn’t run out of Bond’s.
Run? She couldn’t even move, and neither could I. Something like 3500 people were packed into Bond’s, but it looked, felt, and smelled like twice that amount. The temperature was stifling. Shimmering waves of heat rose from the crowd and formed a cloud overhead. Every time we moved, broken glass crunched under our feet. It seemed as though everybody had a secret stash of something and the air was thick with smoke. We were being shoved, pushed; we were swaying. It was terrifying and exciting. This was it. I was finally going to see the Clash, live, and Mary, poor Mary, who looked like a sad, wilted flower, was going to finally understand what all the fuss was about. How could she not? 

After two packed, sweat-soaked hours, the great hip hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five took to the stage to a thunder of boos, profanities, and a steady rain of bottles and garbage. For all their revolution rock, the Clash still packed a crowd of fans who weren’t ready to see a black opening act playing an entirely new kind of music. Halfway through the Furious Five’s set, as trash pelted the stage, the music stopped abruptly and the voice of Joe Strummer himself boomed over the P.A. “Cut the crap and give them a chance! The Clash picked Grandmaster Flash to play for you, and if you don’t treat them with some respect, then you don’t deserve to see the Clash!” Chastened, the crowd cooled down, and the show continued. 

I tried to explain to Mary the importance of the band and their impact on the Clash, and the irony of it all, but she just stared ahead. Mary hated this place. She hated Grandmaster Flash. She hated sweating, she hated not feeling her arms anymore, she hated people fainting on top of her, and she was starting to hate me. 

“We want the Clash! We want the Clash!” The crowd roared for nearly an hour after Grandmaster Flash left the stage. Then, suddenly, the lights went out and Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly blasted from the speakers. The roar from the crowd was deafening as we surged forward. My feet left the ground. I was being swept away, transported and transfixed by the sight of Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon strutting onstage like bullfighters. They stood defiantly at the front of the stage and with a stinging four-count tore into “London Calling” with a force that hit me in the chest like a cannonball.

Mick Jones stalked the stage, playing a sunburst Les Paul Standard, his solos, compositional yet cathartic, bursting out of the mix. They struck me like a laser-beam. On records, Jones’s playing always seemed loose and effortless, but live, he was giving the audience as good as he got, and the energy he drew from the cheers and raised fists was evident from the slight and occasional smile that cracked his face.
“Safe European Home,” “Train in Vain,” “White Man in Hammersmith Palais,” “This is Radio Clash”-the songs were enormous, like movies. Jones strapped on a TV yellow Les Paul Junior for “The Call Up,” and a white Les Paul Custom for “The Magnificent Seven.” And no matter how loud the band played, no matter how hard Topper Headon battered his kit, Jones’s riffs and solos shot from the stage, lighting the songs like flashes from a roman candle. 

Halfway through the set, Mary finally got my attention, tugging my shirt so hard she ripped the sleeve. “Can we go now?” she shouted at me. I leaned close to her ear and from my mouth came the only words that seemed right: “You can go,” I said. “I’m staying!” Mary looked at me for a moment, stunned. She appeared to be thinking that I might reconsider the situation and realize that she had been subjected to enough. She was probably thinking that any other boyfriend would have an ounce of decency and escort her out of Times Square and home. I watched her push her way into the crowd, and then turned back to face the stage. Mary disappeared from my sight and, by the end of the night, my life. Onstage, the Clash exploded.