I recently spoke with Don Letts, close friend and video director of The Clash, for The Houston Press about the release of the band’s massive new box set, Sound System. Featuring every studio album remastered (except for last entry Cut the Crap), plus a treasure trove of demos, B-sides, alternate takes, unreleased and live cuts, and a DVD with rare footage, concert clips, and all the band’s official videos, it’s all you ever want from “The Only Band That Mattered.”
Below, Letts discusses filming the clip for “Rock the Casbah” and how he almost ate dirt trying to teach an armadillo to act.
Filmed in Austin around a 1982 show the band did at the City Coliseum, the video is memorable thanks to the images of an Arab and Hasidic Jew rocking out to a boom box, the band miming the song in front of a pumping oil derrick, and one charismatic armadillo in a crowd of fans. Letts is clear on who the video’s real star was.
“The way I got the armadillo to walk toward the camera was to get on the ground on my hands and knees and blow in its face. So you can imagine the scene with a Jew and Arab running around, and a guy with dreads laying on the ground,” Letts remembers. “But what’s amazing was that the armadillo attracted the most attention because the [crowd] had only seen dead ones! Or as ashtrays or handbags.”
Curiously, guitarist Mick Jones is seen in the lip-synch section, with his face and head completely covered. Letts notes it wasn’t a costume decision that he made for himself.
“Mick was having one of his Elizabeth Taylor moments and was [pissed off] at Joe [Strummer], so he showed up on the set wearing red Long Johns and black Doc Martens. Now, he’s a skinny guy, so he looked like a matchstick!” the director recalls.
After pulling Jones aside and reminding him that “video is forever,” the guitarist changed his outfit, but wore a camouflage hat and veil to show he was still upset. It was forcibly ripped off by Strummer toward the end of the clip.