I tell Justin Sullivan that without rock, I might not have survived adolescence. I tell him that my 1960s teenage alienation was overwhelming, that rock lyrics put better words to my black anger than I could. Sullivan understands what I am telling him.
“I go onstage every night,” he says via cell phone from Manchester in the U.K., where he is en route to a Neil Young concert, “with the thought to save people’s lives, to save people’s souls.” He talks about the passion that punk brought back to ’70s rock by returning to a crude three-chord bashing about. “The point of it all is to make something happen in the music that people will never forget.”
While I have Sullivan on the phone, I want to ask him about all of the hype and the comparison that the music press is making between his band New Model Army and the Clash (“not even Joe Strummer has much on Sullivan,” crows one rock writer), but I haven’t the nerve. It’s not an accurate comparison, and that sort of publicity leads one down a doomed path: If you go to New Model Army expecting a Clash rehash, you’ll leave disappointed. The Clash and New Model Army are both U.K. punk bands and both heavily political, but the similarity ends there. In their day the Clash might have rocked harder and helped introduce rock-reggae to Brit punks, but the Army are a guitar-based grind of punk stained blue with hints of soul, jazz, and ’60s-era psychedelia. I think fame separated the Clash from their message — eventually, they became iconic. But if the Clash’s fire burned hotter, eventually it burned out, and New Model Army soldiers on to this day. “Not an overnight phenomenon,” reminds Sullivan. “I’ve been at this going on 28 years.”
NEW MODEL ARMY, Brick by Brick, Monday, March 31, 8 p.m. 619-275-5483. $12 to $15.