Popular culture is now established as part of the curriculum of many universities: it is intended that The Rock & Roll Public Library will be an invaluable and essential aid to academic research and personal inquisitiveness. Resolutely alternative and defiantly anti-corporate, it is like the dub-side of the O2’s British Music Experience.
All three Clash frontmen - Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon - were products of the English art-school system (Jones at Chelsea, Strummer at Central, Simonon at Byam Shaw) and it frequently felt as though the very existence of the group was - to employ Robert Rauschenberg’s celebrated phrase - ‘in the gap between art and life’.
Among many other strands, Mick Jones’ collection contains almost 10,000 books, on a multiplicity of culturally-related subjects - music, film, art, drugs, crime, sport, war. It also includes most significant editions of music and film-related publications of the last forty years. These range from such 1960s’ teen magazines as Fab 208 to obscure punk-era fanzines, taking in all the noteworthy music publications of our time. Most of these are already catalogued on CD-Rom, with highlights selected. Much of the early parts of the collection was created from material sent to him by his mother, who lives in Michigan in the USA. ‘She’d send me all the early copies of Creem magazine, which was published in Detroit,’ he recalls. ‘And she’d send me Rock Scene, that New York magazine edited by Lisa Robinson, in which the photographer Bob Gruen’s pictures first appeared en masse.’
In the Acton lock-up there is a similarly enormous array of films, around 5,000 of them, mostly on VHS video. Related artefacts embrace a complete collection of Clash stage-wear and posters. Comparable material from other significant musical acts is also included.
Mick Jones intends that ultimately some of the work should be actually lent out to readers, part of what he envisages as the sharing aspect of this project.
‘I’m interested in everything really!’ is how he comes to describe the content of his archive.
With a ceaseless cinematic resonance in his life it is unsurprising that Mick Jones hopes that ultimately The Rock’n'Roll Public Library will serve a similar purpose for popular music and culture as the British Film Institute reference section is for film. It is ever-growing, a living work. ‘People are already aware of this collection,’ says Mick Jones, ‘and I have a constant flow of new material being sent in by similar enthusiasts. Since we entered the new century the true significance of what was once often chucked out is being realised.’
Negotiations are under way for a major exhibition of The Rock’n'Roll Public Library in Paris later in the year.
Simultaneously a search continues for permanent premises for The Rock’n'Roll Public Library. So far two potential properties have been identified in the vicinity of London’s Ladbroke Grove.
Meanwhile, at Mick Jones’s North Acton studio, he has been directing The Rotten Hill Show, a set of filmed performances centred around the Rotten Hill Gang ensemble, but featuring such artists as Sex Pistol Paul Cook, Jim Jones and Rupert Orton of The Jim Jones Revue, Dreadzone’s Leo Williams, troubador Jon Byrne, and Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer.