I'm the all night drug-prowling wolf
Who looks so sick in the sun
I'm the white man in the Palais
Just lookin' for fun
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There once was a white man. He entered the Hammersmith Palais. A trivial incident, really. Not even a blip on the radar for most. He was atwitter with the prospects of hearing an all night revue, featuring the reggae stylings of Dillinger, Leroy Smart, Delroy Wilson, and Ken Booth.
But the white man went home and, angry or sad - who knows? - wrote about his experience in a song that illuminated his overwhelming dissatisfaction with the night's festivities. He pretty much bored a hole straight through the whole experience, leaving only wispy smoke escaping from the remains.
The song was recorded by the white man's band, the Clash, and became what critics largely proclaim to be their finest song. And so it was that the Hammersmith Palais came to be immortalized by the white man, the song's writer, Joe Strummer, who himself was immortalized simply by existing. In the punk rock era surrounding the late '70s and early '80s, Strummer was a god.
But a bit about the venue itself: the Palais' original incarnation was that of a tram shed. Indeed, the tram rails lay woodenly silent in ensuing years underneath the new flooring that transformed it into a ballroom in 1919, with a new proud moniker, "Palais De Danse." Onward through the years the Palais hosted jazz bands, Dixieland, big band, swing, pop, rock, reggae, rock n roll, punk, ska, and even somehow unnaturally suffered a brief fling in the '30s as an ice rink.
On January 21, 2007, the groundbreakers and paper pushers, proudly displaying their polyester paisley ties, signed the death warrant on the venue, and on an era that spanned nearly a century. Why? Perhaps they felt the smell of grease traps for a new restaurant complex was too enticing a prospect to pass up. Or that students would find comfort in flats designed to their benefit so they could studiously complete their homework on ground so drenched in the sounds of music they might never get a quiet moment. As of July 2010, no decision had yet been made how best to desecrate this most holy of musically historic property parcels, but the doors to the building that occupied 242 Shepherd's Bush Road in London were boarded up in April, 2007.
It's a shame that Joe Strummer, the white man who ventured into the Hammersmith Palais that fateful night, died five years before they closed the doors, because we're pretty sure he'd have something to say about it, and we're pretty sure it would be colorful.
~ Shawna Hansen Ortega
(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais Songfacts
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