Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joe Strummer Remembered

''Whether it's jazz or punk or anything else, you have to fight against the purists who want to narrow the definition. That's what kills music because it stifles it to death.''

''The way you get a better world is, you don't put up with substandard anything.''

It was just before Christmas five years ago, in 2002 that I heard the news that Joe Strummer had died. He died young of a heart attack. He was only fifty years old. When I saw the news on The New York Times website, I was shocked. One of my musical heroes was gone.

Do you remember some of the music that changed your life? For me it was The Clash. When I was fourteen, I heard Give 'Em Enough Rope. On vinyl, of course. Then there was London Calling, Sandinista, and the rest. All of these connected with me and seemed to carry a focus greater than much of the other punk rock music coming out at the time—which was strong on anger, but short on context. I was a developing punk rock kid, looking for a focus for my rebellion. And there it was with The Clash with Joe Strummer as its main singer and songwriter. And I have been listening to them ever since, for twenty some odd years.

Joe Strummer was born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey in 1952. He was the son of a British diplomat. As a child he moved to London and attended boarding school. As a young man Joe attended and dropped out of art school, lived in a squat, busked around London, formed the 101ers and then the co-founded The Clash in 1976. Ten years and the six albums later, The Clash broke up. In the late 1990s Strummer formed The Mescaleros. They were recording their fourth album when he died. In addition, there were many faxes going back and forth between the original members of The Clash about performing at their induction to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It seemed as though this was going to happen. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros, by the way, is a great band. Streetcore is the album that they were working on at the time of Strummer’s Death. It is well worth checking out, especially for Joe’s solo guitar version of “Redemption Song.”

But of course Joe Strummer is the best person to represent Joe Strummer. And of all of the quotes and statements he made, this is one of the best; and I think it directly connects to his vision of the world to his vision about music that is quoted at the top of this article. “People can change anything they want to . . . It’s time to take humanity back into the center of the ring . . without people you’re nothing.”

Biography and fact aside, what is it about Strummer and The Clash that have made me, and many others, keep listening after all these years? For one, the music still sounds totally fresh, and the anger and passion still timely. When the invasion of Iraq occurred, “I’m So Bored with the USA,” got a great deal of rotation in my listening. Also, unlike much of the music I listened to as a teenager, their music still connects and reminds me as Joe Strummer once drew in a cartoon, that the “Future is unwritten.”

And check out this tribute to Joe Strummer.

Here are some of my favorite The Clash and Joe Strummer songs in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive and totally my opinion.

London Calling: The Clash from London Calling

(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais: The Clash from The Clash

Coma Girl: Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros from Streetcore

Lost In The Supermarket: The Clash from London Calling

I’m So Bored With The USA: The Clash from The Clash

Stay Free: The Clash from Give ‘Em Enough Rope

Safe European Home: The Clash from Give ‘Em Enough Rope

All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts): The Clash from Give ‘Em Enough Rope

This Is England: The Clash from Cut the Crap

The Magnificent Seven: The Clash from Sandinista

Police On My Back: The Clash from Sandinista

The Street Parade: The Clash from Sandinista

Johnny Appleseed: Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros from Global A Go-Go

Redemption Song: Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros from Street Core

Redemption Song: Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash: From Johnny Cash’s Unearthed Box Set


heather said...

this is a great post. thanks for pointing me this way.

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