...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The future is unwritten (I think he might have been our only decent teacher)

No one struggled more manfully with the gap between the myth and the reality of being a spokesman for your generation than Joe Strummer. Were it not for the Clash, punk would have been just a sneer, a safety pin and a pair of bondage trousers. Instead, the incendiary lyrics of the Clash inspired 1,000 more bands on both sides of the Atlantic to spring up and challenge their elders – and the man that we all looked to was Joe Strummer.”

– Billy Bragg eulogy to Joe Strummer, Dec. 23, 2002

The 2007 documentary by English filmmaker Julien Temple on the life of Clash frontman Joe Strummer will be released to DVD on July 8th. In The Future Is Unwritten, Temple (who knew Strummer for 30+ years) follows the path from his formative years in groups like The 101ers, to "the only band that mattered," and then into his solo career and the legacy he left at his untimely death.

Keys To Your Heart - The 101ers (early Joe Strummer band)

NEW CONTEST: Fuel/Friends has a package deal of the DVD and the CD soundtrack to give away to one of y'all. Leave me a comment telling me something you love about Joe Strummer -- a lyric, a story, a song, a quote, you pick. One winner will be randomly selected in a week.


This cover isn't on the soundtrack, but . . . I love it:

Redemption Song - Joe Strummer & Johnny Cash

Also, thanks to Cara for bringing this on my radar. Do jet over to Scatter o Light to check out the cool Bono/Strummer song she has, one of the last songs Joe worked on before his death.

WRAP-UP: Speaking of contests, we've got this old business: the Brushfire Record vinyl sampler winners are readers Scott Orr and frankie dartz. Please provide me your mailing addresses and I'll get these babies in the mail with a smiley little note just for you.

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At July 01, 2008 11:00 PM, Blogger Jason Bugg said...

Probably the one thing I love about Joe Strummer is an interview that is circulating from his days with The Clash on the Tom Snyder show. In the interview, he starts off as the irreverent trouble maker, interrupting Snyder's questions with silliness about a stuffed animal, which prompts Snyder to confiscate the velveteen distraction. Later on in the interview Strummer champions squatting as a viable means of living because of unfair housing prices in London.

Just that interview showed me everything that I love about what I consider "punk"; the child's soul and the weary old man's mind colliding into one brilliant hodgepodge. It's absolutely heartbreaking that people consider this Hot Topic inspired drivel part of Strummer's legacy.

Anyways, I'm off of my soapbox, and I return the floor to you.

At July 02, 2008 2:51 AM, Blogger lil m said...

I met Joe Strummer in 1987, and he was a few years off his Clash soapbox, and just a journeyman musician filling in for ailing Pogues guitarist Phillip Chevron.

We were backstage at The Fillmore, a storied rock venue. My band had lucked out with the opening spot, and it was like literally our third gig.

Up the narrow stairs behind the stage, Strummer was swigging tequila in the lil white ante' room that seemed awfully small to contain such a legend.

I wanted to say something profound, but managed just a sheepish nod in his direction.

But I mean, really what other than some stupid small b.s talk can you say to the man, a living legend.

A guy my parents had never heard of, but whose presence in the room definitely meant more than if any of my relatives had been there.

We sat silently, he eventually passed the bottle my way, and I swigged , looking the hardest my 18 years could muster...trying not to puke.

I decided to get out of there before it was a possibility...

Soon, as I was planning my exit, one of my blowhard drunken pals had meandered in, and wanted to argue with Joe about some old promise he said the Clash had made to start an anarchist sorta radio station in London a few years earlier when the Clash were on top of the world...

It was a moot point going nowhere, yet Joe was not irritated, tired or defensive...just bemused, eye cocked, occasionally trying to explain himself...Joe said something to the effect "it's easy to make promises in the heat of the moment, a lot harder to actually act on them..."

I dragged my pal from the room before the Pogues manager pummeled him, and was truly embarrassed for him bugging one of our actual heroes. Go hassle a fucking congessman I thought, ee got you in here for free, and backstage nmo less, don't fuck it up idiot...

I remember the light headed dizzy sorta trembling feeling of being onstage, looking up and knowing Joe was watching from the wings as we butchered our tunes and I blathered at the crowd throughout the set.

After the gig, Joe nodded, patted me on the back in passing... he muttered some sort of polite "hey, good show" sorta thing... grabbed his guitar and went down the stairs...and our paths were done crossing.

As he tore through London Calling that night, the well lubed crowd swelled with such a glorious roar...and bounced in unison.

It was awesome to see the man at work, and the power he pulled out of thin air...

I recently got a kick out of watching a video of Strummer on his last tour taking a taxi out to the sticks of Asbury Park and buzzing unannounced on a suburban radio station's doors, and trying to get them to let him in and play anything besides Rock The Casbah...

I wondered if he ever regretted not starting that radio station...

At July 02, 2008 4:04 AM, Anonymous last year's girl said...

I'm not entering the competition as I already own the DVD - it's been out here in the UK for a year or so now - but I just wanted to recommend it to anybody who's a fan of the Clash or even... music in general. It's an incredibly moving film about somebody who was a personal hero.

At July 02, 2008 6:43 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

I loved that his name comes from the fact that he can't play the guitar. In the movie he says with him its all of the strings or nothing - he can't do the "fiddly bits".

At July 02, 2008 7:28 AM, Blogger Hoodrat said...

fuck. i can't compete with those stories. but i'm still heartbroken that he's gone. "he might have been our only decent teacher."

At July 02, 2008 7:31 AM, Anonymous Windy City Vinnie said...

Lord, there goes a Buick forty-nine

Black sheep of the angels riding, riding down the line

We think there is a soul, we don't know

That soul is hard to find

At July 02, 2008 8:09 AM, Blogger JohnnyHank said...

1984. I was a nerdy high school freshman who spent all of his free time digging around for exciting music. I was taking an art class and the teacher, Mr. Heitpas, let us bring in albums to play during class; 12" vinyl of course...33 1/3. If you're imagining listening to endless Eddie Van Halen guitar solos and lots of that new singer Madonna while making some terrible painting of a moldy orange, you're probably getting the right idea.

It wasn't easy to haul music around 24 years ago...no iPod crammed with 500 albums, more like a backpack you couldn't zipper up with 4 albums in it. But when I came across Black Market Clash at the public library, I knew I had to bring it to school.

I put the record on in art class. Magic. It wasn't like everyone gasped and realized what truly good music is, or I suddenly became the hip and cool kid (still a music obsessed dork in fact, that's why I'm here), but when I heard someone complain about the music, I was able to say to myself, "What a dumbass." Didn't have to say it out loud. I just knew it and that was enough.
I also remember someone saying, "They have this at the LIBRARY??" I've always loved the library and it never occurred to me that it might be a Clash-unfriendly place. It isn't and shouldn't be. That simple is one of the many reasons I decided to go to library school many years later and damned if I'm not a librarian now!

At July 02, 2008 8:24 AM, Blogger matt [d] said...

I was in college in Philadelphia the late 90's and the Mescaleros were touring for one thing or another. I had a mate that worked for the venue, and he invited me to stick around after the show to clean up and possibly meet the band.

Sitting down at the bar well after doors had closed, watching the late news on a TV they had behind there, Joe sat down next to me and muttered some comment about what was on. We had a short conversation, but I had to let the fan boy in me out:

Me: "Joe, you've probably heard this 1000x before, and I don't mean to be a fanboy, but if it weren't for your music, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I hope my band can be a 100th of what you are one day"

Joe: "If you play it with all you got, you already are."

He got up and left shortly after that. The band never stuck together, but that 10 minutes with Strummer, and that line, has staid with me until today.

At July 02, 2008 8:36 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

Again, can't compete with those stories. Never met the guy. But still one of my favorite album openers is those first few seconds of Know Your Rights. "This is a public service announcement... with guitars."

At July 02, 2008 8:46 AM, Anonymous Tom Miller said...

Where to begin with Joe f'in Strummer? Is it the 45 rpm of Train in Vain with Innoculated City on the flip side? Is it hearing him rip through I Fought The Law on the radio and falling in love so hard and so fast that the time between the song ending and flipping to the first Clash album in the vinyl at the mall was wiped from my memory? Is it every damn time I spun the record on the turntable and shouted "I'm So Bored With The USA!" Or how about all the times I moved from apartment to house to house and lugged those albums with me, believe me I still have every one of my Clash albums and 45s and good luck ever getting me to give them up. Or the high school days when everybody was listening to London Calling at the same time, wearing the album cover t-shirts, singing the songs in the hallways and in the seats in front of you in the classrooms, and in your head you're back in your room with the album sleeves in hand, studying the lyrics and the sketches and grooving to Jimmy Jazz, jumping up and down and yelling along with Joe and the Clash to Death or Glory? Is it the raw power of the guitar solo invented for the I Fought The Law cover that sent me to the store, that threw me to the floor, that bought my boots and showed me the door, made me buy a Clash t-shirt and an electric guitar, that drove me to write this to whoever you are, whoever I am I became because of the man. No myth, no legend, but a warrior and as real as it gets. Thank you Joe for Ska, Reggae and the Dropkick Murphys, just 3 of the things I love (besides the Mescalero and Clash records) because of you, because of the joy, because London called and I answered.
Tom Miller
Sterling, VA

At July 02, 2008 9:10 AM, Anonymous Kenny said...

Joe Strummer died way too soon, and I miss what he would have to say about these desperate times in which we live. Here is my Joe story: Joe was doing an in store
at Tower Records in Chicago for Global A Go Go.

The manager let me hang out and watch them soundcheck-very cool! At first Joe and the band were on the floor performing (there was no stage). Joe said, “The folks in the back can’t see anything. Can we get some boxes or something to stand on?”. They brought out these display units. And then Joe’s mic kept falling so a Tower employee held it while Joe belted out the rock. I can only imagnie some of the temper fits certain artists would throw over this kind of situation. Not Mr Strummer -- he went with it. He rocked the in-store being totally gracious the entire time. We miss you Joe. It’s just not the same without you…
***By the way...my dogs name is Strummer :O)

At July 02, 2008 9:30 AM, Blogger Tim said...

You have the right to remain silent
You are warned that anything you say
Can and will be taken down
And used as evidence against you

Listen to this

At July 02, 2008 9:49 AM, Blogger James said...

"I was crawling through a festival way out west" from Coma Girl - I think any music fan can get into that one - who hasn't stumbled around, utterly dehydrated, under a glaring sun watching band after band on stage after stage?

And "Mega Bottle Ride", from Global A Go-Go is another recent favorite - both albums re-establishing Strummer as a truly creative force after too many quiet years.

At July 02, 2008 10:38 AM, Blogger woolgathering... said...

joe strummer, alongside john lennon, is my jesus christ. he's someone i think about probably every day-- if for nothing more than how the clash hoodwinked cbs records into releasing "london calling" as a double record at a single record's price, by telling them that they wanted to add a second, "bonus" record for the song "train in vain" and then they pulled a bait and switch with all those other songs. i mean, is there anything cooler than that?

my wife and i are trying to start a family, and if it's a boy, we're going to name him strummer.


At July 02, 2008 10:52 AM, Blogger Kouzie said...

Here's an example of one of the most punk things I've ever heard of. In the "Let's Rock Again" DVD, Joe says he ran 3 marathons- no real training for any of them and drank heavily the night before each one.

Joe kicks ass.

At July 02, 2008 11:46 AM, Blogger Dynamic Meter said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At July 02, 2008 11:48 AM, Blogger Dynamic Meter said...

Mine is a really long tribute, so you can read it here. http://dynamicmeter.blogspot.com/2008/01/joe-strummer-remembered.html

At July 02, 2008 1:58 PM, Blogger firedande said...

i lit joe strummers cigarette once.

At July 02, 2008 6:00 PM, Blogger Snake Plissken said...

One time, at band camp....I dreamt I met Joe Strummer.
The lyric I found to be what sums up Joe Strummer for me is from the "Streetcore" album on a song "Long Shadow". The final line delivered: Somewhere in my soul, there's always rock and roll.

That's all I got.

At July 02, 2008 6:22 PM, OpenID nick33 said...

I think we're going to have to forget about the radio and just go back to word of mouth. JS

so true.

At July 02, 2008 6:39 PM, Anonymous Justin Burnett said...

Unfortunately, I became a huge Clash fan after Joe Strummer died. I'm glad that I finally discovered the band, but it will always be one of my biggest musical regrets that I never got the chance to see him live in concert with The Mescaleros before then (I was six when The Clash broke up, so I didn't have any chance of seeing them in concert).

I have a copy of the London Calling album framed on my wall. I'd always heard about albums and songs that changed people's lives and never really believed that was possible until I heard that album.

Thanks Joe.

At July 02, 2008 6:53 PM, Blogger ant'ny said...

These lyrics were originally so cool because they were "naughty". Now that I'm on the other side of the story, age-wise, they're rather wistful and a bit painful.

"But I believe in this--and it's been tested by research:
"That he who fucks nuns will later join the Church."

Ah, Joe, you were so ahead of your time it's still not funny.

At July 02, 2008 6:58 PM, Anonymous kappa00073 said...

Hey Heather, even through I saw Metallica at the Tower Records parking lot and went to see Pearl Jam at Spartan Stadium, two of my favorite bands. My all-time favorite song is Straight to Hell. My older cousin who actually was old enough to see the Clash played it for me when I was about 7 and I will always remeber sitting in his room listening to this on vinyl, no less, every time I here it.

At July 03, 2008 9:18 AM, Blogger kingseyeland said...

I love the what Joe Strummer revealed about himself when describing Mick Jones in the Clash doc Westway to the World:

"punctuality wasn't one of his talents"


"his was a talent worth waiting for."

And the sage advice he left for others: "If it works, don't mess with it. Do what you have to do to bring it forward."

In about a minute of video, I learned more about Joe Strummer than I'd ever known, and I respected him even more afterward. He admitted his own folly in how he dealt with Mick and what that cost, and he hinted at a sort of aching regret. For a moment, Joe Strummer, leader of The Clash, became Joe Strummer, human being, and that's how I remember him.

At July 03, 2008 12:06 PM, Blogger Frank said...

My recently retired blog, That Truncheon Thing, was named in honor of Joe (it's a lyric from "London Calling"), who we referred to as our patron saint. I just think he was about the coolest bloke who ever lived -- unwaveringly and passionately political, he achieved a ludicrous level of fame but never stopped being a regular guy or treating his fanms with genuine affection and respect. But if all he had ever done was record The Clash's cover of "Brand New Cadillac," he'd still be a hero of mine. Balls to ya, daddy.

At July 03, 2008 3:01 PM, Anonymous ekko said...

I never win these things, but no blogger has shown more Strummerlove than me. I post a Clash boot just about every two weeks.

I don't love one thing about Joe--I love everything about him. But here's my favorite Joe lyric:

"If Adolf Hitler were here today/They'd send a limousine anyway."

At July 06, 2008 4:33 PM, Anonymous Eli said...

I saw Joe front the Pogues at the Beacon Theater some years ago. I thought he was the perfect replacement! Fantastic show.

At July 07, 2008 10:08 AM, Blogger wallrock said...

I came late to the party when it comes to the Clash, so much so that I had been listening to what I had considered punk for over six years before I even listened to an entire Clash record. I just knew "London Calling" and "Rock the Casbah" and the other radio songs, but at the time I didn't care about anything that wasn't on the Warped Tour. The real crack in the dam of my willful ignorance came in the form of the track "Global A Go-Go" which was on this Hellcat Records comp given to me in '01. I didn't really care for it at first - I was probably skipping it to listen to Rancid or the US Bombs. It came down to an instance of walking home after class, spinning the disc in my Discman, when it suddenly came to me: "Whoa, this guy's actually saying something here..." I kept listening to the song over and over on the walk home, and all of the sudden I couldn't get enough.

The neophyte that I was, I didn't know who Strummer was, so the next time I was at the record store I couldn't find anything under S. The bemused store clerk got to inform me that I should be looking under C for The Clash. He also told me that I might want to consider picking up a copy of London Calling if I was not familiar with the band. That is how it started for me, and how I managed to shed the blinders of teenage rebellion and turn a corner into appreciating music on so many more levels.

My favorite Strummer lyric isn't exactly profound or even that memorable, but it was running through my head the day I really heard they lyrics to "Global A Go-Go": "We send the funk into the jungle, to the last outpost of the bass player."

At July 07, 2008 4:29 PM, Anonymous Rambling Canuck said...

One of the best moments in rock and roll I've ever witnessed was seeing Joe jump off the stage at the Roseland Theater in Portland, where he was performing with the Mescaleros behind their debut album, and grab an audience member by the lapels and chewed him out for complaining about poor sound. Granted, the something was wrong with the PA for the first couple of tunes, but I love that Joe never lost that kick-ass attitude with age. He'd get up in anyone's face if he thought that person deserved it.

At July 12, 2008 12:28 AM, Anonymous Dani California said...

Is it my imagination or are The Clash more steeped into mainstream pop culture now than they were back in the day? The kids today -- can they name another punk band?

No matter, I guess. None of the others were as good as The Clash (although The Jam was pretty awesome too.) As the only band that ever really mattered, The Clash deserve that legacy. But for God's sake, I heard "Rudie Can't Fail" while noshing a foot-long coney with the kids at Sonic this week.

Back in the day, I was psyched if I got to hear "Train in Vain" on my college radio station. Although it was their most "pop-sounding" song, God it was pure. THEY were pure.

Now my teevee blares "Should I Stay or Should I Go" to get me psyched about buying a new car. "Rock the Casbah" is supposed to make me buy a cell phone. Hmph.

It wasn't supposed to go this way. I remember putting on "The Clash" as a sophomore in high school and being stunned by the wild abandon of "Clash City Rockers." These guys could do anything!

I was so hooked.

And I've stayed hooked for 30 years. Yeah, Strummer and his boys deserve the legacy. But, but.... pivotal -- absolutely pivotal music -- being used to sell crap? I expect that of today's Top 40 homogenized, corporatized, Pro Tools-ified, one-size-fits-most "music." But not The Clash. I'm just not ready.

Did you ever try watching the news and then listening to "The Call Up?" That'll break your heart right there. Goddamnit. It so wasn't supposed to go this way.

The kids in the back complain loudly when Mom sings along (between sips of a Route 44 Diet Coke):

How'd ya get so rude and a-reckless?
Don't you be so crude and a-feckless,
You been drinking brew for breakfast....

and remembers her punk rock days. Yes, The Clash is everywhere these days. And I can't help but wonder, What Would Joe Think (WWJT) about that?


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