Long ago he had put the challenge to the young rebel in the alternative, death or glory, but he always remained true to the rock ‘n roll idea. It was possible to achieve both with integrity and fire…”
English Civil War
In the summer of 1978, I saw the Clash perform at a vast “Rock Against Racism” rally in Victoria Park, East London. This was the outdoor concert footage that was used in the film Rude Boy. The march to the park was particularly memorable since it took the resistors through the streets of Hackney and the East End, a neighborhood notorious for British National Front fascist street activity, their favorite pastime being the clobbering of non-white immigrants, especially women. As we wound our way through the community, the fascists, grossly outnumbered, glowered and leered at the protestors. One outstanding moment involved a spindly, pale, acned ubermensch wearing the colors of the BNF and a “Hitler Was Right” t-shirt. It was too much for the rowdy demonstrators to pass up. Singling this poor bastard out, the crowd began to chant, “There’s the master race, Beware!” The idiot racist turned crimson as tens of thousands of marchers loudly earmarked him as the symbol of all that was wrong. Mortified, he slunk home, probably to listen to his Stranglers record. Later on at the concert, Joe Strummer hooped and hollered the lyrics to “Safe European Home” as the band twanged and bashed its way through that anthem. As true today as it was back then, safety is only assured when we take matters into our own hands and don’t allow those with bloodthirsty agendas to steer the ship. Joe knew it then, and he knew it up to the day of his untimely passing. Perhaps the most telling scene in the film Rude Boy portrays Joe in a pub trying to explain to the confused lumpen roadie why the “get back to Russia” argument is fallacious. “The same fat cats drive the big cars there as the ones who do here,” taught Joe. Safe home, wherever you are Mr. Strummer…Stay Free!
— mike morgan
I was sixteen when I first heard the Clash. Without Joe Strummer, I may not have had the righteous anger to get through high school. I most certainly would not have become a writer, at least not the writer I am at present. When I turned eighteen I was fortunate enough to see the band up close and personal, at the Devon’s Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There were roughly 500 people at that show. Reagan was in office, I was young, I had no job prospects to speak of. The Clash spoke to me. The Clash spoke for me. Twenty-one years have passed. Bush is in office, the world seems poised for disaster, and I am unemployed again. Joe, I hope you’re up there somewhere, still fighting the good fight, still hoping for the best.
— kurt eisenlohr
Train in Vain
Jim Jarmusch created the character “Johnny” in his 1989 film Mystery Train for Joe Strummer after meeting him in Spain. Strummer plays a displaced Brit whose dreams and illusions have dissolved in the reality of Memphis’ down and out fringe. His girlfriend dumps him and he loses his job on the same miserable day, and we find him drowning his sorrows in a local pub, where the African-American regulars all call him “Elvis.” They’ve known him for years, and with his pompadour and sideburns he has encouraged comparison with the King, but now finally he is sick of it, and tells them to call him Carl Perkins instead (the Elvis/Perkins dichotomy runs through the movie). When he starts brandishing a gun, his friends are called, and they head out, drinking and driving, into the Memphis dusk. Eventually Johnny drags them to a liquor store, where he promptly kills the clerk played by Rockets Redglare, whose last words are “Ah’m the man that’s gonna make yuh use that gun.” (This priceless moment is the first instance of a character asking to be shot, then getting it — a scene repeated in Jarmusch’s subsequent films.) Later on, wallowing in his despondency, Johnny tries to shoot himself and ends up wounding one of his compatriots; this gunshot is a synchronizing moment, tying the film’s disparate stories together. Strummer’s performance is great, but it’s certainly not going to eclipse his brilliant musical career. I remember it now, after he’s gone, because it epitomizes what made him unique in the world of rock music. First off, he was an essential part of the Clash, but was not an egotistical sod. He was central without needing to be the center (compare: Bono). Moreover, I imagine Jarmusch basing Johnny’s “Don’t call me Elvis” on Strummer’s rejection of typical celebrity bullshit. Joe was able to be trenchantly political without veering into insipid messianic posturing (again, compare with Bono). And he had enough of a sense of humor about himself to play a washed-up rockabilly punk in a movie. He was sincere, honest and funny at the same time, and still managed to make a difference. I wish he were here to kick my ass for calling him a role model (and for comparing him with Bono).
— brendan costello
Rudi Can’t Fail
It was a hot July evening in 1980 when I walked into the air-conditioned incense of the local record store and plopped down most of my daily pay from my shitty summer job on two double albums: Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers and London Calling by The Clash. I think the total was around $34, which was a lot in those days. But it was worth every penny—Babylon By Bus is still my favorite live album, and the opening chords of London Calling are still rattling my teeth. From Bob and the Brothers Barrett I learned how deep and righteous a groove can be, from Joe & Co. I learned that attitude was as important as chops. From both I learned that anything is possible in “rock and roll.” The ironic thing is that I own neither of these recordings on compact disc (my vinyl copies now lie somewhere within my friend Zeke’s garage in Portland, Oregon, along with the rest of The Pinamonti Archives). They are in some ways like long gone loved ones, and I encounter their ghosts occasionally while at a bar or surfing the airwaves. One day I’ll plunk down another day’s pay for ’em, and we’ll be reunited for good. In the meantime, I continue to be inspired by them, and they still echo in my bones.
Death is a Star
Jesse Taylor, the Texas guitar legend and ex-essential member of the Joe Ely Band, once related the following tale. Back in the day, the Clash had completed a concert in Austin, Texas and were hanging with the boys from Lubbock for a little R&R at Joe Ely’s ranch/hacienda. Joe Ely and his fellas were one with the Clash, having toured England with them in 1980 (the album Live Shots memorializes this). So, as Jesse tells it, the pride of Praed Street, Paddington and the Flatlander types were whooping it up with plenty of them sticky, sweet Mex drinks, when, in the early hours of the morning, Joe Strummer announced that he couldn’t leave Lubbock without paying due respects at the tombstone of Buddy Holly. Plonked out of their collective minds, the entourage piled into whatever wheels were in the front yard and careened into the West Texas night in search of Buddy Holly. They found the cemetery and the gravesite, but by then, the effects of sucking on those chili dogs and that big bottle of mescal began to kick in. Joe Strummer spent the entire solemn occasion retching up on the gravestone of Arthur Simmons, the unknown Lubbock citizen whose only claim to fame was being buried next to Buddy Holly. As his comrades helped Joe stumble back to the truck, he was heard to mumble…”Not fade away, Arfur..”
— jimmy jazz
Lost in the Supermarket
When you’re a teen-aged boy, there are two experiences that make you feel like you’ve been hit in the head, and both surprise you by their power. One is getting hit in the head. You can’t quite believe it hurts that much. The other is hearing the Sex Pistols for the first time. It is a similarly jarring, though entirely different, response, as is the following realization: Both make your head hurt, and both make you angry. At first, it feels good. A throbbing head makes you feel alive, and justified anger is a rare treat, a joy to wallow in. Soon, however, comes the realization that you were looking for neither a hurt head nor justified anger. You were looking for music. Then you discover the Clash. Just enough rhythm and melody, just enough boogie woogie…just enough anger for a young man. The Clash didn’t hit you in the head, but that’s what they were coming for: Your head. And your heart. And your feet. Really–who does that anymore? I mean, who’s been lost in a supermarket in the last twenty years? Anyone? But I know how it feels. And I could dance to it. If I could dance.
— dennie wendt
Death or Glory
“This one’s for Joe Bummer…it’s called ‘London.'” Thus spoke former NY Doll and then Heartbreaker, Johnny Thunders on their live LP. Sadly, it would be Thunders who took on the job of formulating NYC’s response to the Sex Pistols’ attack on the NY punk scene in their song “New York.” The same logic that compelled Thunders to address the song to Strummer rather than, say, Johnny Rotten, later compelled him to move to New Orleans, where he died days later, to get off junk. Apparently he couldn’t get a flight to Amsterdam. I had just moved to NYC but I missed the September, 1979 Palladium show, the one pictured on the London Calling LP where Paul Simonon smashed his guitar. I was in Detroit in the summer of 1980 when the Clash played at the Motor City roller rink and reportedly refused to allow Ted Nugent onstage. I had initially been a Sex Pistols fan and considered the Clash political poseurs. When I heard about the Nugent incident however I was a fan for life. It was preposterous, but they were “the only band that mattered.” I was there at Bond’s, my $5 ticket in hand, in the summer of ’81, about 20 feet from the stage. Kurtis Blow opened? Or was it Grandmaster Flash? No matter, the Clash fans booed. Rap and Rock were joined only in the minds of the Clash back then. It would take a few more years for the others to catch up. In August of ’82 I was at the pier in NYC, next to the aircraft carrier Intrepid, during the Clash’s “Combat Rock” tour. They entered to the strains of The Magnificent Seven theme. In ’87 I saw Joe again at Todd’s Sway Bar in Detroit, playing rhythm guitar with the Pogues. Shane McGowan let Joe come up and sing 3 or 4 Clash songs, during a crazed whisky-fueled show, and everyone went wild. Finally, I saw Joe a couple of years ago at Irving Place in NYC with the Mescaleros. He looked great, still sounded awful and tore into “Tommy Gun” and “Straight to Hell” in the encore. Long ago he had put the challenge to the young rebel in the alternative, death or glory, but he always remained true to the rock ‘n roll idea. It was possible to achieve both with integrity and fire.
— bill carney
Safe European Home
I don’t know what to say about Joe Strummer and what he meant to me. I was a punk rocker in the 70s and the Clash were MY band, the perfect rare mix of rage and intelligence. But I was going to school in Columbus, Ohio, and the Clash never made it to that backwater burg during their tours across the States and I, without wheels and funds, never got to see them play. In 1999, I finally saw Strummer live, when his solo tour brought him to Cleveland. I knew he was playing Clash stuff…but halfway into the set, when his band tore into the opening bowel-shaking chords of “Safe European Home” it was still a transcendental moment. Twenty years of waiting, over at last. With a bellow of joy, I hurled my creaky 40-year-old body into the exploding mosh and gave myself up to the music like I was an orange-haired teenager again. After that incredible show, I was walking to the car and there was Joe, leaning against the bus talking to a couple dozen fans. “Thanks, Joe!,” I shouted over their heads. A simple statement…which had so much more meaning than the simple literal interpretation. Layers and layers of meaning.It’s a rare privilege to personally thank the voice of your generation.
He smiled and nodded. “You’re welcome, mate.”
He knew exactly what I was trying to say.
— john backderf (Derf)
I’ve always blanched at the circus and false glamour surrounding a famous “celebrity” death—of the contrite expressions of admiration and contrived eulogizing media and pop-figures involve themselves in when a fellow of Strummer’s incalculable influence passes along. Old Joe would have been more than pissed if he could have heard some of the sanctimonious bullshit unloaded on his behalf in the aftermath of his death on December 22. Still, in spite of this circus, it’s imperative to hold to the notion that Strummer wasn’t in life, nor is he now by his early demise, a tragic figure. He died a workingman’s death after living a decidedly workingman’s life. He left too soon, leaving a heartbroken family, a kick-ass band, calloused hands and a tape deck full of unfinished business. An unfortunate circumstance, yes, but one that begs the question: what exactly are we left holding in the wake of his premature exit? An armload of trashed Clash records? A pocketful of torn ticket stubs? Memories of when the lions roared?
Joe Strummer left us much more than that. He was a determined man who rocked his way through life first and foremost as an ordinary but global citizen. In his wake lies a simple, tangible blueprint for how ideas are planted — seeds that sprout into actions, broader themes and dynamic, important art. He showed us how these seeds mature and make people jump and shout and think with their potent stew of humor, politics, rhythm and back-beat. A cultivator of ideals in the soil of his own informed trajectory, Joe planted an orchard everywhere he dug in. These are the subtleties defining Strummer’s legacy. They are not insignificant.
Eyes wide open mates. Open for Strummer. Open for yourself and your children and Joe’s children. The world is a sadder place without him. But there is no time for despondency. This is a time for kinetic motion. This is the time to focus and groove. Lord knows in these dangerous days we need a motivator like Joe Strummer more than ever, but he has closed his eyes and left us watch of his garden.
I hear what you’re saying…
…I hear what he’s saying:
Our eyes are still open aren’t they?
— john richen
From Our Readers:
Gates Of The West
Im only 16 now…but I remember the exact moment in time I heard Joe’s voice come out of my dad’s speakers. I was 13 years and it was in the car. Now my dad has probably played them before but I never remembered. But this time it struck me like being hit on the head with a sledge hammer. It was White Man In Hammersmith Palais. It was cold, it was rainy…but Joe had a voice that just warmed me up all over some reason. I asked who this was and he goes “The Clash”, “and the lead singer has just died a few days ago”. Well me being stubborn said “oh that’s sad” but not really meaning it. But I still liked em. So my dad was playing em all week long, and day after day I got more sad that this great man has just died before I was even able to see him. I then began to read about them and listen to as many songs as possible by them. By the summertime I knew more then my dad about The Clash. I became so sad that he died, that I was even more sad about him dying then my own nanna. Now it’s probly cus the only thing I ever got from her is some money each b-day and a card…but what I got from Joe is more then money and a card. I can’t explain it really. But those who listen to him probably know what I mean. My dad saw The Clash twice in Australia and stood right in the middle of the pogoing people and didnt move. Because he says Joe had him frozen and all he could do was watch. But it amazes how much Joe and The Clash have gotten me through half of high school. I miss Joe and I will never be able to forget him. I never met him or anything, but he has a major part of my heart. I hope I’ll be able to see him in the “4th demension”. I ‘ll be the girl with the bass guitar, headphones, and Clash shirt on. Stay free Joe!
— mechela knutson
I just started to like the clash. I had just bought my first CD by them, From Here to Eternity. This CD hit my like a earthquake. A few weeks after that I was flipping through a magazine when I came across a page that said Joe Strummer was dead. I was dumb struck. I love the band. Joe came into my life with a riff, he left in silence. Thanks Joe, for everything.
— james schweig
Thinking about Joe Strummer today (Aug.19 ’04) as his 52nd b/day comes around. I never had the great honor to meet him but cherish SO MUCH the music and influence The Clash brought into my life in the early 80’s. Now in my mid-30’s & a music photographer he was ONE of the people I have wanted to shoot. Though my chance is no longer, as a fan I have the legacy of songs, images, and memories to reflect on. I am proud that I was able to put together a tribute in your memory 2 yrs. ago & raise money for Future Forests. You are a Revolutionary Rocker that spoke volumes. I heard your words and felt your passion.. and was moved. The day I heard of your passing was the day music died for me….. music hasn’t been the same for me since. You will always be in my heart..though never met I still feel my youth though your words and music…
Rest your soul.
Go Easy, Step Lightly
I was a bored 15 year old when I first heard the Clash, at my mates house on an old Dansette Record player. I listened to the first album and was transfixed by the energy, the power but mainly by the commitment of the Band. These lads were not the overproduced poseurs of the early 70,s Chart Bands..they were grafting..sweating and snarling through the songs. I already knew about the Pistols. In “Granada” land we all knew about the swearing on TV and I had spent a fruitless night charging around Manchester trying to find which Hotel they were in…little knowing that the Clash were with them. When I got to see the Clash at the Apollo.. crap sound System and mayhem aside…I joined in the “dancing”..(after climbing over and breaking chairs to get to the front) and my life was changed. No mellow chart sounds anymore…I was hooked !….30 years later…Still am. You just could not “Go Easy” or “Step Lightly” at a Clash Concert…but you could “Free” yourself from the Mundane …
Thanks lads….Cheers Joe
— simon eason-brookes
I’m fifteen, sixteen later this year. I had never heard of the Clash until my I heard my dad talking about Joe Strummer’s death just before Christmas. I thought it was sad but I had no idea of who Joe was then, so it sort of passed me by. A few months later, my dad was watching a Pogues concert on video and I noticed a man that guested about halfway through the show. He looked so incredibly cool, dressed all in black and wielding a battered Telecaster. As soon as he started singing, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen….Joe is my ultimate hero and I don’t expect that will ever change. He was an amazing, intelligent and charismatic human being who is sorely missed by a great deal of people all over the world. I have never seen someone that cool be so caring and warm towards all his fans. I regret not discovering the Clash while Joe was still alive but all things happen for a reason and I believe finding them late has made me appreciate them even more. Thank you Joe, your songs have reached me like none before. I owe you too much.
I’m Not Down
I only got my first Clash record earlier this year, but now i’m completely into the band. They deliver just as much intensity as the Sex Pistols, but they still make you think. They’re songs make you realise that there is a world of problems out there and we should do something about it. Joe gave us the music, now we must address the problems. Speaking of the music, I recently obtained my own copy of Rude Boy. While most of the actual movie had little connection with The Clash, more then half of it is live or studio footage. Awesome! But one bit inparticular stood out to me. It was when Joe was playing the piano and talking to Ray, the Roadie. After a little while Joe started playing ‘Let the Good Times Roll.’ When I saw it first, I just thought, ‘Nice tune’, but later on in bed it kept playing back in my mind. Watching Joe was just awesome. The happiness on his face as he played. It was obvious that he lived only for music. And as I lay in bed thinking about it, I began to cry. I was sad about Joe’s death, ever since I heard about it, but this was the first time I had actually ever cried. In the movie, he was just so damn happy to be making music, and now he is dead. It doesnt seem fair, that such a good, honst man should die before he was ready. But as I cried, I realised that Joe was sending me a message. He wanted us all to just let the good times roll. To be happy with the music. So, Joe’s legacy for me was to do just that, and i’m still ‘Letting The Clash spin in my CD player, so the good times can roll. and when i get sad about the loss of Joe, I put the DVD on and watch him play ‘Let the Good Times Roll and say, ‘I’m not down, I’ve just stopped the good times from rolling. Remember, Joe isn’t dead as long as we continue to play the Clash, or the Mesclaeros. He lives on through the music he lived for.
Midnight to 6 Man
I grew up with Joe…him and alot of other musicians going in and out of my dads speakers. It was Joe though that got me. I never got to see him in concert with The Clash because I wasn’t alive yet(only 16) and I didn’t get to see him and the Mescaleros at all. When my dad took me to Glastonbury though with him, I remember seeing Joe walking around, and saying “hey its Joe!” he came over to listen to what my dad was playing to me on the boombox. I was only 12 then but I remember it all. There was one more year I remember seeing him at Glastonbury and came back over. When he left I said “bye Joe, see you later”…he just turned around and waved and said “okay next year, same place, you’ve got it.” I was 13, he was willing to say this to a 13 year old. One with a father who was as old as Paul and Mick. I never got to see him that next year, same place. He died that x-mas holiday. That summer at Glastonbury they had a memorial in left field for him. Nice big rock with pictures, flags, and a jacket. So I guess in a way he was there. I hope to see him in another time. I don’t feel bad for never seeing him in concert. He was willing to come over to us at our site in Glastonbury and that right there met alot for me. Im glad I have a dad like I do and meeting a man like Joe. I’ll forever be going to Glastonbury to remember him and what he gave a 12 year old to remember forever
Let’s Get a Bit a Rockin’
Everyday of my life I listen to a Clash song or a Joe Strummer track…
and with some fellow Compadres…we have decided to celebrate the Life, Music and Influences of the Band and of Joe in particular.
We have organised a STRUMMERCAMP 06. Everyone is welcome.