As our friend Tim Falconer reminded us yesterday, it was ten years ago that Joe Strummer died.
Back in 2002, I was having dinner with some friends between Christmas and New Year’s. During the course of the conversation, I expressed sadness at the news of Strummer’s death a couple days prior. One of the people at the table had not heard yet about it and let fly with an uninhibited ‘Joe Strummer died?!’ (We were a couple bottles in by that time.) This created quite a stir among our fellow diners in the restaurant, and not because of the volume of the outburst but because, well, Joe Strummer had died.
A surprising number of people around us were genuinely upset by the news.
It was two decades since Strummer was at his peak popularity as the lead singer and co-soul behind the seminal group, The Clash. He’d been something of a peripatetic musician-public personality since that time. Acting in ultra-indie movies, stepping in as a replacement musician, radio show host. His work with the Mescaleros was terrific but somewhat unsung in terms of popularity.
But his death revealed a widespread and deeply felt connection between him and those who followed him regardless of what he was doing. He was our front man in the only band that mattered still, twenty years on.
As someone designated a boomer (although Mr. Falconer has embraced our own generational label), I grew up in the flat lined part of that demographic. Forever overshadowed by The Sixties, where for many popular music stopped when The Beatles disbanded, the following decade always felt like the poor cousin. It was all somehow nothing more than an extension of what had happened previously.
Still, I’m struck by how much music we crammed in to our teenage years during that thought of by some musical wilderness of the 70s. The burning hot intensity that seemed to go cold within what must’ve been a matter of months. Early on in high school I remember my KISS and Aerosmith phases, followed by a prog rock period. While I listened intensely to Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, somehow there was that crazy Darkness on the Edge of Town Springsteen infatuation.
I came gradually to punk music, not immediately enamoured with the Pistols. But eventually, I fell and I fell hard. Mostly because of The Clash.
They were probably two albums in when I did which is not surprising since when I look back on it, they were crazy productive. The Clash in 1977. Give `Em Enough Rope, 1978. London Calling, 1979. Sandinista!, 1980. Combat Rock, 1982.
This is where I get my generational back up. Fuck The Beatles, man. I defy anyone to try and match that, album for album, song for song, over a 5 year period.
Joe Strummer wasn’t The Clash. Mick Jones was the musician in the band and was the perfect fragile foil to Strummer. Jones went on to do some era defining music on his own with B.A.D and produced two of my favourite albums from the last decade from one of my favourite bands, The Libertines.
But Strummer… *sigh*. Not for nothing The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn sang: Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer/I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher.
Strummer showed us it was cool to be political. Cool and vital. You didn’t have to sing like an angel or play guitar like a prodigy, you just had to have a heart.
For someone as musically cloistered as I was, Strummer proved to be an important guide, never getting stuck in one genre. I was introduced to kinds of music that, up to that point, I would never think of listening to. Jesus Christ, listen to the evolution from The Clash to Sandinista! In three fucking years.
Joe Strummer didn’t just sing about never settling, never giving up, never surrendering. He lived it. He carried a vulnerable swagger, a sense of knowing he was right but not certain enough to pull it off entirely. That’s the spirit I think many of us embraced as our own.
So now all I have to do is to die before Tim Falconer, in order to lift his idea for my funeral.
And when Joe Strummer’s “Silver and Gold” plays — as I insist it will — everyone must stay quiet until the song ends and, after a pause, Strummer says, “Okay. That’s a take.”
Tim Falconer, It’s My Funeral
— sadly submitted by Cityslikr