A couple of days before Christmas 2002 I get a text message from a mate saying Joe Strummer is dead. My mate owns a sex shop and does lots of gak. I thought he was finally losing it. Joe Strummer dead? No! No fucking way!
Elvis and Lennon’s deaths were shocking but this was news of a death of someone I had grown up listening to and occasionally aping. This was the death of someone who had spoken directly to me.
Rewind to 1977 and I’d got a right royal bollocking from my old man for customizing a white Harrington my mum had bought me on tick from Grattan catalogue. I’d got my mate Bob Marino — the first punk on our council estate — to do “The Clash” stencil on the back of the pristine white jacket. I thought I looked way beyond cool strutting around the streets in the jacket. My old man thought I was a vandal. Thank fuck he never clocked the Indian ink tattoo as well.
It might sound strange nowadays to say that a band can change your life, but that’s exactly what Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon did for millions of kids around the world in 1977. The Clash were the real deal and with Strummer leading The Last Gang In Town you intuitively knew you had a leader who walked it like he talked it. Even when news came out that he was the son of a diplomat and not a Ladbroke Grove urchin, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because you knew Joe Strummer meant it. Strummer wasn’t slumming it. He couldn’t be! Nobody could fake those gutteral soul performances, unless of course they were extremely good actors, and let’s face it, the acting he did for Alex Cox and Jim Jarmusch in later life was hardly Oscar worthy.
Again, it’s hard to convey just how exciting it was buying a Clash single, running home, sticking it on the record player and listening to it over and over until you’d wore the needle down and pulled the print off the cover by staring at it for so long. The Clash were the full package: music, image, attitude.
The Clash couldn’t have come at a better time. The country was rotting under a corrupt and inept Labour Government that culminated in The Winter Of Discontent. We’ve obviously learned nothing as we find ourselves over 30 years later still ruled by a corrupt Labour Government who are even worse than the one in 1977. The Clash cut through the partisan bullshit of the left/right paradigm and came out firmly on the side of raw Truth. The lyrics hit the head and the heart and implored us to be angry with our lot. ‘White Riot’s incendiary clarion call shook us out of apathy and infused us with a sense of belonging. This was music for the disaffected, marginalized and those hungry for a direction. Above all, it was a call for change. That change came in the form of a new entrepreneurial spirit.
In my opinion The Clash epitomized a move away from state reliance. The state was fucked and the only way to move forward was to do it yourself. Simple: go out and form your own band, start a fanzine, throw a disco, write, design, make films, start a radio station, build your own record label, just create, do anything, something to beat the boredom and make a mark. This attitude seeped into the ideology of Thatcherism. Though loathe to admit it, the first wave of Punk Rockers in the UK were more in line with the Thatcher/Reagan spirit than the dead horse of the pseudo socialist Labour party that celebrated defeatism and subsidy. I doubt Joe Strummer would ever recognize the correlation but it’s there if you study the history. The amount of artists, writers, designers, film makers and successful entrepreneurs who charted their own courses from the punk big bang is staggering.
If Joe Strummer — and by default the rest of The Clash — should be remembered for anything though, it is their maverick attitude towards culture. Strummer got me listening to reggae and dub. Through him I found classic rock & roll, folk, country and western and even a little World music. It was this eclecticism that always kept Strummer relevant. Strummer was a genuine music lover, and believe it or not, that isn’t always the case with famous musicians.
I was fortunate to attend the remembrance benefit of Joe Strummer at The White Cube Gallery a few years ago. In the true spirit of Joe, Paul Buck, Johnny Johnson, James Brown, Paolo Sedezzari and me celebrated in high old style and to this day still look back on it as one of the best nights out…ever. The place was rammed with ‘creatives‘ from right across the spectrum. From pop stars to footballers and actors to psycho’s, chancers and misfits the place rocked out to Joe’s music and it was a testament to a man who was truly loved by all who met him. In the final analysis that’s all that ultimately matters…Joe was a good guy and an inspiration to those of us who didn’t want to do a “real” job for a living.
© Words – Dean Cavanagh/ ZANI Ltd
Published with kind permission – View Original Source