Saturday, December 22, 2012

REPOST: Joe Strummer Is Still Dead, And I Don’t Feel So Good Either....

Ten years' gone, and it's harder to believe all the time. Here's what I had to say about Joe Strummer on the second anniversary of his death in 2004, at my old MySpace blog. (Wow! Remember THAT?!)

 It was two years ago today that I awoke in a world where Joe Strummer no longer lived. I don't like that idea. The way I found out was bad enough: The clock radio going off, on the horrid Top 40 station which was the only thing I could pick up on the poxy device. The idiot deejay went on to prove how little he knew or cared about Joe or the Clash in the manner in which he delivered the news: "The band pretty much died with the punk movement in the late '70s….Here's 'Rock the Casbah'!"

I bawled. I bawled like I've bawled for few. This was no stupid rock star death: A man walks his dogs, sits by his fire, then succumbs to a heart ailment few have and which is never discovered until it kills you. But Joe Strummer was no stupid rock star, nor was he merely a rock star. The Clash were just like that. They went well beyond entertainment, and once you heard them, you expected all the other music you listened to, to live up to that standard, to actually Say Something. Otherwise, it was (as an obituary that ran in the NME put it) just "pathetic, patronizing noise."

I'm lucky enough to have seen the Clash when I was young. Very young – I was 14, and it was London Calling time. And that night had a major impact. That night was what made a musician out of me. Everything else paled next to this band onstage. There was so much passion, so much conviction pouring off that stage. And I'd dare say 75% of that came from Joe Strummer. In a band that had not one frontman, but three, Joe was still the most riveting. This was a man bursting to explode out of his own skin, wanting to reach every last person in the theater that night, wanting to physically grab them, and scream, spittle flicking from his mouth, 'WAKE THE FUCK UP!! CAN'T YOU SEE WHAT'S GOING ON OUT THERE?!! THIS WORLD HAS GONE FUCKING MAD!!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?!!"

That was it. I was a punk rocker. I was a rock 'n' roll musician. I wanted to play guitar with as much beautiful ferocity as Mick Jones, look as cool and move with as much animalistically sexual grace as Paul Simonon, and attack with as much heart and passion as Joe Strummer. I basically wanted to be the Clash. I wanted to reach hearts and minds like the Clash did, disseminate all the essential information about Life And How It Works like the Clash did, be as important as the Clash were. And still are. I still do.

They just don't make bands like that anymore. They don't make men like Joe Strummer anymore. I will never forget reading a Rolling Stone profile of the Clash around the time I saw that show. It began with Strummer smoking and swearing at the management of the theater they were playing in San Francisco, insistent that the first ten rows of seats be removed.

"We can't do that! People have bought tickets for those seats!"

Strummer insisted that anyone there to see the Clash wanted to dance, and wouldn't want to be seated. "Don't you see? Our audience will RIP those fucking seats out!" Then he said if anyone complained, he'd personally reach in his pocket and refund them, and said he would get on his hands and knees with a screwdriver himself and remove those seats if he had to.

That anecdote says almost everything you need to know about Joe Strummer. Would Nikki fucking Sixx do this? Would he be so committed? Would Fred fucking Durst? I don't think so.

If Napalm Stars have a 116th of the impact or importance of the Clash, I would be a very happy man. The Clash are still reaching hearts and minds to this day, although I sometimes wonder on what level: I know young Clash fans who voted for Bush and said they'd go to fight in Iraq. If Strummer were alive to hear such a contradictory thought stream coming out of such supposed fans, I know he'd be giving these kids a death stare and asking, "Have you been fucking listening to anything I've sung?"

I could go on a lot longer. Instead, let me leave you with the words to a song I wrote days after Joe's death, about the power he and the Clash had on lives like mine. It's called "(I Come From) A Place Like Any Other."

I knew what I wanted
But I didn't know how
To make a noise that made some sense somehow
I heard somebody singing
It made all the difference
He showed me where all the answers were hidden
And when the world said no
Rock 'n' roll said yes
And when the world said go
Rock said, "Go west, young man!"
Go west, young man….
I come from a place like any other

I wrote endless poison
About my lack of power
Practiced all my moves in front of the mirror
I bought my first Fender
Used off some beggar
And went off in search of the perfect error
I want to hear that sound
Burns louder than a guitar army
I want a life that burns
Burns louder than a guitar army
A guitar army….
I come from a place like any other

I want a life that burns
I want a life that burns right now
I want a life that burns
I want a life that burns right now
Now and forever….
I come from a place like any other
I come from a place like any other

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