Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nine Year Rememberance: Strummer Wisdom

It is hard to believe nine years have gone by since one of my all time heroes, Joe Strummer, died of a heart defect at age 50. For those of you who don't know who Joe was, he was primarily a guy who turned his back on what was expected out of a young man back in the 1970s and turned himself into an icon of rock and roll rebellion - making his fame as the singer and chief lyric writer for The Clash. Based on that huge early success, he went on to act in a few movies (check out Mystery Train and Straight to Hell) and a music career leading bands like Latino Rockabilly War (late 1980s) and The Mescaleros (late 90s and early 00s). More info on the Mescaleros HERE.

A strong opponent of the scary UK right wing politics of the late 70s, Strummer carved out status as a passionate left-of-center hero to many. He was also one of the first artists to make his music production carbon neutral and was an early and eager supporter of the organization Future Forests - now called The Carbon Neutral Company. After his death, his wife set up Strummerville, a non-profit organization that helps unsighed artists with practice space and support.

Strummer, born name John Mellor, was one of those guys who combined intellect, in inherent (and healthy) scepticism for authority, a desire for personal rebellion, charisma, looks and cool style. For me, it's that first part - intellect - that is crucial to Joe becoming a favorite to me. Indeed, Strummer challenged the status quo, asked people to question their situation, question authority, stand up for themselves and do things for themselves instead of relying on others. (Left: Strummer in NYC in 1981. Picture by Bob Gruen.)

All that being said, in the end I think one of the best ways to remember Strummer is through his words. As a lyric writer, he was a man of words after all. With that, here are just a few things Joe either wrote, sang or said that I think deliver truth and, in most cases, are still highly relevant today...

"All the power in the ands of the people rich enough to buy it...while we walk the streets, too chicken to even try it. Everbody's doing just what their told to and nobody wants to go to jail." - from the song White Riot

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn't have any inherent wisdom." - Joe's observations on authority in the movie Let's Rock Again

"If you're out there getting the honey, then you don't go killing all the bees." - from the song Johnny Appleseed

"You have the right to free long as, you're not dumb enough to actually try it." - from the song Know Your Rights

"You grow up and you calm down, you start wearing blue and brown and working for the clampdown. No man born with a living soul is working for the clampdown." - from the song Clampdown

“And so now I'd like to say - people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks - I am one of them. But we've all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything - this is something that I'm beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That's because they've been dehumanised. It's time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain't going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you're nothing. That's my spiel.” - from Joe's radio program and re-used in the movie about his life, The Future Is Unwritten
"The future is unwritten." - Joe observation
"You should get to know your town like I know mine." - from the song City of the Dead
"I have people come up to me and say, because of your band I decided to finish school, because of your band I majored in political science." - Joe's comments about Clash fans

"'Cause the wild side of life is one that you need." - from the song Midnight to Stevens

(Right: An older Strummer with his last band, the Mescaleros. Picture taken by ???)
"I think we're going to have to forget about the radio and just go back to word of mouth."
"When you blame yourself, you learn from it. If you blame someone else, you don't learn nothing, cause hey, it's not your fault, it's his fault, over there.” - Joe observation about music and radio
"Monday's coming like a jail on wheels!" - from the song 48 Hours
When asked by someone if he'd rather be a ticket collector or a garbage man, Strummer said, "A garbage man because at least then you would move about town and see people." - from the movie Lets Rock Again

Music by Joe Strummer that you should check out:
  • The Clash - London Calling
  • Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Global A Go Go
  • The 101'ers - Elgin Avenue Breakdown
There is also a great biography of Strummer called "Redemption Song" by Chris Saleowitz that gives you the full spectrum of the man's life and personality.

And you can check Joe out in a documentary film about his life titled "The Future Is Unwritten."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, be sure to check out (and like) an awesome video interview with the iconic Rock 'N' Roll Photographer Bob Gruen at: