Tag Archives: The Clash

Joe Strummer: A Guy Named Joe: Rest in Peace / Remembering Mr. Strummer, and “The Only Band That Mattered.”

January 2003

A Guy Named Joe: Rest in Peace.

Moving. The floor was moving. And when I say that, I don’t mean there was a packed dance floor and the seas of people gave the illusion the floor was moving. I mean, the floor was physically moving, bowing up and down. I feared the balcony would collapse, so I braced myself, but never took my eyes off the man on stage and his rocking band of musicians.

To my right – skinheads. Not wearing scowls like normal, but vibing. To my left – a 50 year old man who told me he hadn’t been to a show in ten years. Ten years. Scan the crowd. Punks off to the right. Rastafarians grooving up front. Mods drinking pints and dancing in place. Rudeboys having dance-offs. Normals all over as well. No, the kids will never be, as Jimmy Pursey once imagined, united. But this was damn close. As close as I’ve ever or probably ever will see. The occasion? Simple. Joe Strummer was in town (with his new band, the Mescaleros in tow) for the first time since the 80’s. Everyone who was once or presently part of any scene in the city, it seemed, was out to pay his or her respect. In these trying times, the Clash and Joe in particular always seemed to rise above it all – truly representing the credo they wore in the 80’s – “the only band that matters.”

But now, time has dictated, as it so often does, that everything must change. Now we reflect on what has come before and reassess it, reevaluate it and, goddammit – just listen. Joe is gone. Nothing’s gonna bring him back, and I don’t really give a damn about the circumstances surrounding his passing. There is no need for me to give you a tired history of the Clash or Joe’s early days in the pub rock scene. There are volumes of quality (and not-so-quality) work out there that do that more clearly and more accurately than I would ever be able to do. No need to present a discography. If you are a fan, you know what Joe has produced over the years. Nah, words, as so often is the case, wouldn’t do this passing justice.

The Clash, as you all probably know by now, are due to be inducted into the Rock-n-roll Hall of Fame in 2003. They were set to play a quick set at the induction ceremony, and maybe as a precursor, Mick Jones had been joining Joe onstage in England as of late, their well-known feud seemingly in the past, as Joe being the cool bastard he was has been putting the blame on himself for years now. So maybe, just maybe, the circle was complete – the bands two headmasters playing together for the first time in years signaling to someone somewhere that all was well in the rock-n-roll universe. So maybe Joe’s passing wasn’t all in vain. Maybe now his and his band’s greater message will be heard louder and clearer than before. Maybe.

But that unity vibe at that show, the sheer potpourri of the crowd that night – I’ll never forget it. I don’t think Joe did, either, as he said in print oft times that the Chicago show that I mentioned was one of the best he ever played – said it had a vibe, man. So Joe showed a lot of people the way, he gave them something to believe in, and although he’s gone, the vibe he talked about – the Strummer vibe – that’s forever.

So, in the end, I guess I simply know this – one of the coolest men to ever put on a pair of boots and play rock-n-roll is gone. I think I’m gonna cue up “Death or Glory”, have a drink, and vow to never fuck a nun and later join the church.

By Sean Holland
Remembering Mr. Strummer, and “The Only Band That Mattered.”

I think I was about 12 years old the first time I heard The Clash. It was on one of those MTV rip-off, “Friday Night Videos” program shows. . I’m sure it was “Rock the Casbah”. I liked the song, but that was about it way back then. A few years later, I started listening to punk quite regularly. I started with stuff like Black Flag, Minor Threat, T.S.O.L., GBH, and like many other kids, the music just exploded from that point on. Listening to punk band, after punk band, after punk band. I was hooked.

By the time I “re-discovered” The Clash, I realized I had heard these guys before. It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks…. These guys are a bit different, a little bit more than the standard bands I was listening to at the time. It had more than just three thrashing chords, and the galloping drums. The Clash were one of those bands who introduced me to other music out there. “London Calling” introduced me to reggae music, and to ska music. The Clash made me open my eyes to everything else that was out there. So, I expanded my horizons and had a lot of music to catch up on. I was a busy man.

A few years ago I started listening to The Clash again. It was kind of like catching up with an old friend. Most of my old cassettes were long gone, so I slowly started recollecting them on CD. Finally, I was listening to Joe Strummer’s solo work. I don’t recall how I got ” Global A Go-Go”, It might have been after watching Black Hawk Down, and hearing “Minstrel Boy”, or maybe Joe was playing on David Letterman, or the Conan O’Brien show. What I do remember was hearing “Johnny Appleseed” and thinking goddamn how good it was. Once again I was hooked. After all those years, Joe Strummer still sang about the truth, still played with that fire, and most important, he was still very down to earth. Joe may have been older, but he was also wiser. Not to mention, he was still a very cool dude! I was glad I had the album. Everything was going along fine, until that awful December morning, when I heard the news…….

I never met Joe Strummer, but I also never felt so awful about the passing of someone I had never met. I was upset, and angry. I felt like we all were cheated. Somebody like Joe Strummer wasn’t meant to die, it simply just wasn’t on the agenda. You’d figure it was meant to be someone else, somebody less important. It just goes to show that the good ones are always the first to go.

I’d like to simply say, “Joe Strummer, Rest In Peace,” but, I think it would be more fitting if I said that “I hope you give ’em hell, up there in heaven, Joe!!”

Bless that man,

Brian Gillespie

The Clash: Sandinista

After Rolling Stone magazine labeled the Clash’s third album “London Calling” the best album of the 80’s, where was there to go? Whatever effort the ‘only band that matters’ put forth after such an album was bound to disappoint, no matter if it was as good or not. Some people would always label such a follow-up a failure, which begs the question – is every follow-up a failure by design? Can one ever succeed? Will some critics never be satisfied, no matter what? In this case, it seems the answer is that no matter what was presented, it was going to be overlooked. Everyone talks justifiably about the first album as well as “London Calling” but what about this, possibly their most controversial effort?

The album itself: Bloated? Mmmmm, maybe. Overly long? Eh, possibly. When released, it topped the double album “London Calling” by presenting itself as a three-album behemoth (and done the Clash way, by selling for the price of a single album). I have heard the argument that it could have been made into a double-album as good or better than “London Calling” or one mighty single that would have been the best of their career. I might agree, but I have also heard the same criticisms for the Beatles White album, which I happen to find ridiculous, and therefore I am content to digest the album as was intended by the best authority of the quality and presentation of the Clash’s work – damn right, the band themselves. Punk, jazz, rap, rock, waltz….it’s all here to be digested, and if this album seems too long and too diverse, then maybe this isn’t the album or the band for you.

The highlights are many, and just as varied as the album itself. Things kick off with “The Magnificent Seven” which pre-dates any white man rap by some fifteen years. The English MC Mike Skinner a.k.a. “the Streets” is being hyped as one of England’s first ‘authentic’ MC’s. Well, Strummer, Jones and company did it first. This cut was said to be blaring from New York ghettos in the summer of 1980-1981 alongside early rap pioneers like the Sugarhill Gang. As usual, the Clash were on the cultural edge when it came to exploring music genres.

The hits keep coming, from the gospel-ish “Hitsville UK” to the lush waltz-styling of the beautiful “Rebel Waltz” to the cool social commentary of “The Leader” and “Somebody Got Murdered.” Some of the experiments don’t always work so well. Some of the dub is overused, I think, and the children’s choir doing old Clash hits like “Career Opportunities” seems weird, but then one wonders what the Clash are trying to say. Are they saying punk IS for the youth, for the children, and not for grown men? Are they saying that this is what punk ahs become – little, safe children’s jingles? Either way, it’s interesting, although not particularly ear candy.

Calypso surfaces on the enchantingly fun “Washington Bullets”, Clashifeid reggae on “Police on My Back”, and politico protest in “Call-Up.” That’s nearly ten songs namedropped, all off the top of my head, not too mention “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” which criticizes both the image and the actions of America and Russia, and “Charlie Don’t Surf” etc, etc.

As with many Clash songs/albums, the politics and ideals are a bit naive and dated. Strummer had been obsessed with the Sandinista rebels, and the rebellion in Nicaragua and therefore named an album after them? Curious, but wide-eyed and innocent, in a “true-to-their-gut-feelings” way that makes it forgivable. They wanted to take up a cause for what is right – for the underdog. Always did. It is important to understand the times and the backdrop of the world to fully digest what this album, and the Clash themselves, were about.

In hindsight, this is a hell of any album. To me, it’s funny how no one mentions the works of literature that take thousands of pages to say their peace, but everyone mentions an album that seems long to do the same. You seldom hear critics saying that “War and Peace” or “Moby Dick” are too long or over-indulgent. Why? Because they weren’t too long, they were the length the authors needed to say their peace. So it is, too, with this equivalent of a literary challenge on vinyl – deep, long and engrossing. In parts slow, but as a whole a wonderful statement. “Too long” is a critique that doesn’t hold water with me. If you are too busy to give this album a shot (and I don’t mean every listen has to be the whole damn thing) then you are too busy to understand what the Clash were all about – Strummer is gone, and this is a wonderful reminder of what he was capable of.

February 2003

Review by Sean Holland

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros: Global A Go-Go

The coolest man on the planet is back in action.

Joe and the Pesky Meskys are back with their second release on Hellcat records. Lest there be any illusions on my feelings for Mr. Strummer, the statement above alone should shatter them. Strummer and the Clash are, in my eyes, the most important figures in the history of punk rock. Well, at least in the Top 5. So, when Joe signed with Hellcat a few years ago and released his first album, “Rock, Art and the X-Ray Style,” I was ecstatic. I bought the album and liked it quite a bit. I got pretty much what I expected – an eclectic mix of styles and experiments with world music/beats (Caribbean, African, South American) glued together by that familiar Strummer vocal style.

I was, however, somewhat surprised by the backlash by some of the ‘fans.’ Joe has always pushed the Clash beyond three-chord punk rock into reggae, rockabilly, rap and numerous other musical style, to mixed-reviews, but as always, it’s the people’s vote that matters: They say when “Sandinista” was released, you could walk around in Brooklyn and hear strains of early rap pioneers alongside “The Magnificent Seven” blasting out from the ghettos and street corners. Joe isn’t going to remain stagnant and he isn’t going to release an album like the first Clash LP, so get over it.

That said, “Global A Go-Go” is a fairly accurate title. Global is the scope and also the musical style. The album encompasses the aforementioned different music genres and a wealth of musical instruments, mixes and dubs, as did its predecessor. Starting with the almost folksy “Johnny Appleseed” you can tell Joe and the boys are in top form. “Cool ‘N’ Out’ sounds like it could’ve come off “Sandanista” with it’s dubby overtones and almost techno-ish backbeat, with Joe dropping science over a horn section in the background. The title track rocks out again with a world-ish type beat, complete with the raging bongos. “Bhindi Bhagee” is an example of an African/Caribbean-style rocker. Joe mixes balladry, like on “Mondo Bongo” and experimentation and rockers throughout, closing with a 17:00 version of the old Irish song “The Minstrel Boy” which is a masterpiece. Joe’s vocals are ethereal, far in the background, almost ghostly, fitting the subject matter perfectly, while the tune itself gets a more dubby/techno-ish mix: A song and an album with a vision and a message – many messages. Just what you would expect from ol’ Joe. So it goes with this eclectic album.

Judging by the reviews posted on Hell-cat.com, most fans get what Joe is doing, but you have the occasional mug who posts something along the ridiculous lines of: “ok I really dont like this album cuz its like fucking folk and country and shit but I wouldnt talk shit about the Clash if I had fucking gun to my head the Clash was awesome” (an actual post.) Wow. How eloquent and introspective, considering the Clash loved and utilized both folk and country. Oh well, if the Offspring t-shirt wearing mall-punks don’t like this, than it’s all the more punk in my opinion. Before the release of his first album for Hellcat, Joe said “this aint no kiddie rockabilly” and he’s right. He’s older, more mature and shouldn’t be expected to re-write albums he wrote in his twenties. Tunnel vision is the enemy of good music, he believes. To quote Joe “Whether it’s jazz or punk or anything else, you have to fight against the purists who want to narrow the definition. That’s what kills music because it stifles it to death.”


September 2001

Review by Sean Holland