“The Sound of Sinners,” from Sandinista! (1980), the Gospel-iest Clash song of all, and a fitting one under the circumstances:
To believe in Jesus
After all those drugs
I thought I was him …
Fitting because despite the song’s tongue-in-cheek reference to Judgment Day – and no, before you ask, this has nothing to do with the Mayas – tomorrow will mark ten years since Joe Strummer shed this mortal coil. From The Guardian, December 23, 2002:
Punk pioneer Joe Strummer, a musical and political inspiration for a generation, has died aged 50.
The former Clash frontman died of a suspected heart attack yesterday at his home in Somerset.
U2 singer Bono called the Clash “the greatest rock band” and said they “wrote the rule book” for later acts.
Billy Bragg said Strummer was the driving force who helped give punk its “political edge”.
Writer Jon Savage said: “In 1977, the Clash did one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Joe Strummer in particular gave it his all - and thereby inspired a whole generation.”
It hasn’t been lost on me this past year that I am now the same age my rock ’n roll hero was when he died. I’d say that’s one of those facing-one’s-own-mortality type things, but the reality is, at age 50 I’ve faced mortality on altogether too many occasions. Still, in my day, nobody epitomized youth like Joe Strummer. He was angry, loud, fearless, hilariously funny, and genuinely empathetic. He was our Dylan, only better. He, as the song goes, never took no shit from no one. In the dark days of Reagan and Thatcher, he was the answer to the question, What’re we gonna do now?!
I’ve always said Joe Strummer was the conscience of punk rock, although he and the Clash were so much more than punk. He started his career playing Woody Guthrie songs in London tube stations, covered the great Junior Murvin on the Clash’s first LP, and played Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” with Johnny Cash towards the end of Cash’s – and, it turns out, his own – life:
Along the way, Joe managed to embody all of them, and more.
And because it’s the friggin’ holidays, here’s a special bonus: Joe and the Mescaleros doing the only Clash song I know of that mentions Christmas … “Straight To Hell”:
Everyone has their favorite musicians, artists, cultural icons. Joe Strummer was mine, which will come as a surprise to exactly no one. Anyway, as always, stay free brother:
Turn. It. Up.