Hello once more and a definite feeling of the morning after the night before for me. Today is December 23rd and we no longer have the ’10th anniversary’ forming like a cloud on the horizon, for better or worse we’ve passed that milestone but yesterday showed me once again that dates on a calendar aren’t what cause us to appreciate Joe Strummer – it was the less than perfect but never ready to give up Joe Strummer that causes us to reflect. So many wonderful comments yesterday and thank you all for taking part in writing and reading during the course of the day. I hit a wall with a bit of a headache in the evening and suddenly remembered I never took time away from your contributions to really do some proper reflection myself. Perhaps today for that.
A quick guess shows that there were something like 45 different events commemorating Joe this weekend around the world and I’m sure impromptu singalongs to jukeboxes and pint raising took place in thousands of other places too. Wherever you were and however you remembered Joe I hope that you felt the positive energy that I saw bouncing around like lightning yesterday. To be inspired by anyone to that extent who essentially caught our attention within a music industry that rarely encourages anyone to look beyond the bottom line of profit says everything about Strummer. I can’t find the right words this morning but that all encompassing ability to inspire and guide people while simultaneously making your own mistakes in full view of everyone is a unique thing. I’ve never been one to attach saintly phrases to Joe Strummer or indeed anyone, that creates a mockery of it all, but the power of music and musicians to make a positive impact is one that so often gets overlooked, especially now it seems. Music won’t change the world but it can shine some light onto our own awareness and our own potential, there is value in a protest song and a viewpoint, questioning everything isn’t a weakness but a strength and I think that is some of what The Clash did for me.
As a very young kid the melody of The Beatles (to name just one) was always a warming thing for me, when you are five or six I think you enjoy music for its sheer melody and joy. Before being exposed to The Clash and other punk and post punk music I didn’t realise that lyrics didn’t have to simply rotate around boy meets girl/boy loses girl. When you are suddenly exposed to lyrics that talk about gangs and guns, riots and dead end jobs it opens up a whole new world. If you’re at the right age to be exposed to it the changes in your thoughts about the potential of music are truly gigantic. I don’t know if Joe Strummer wrote the best lyrics ever or if The Clash were musically the most interesting band of their era, but I tend to think they captured most profoundly just what needed to happen. The best punk band? Not really that relevant, they were a brilliant rock and roll band.
Only a handful of people yesterday seemed to reflect on the fact that while we honour Joe – we should remember it is the entire band that changed us. The right four people creating a chemistry of burning fire and ambition, the scope and depth of the output of the band is what I still find most inspiring. I turn back to these facts time and time again and they still create the benchmark for me – what other band had gone from rehearsing and writing songs like White Riot in year one to writing and recording things as ambitious as what was to appear on Sandinista! just four years later? It is a short list indeed, the tendency for bands to stick with a formula for what ‘works’ typically carries them through three albums and at least five years. By 1981 The Clash were well into the third or fourth phase in their sound and creative zeal. I think it burned out for a lot of different reasons but you can never accuse the band of sitting still. If only we could all say the same about ourselves.
The final nine minutes of Westway to the World
“If it works, do whatever you have to do to bring it forward, don’t mess with it”