Ten years ago today Joe Strummer of the 101ers, the Clash and the Mescaleros died at the terribly early age of 50. Joe’s political punk poetry helped to make the Clash the most influential and the best British band of their time.
From the lyrics of “White Riot”…“All the power is the hands/ Of people rich enough to buy it/ While we walk the streets/ Too chicken to even try it/ And everybody does what they’re told to/ And everybody eats supermarket soul-food”…to the last great single “This Is England”, Joe communicated his sense of outrage and injustice. He was writing and singing what many people already thought and said but the band’s popularity meant that he reached a much wider audience than anyone. Joe and his band inspired and reflected the attitudes of a generation of British people which goes beyond the punk shibboleths but knows that “no man born with a living soul can be working for the clampdown”. The ironic antipathy of Banksy’s images in this clip serve the song well.
Joe’s work post-Clash is not as well known but is of a fine quality. “Trash City” was recorded with Latin Rockabilly War and still sounds pretty good. In 1999 he released his first record with the Mescaleros. Lyrically and musically the band reflected the multiculturalism of Britain in a way that I recognised the country he sang about. Caribbean, Asian, African, Eastern European and British, there are aspects of all these cultures that are now part of our everyday lives. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros threw this all together and made a fine World Music noise with it. There are a lot of good songs to pick from, “Coma Girl”, “Johnny Appleseed”, “Bhindi Bhagee” and others. Well, it’s my shout and this is the stunning “Yalla Yalla”.
Joe Strummer could be contradictory, as can we all. He was a musical magpie just like we are. He is remembered for all the great music he produced and for always trying to cut through the bullshit, always trying to remember the morality involved in living your life as well as you can. Joe was no idealist, he was not our conscience. He was, as we all are, trying to live life well, to do the right thing. He is remembered today and he is missed always.