Joe Strummer, 1952-2002

Joe Strummer is dead. I heard the news on Mark and Lard as I drove along the Swansea sea front in the pouring rain, and Mark Radcliffe gave a moving monologue about the importance of The Clash and the essential decency of the man, before playing “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” back to back with “White Riot”. It was remarkable that I didn’t crash into the ocean.

Yes, Joe Strummer is dead, one of my childhood heroes gone forever. But although I type this in shock and upset for someone I never knew, this is meant to be about him and not me.


Despite often lagging behind their more controversial, higher profile contemporaries The Sex Pistols, The Clash managed to achieve many things that would mark them out as special. The adrenaline fuelled, slogan wearing, paint spraying first album is still widely seen as a classic, fusing stripped down anger with basic rock’n’roll to produce some thoroughly memorable protest songs dealing with subjects such as unemployment, boredom, racism, riots, the police and cars(!). The album was also notable for having one of the best named (if least capable) drummers of all time, Tory Crimes.

The debut showed what were to be the band’s enduring qualities : passionate commitment to their beliefs, great song writing skills, and an ability to fuse an array of different influences into something original and ground breaking. While punk purists may have winced at some of the excesses of the latter albums, and some songs were just plain dull, their cross cultural fusions were a powerful weapon in the fight against racist bigotry and paved the way for movements such as hip hop.

The Clash never sold out, always stuck true to their principles. They supported the Anti Nazi League, playing to 100,000 people in Hyde Park, became models of how to combine music and politics, and refused ever to appear on Top of the Pops. Even this year at the Cambridge Folk Festival Joe Strummer’s democratic egalitarianism was obvious from the way he treated those around him. This has lead to the phrase “talk it like the Clash” becoming synonymous with standing up for your beliefs, not very easy to do in the grim and grimy world of the music biz. And this was no doubt why Strummer and co refused to re-form The Clash in the money spinning, legend destroying way sadly practised by The Pistols.

So, Joe Strummer may be gone but the legend lives on, as does his influence in bands such as The Manic Street Preachers and, closer to home, Miss Black America, The Virgin Suicides, and indeed everyone who resists turning rebellion into money.

Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, 23.12.02

Recommended Listening : The Clash : The Clash (debut album)
The Story of The Clash

Recommended Viewing : Rude Boy
Westway to the World

Recommended reading : The Last Gang in Town by Marcus Greil