Joe Strummer, front man for the Clash (born John Graham Mellor, Ankara, Turkey, 21st August 1952) died of a suspected heart attack at his home in Broomfield, Somerset on 22nd December 2002.
I’d just got back from work, fed the cats and put away the groceries. I made myself a drink and put on the T.V. for the early evening news. This was how I heard of the demise of Joe Strummer. Quite unexpectedly I felt a great sense of loss, as if I had lost a little piece of my life.
I was a devoted Clash fan, catching the band some 30+ times and actually meeting Joe on several occasions. I couldn’t claim to be a friend of Joe’s, but he and the Clash had an enduring effect on my life as a young adult and now as a middle-aged adult I remember them as a catalyst. For some it was the Sex Pistols, for me and most of my friends it was Joe and the Clash who defined the Punk Rock movement in the mid ‘70s.
I can still remember virtually every lyric to every song the Clash performed. This from a man who can’t even remember what he did last week.
I was a young political activist when Joe and the boys strode onto the stage and voiced the frustration, boredom and desperation I and my peers were experiencing. Joe for me became the voice of my generation. Yes, we did want a riot of our own.
I cannot even attempt to describe the excitement I always felt when watching the Clash perform, and I haven’t experienced the same thrill from any other artists since. But it wasn’t just Joe and the Clash’s performances that touched my life and the lives of many other people.
Joe introduced myself and many others to world politics and a wide range of other styles of music, from rockabilly through reggae and even some country (I still can’t quite get the country though).
I mentioned earlier that I felt an unexpected sense of loss on hearing of Joe’s death. Unexpected because it is not something I feel for anyone, apart from close family and friends. Sad though their passing is, I could never understand the depth of emotion felt by people at, say, the passing of Elvis or Lennon.
I’m not attempting to place Joe in the same pantheon as the above, and I don’t think that Joe was a great songwriter, but as a live performer I cannot think of anyone greater or with the same connection he had with his audiences and fans. Joe maintained that to have output you must first have input and this meant reading. It is because of this I found Joe to be one of the most intellectual of the Punk movement.
Sadly the Clash were accused in some quarters of sloganeering; strange, I thought they were a rock band. I never expected them to sing about dialectical materialism, for me they just did enough to raise political awareness of the scene and provided us with a great time whilst doing so.
Here’s to a spliff, a pound and half a pint of brown – Cheers Joe, we will miss you.
Michael Sweeney (a.k.a. Spider)