Yesterday (August 21st) marked the birthday of one of the most influential people in my life, John Graham Mellor, better known as Joe Strummer. The vast majority of the music public know him only has one of the founding fathers of punk through The Clash, but he left behind so much more of a legacy, not only music, but of humanity. There is a lot to say about his music, but I’m just going to touch on why he was, and still is, so important to me personally. I got into The Clash thanks to Grosse Pointe Blank (which I would later learn that Joe did the original score for), and the music tastes of Martin Scorsese (he was very fond of The Clash), his effective use of them in Bringing Out The Dead brought their sound front and center to my impressionable high school freshman brain. That first album speaks, universally to the frustrations of youth, whether or not you pickup or identify with the greater social/political themes, they are angry, and loud, and you want to be too. I devoured their discography, and dug into all the bands that had influenced their sound, and that, was when I found out about The Mescaleros.
2001 saw the release of Global A Go-Go, the second Mescaleros album, the first, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style having come out in 1999. If I can recollect, my friend Brett is the one who found Rock Art and brought it to my attention, AND, it was a bit of a let down. I couldn’t wrap my head completely around it. How do you go from I’m So Bored with the USA to Sandpaper Blues? How do you go from Janie Jones to Yalla Yalla? Up until THAT point in my life, musicians existed in a kind of bubble of space, time, and fame. Most artists tried to keep riding the exact same wave until it finally crashed ashore, with them broken on the beach. So many bands from your youth just keep trying to play the same songs, the same way, 20 years after they were ripe, as if NOTHING in the world has changed. RARE was the artist who grew up, and grew the sound of their band. 1999 saw Joe Strummer grow up, it also saw Tom Petty grow up too with Echo, but that’s another conversation. Rock Art and the X-Ray Style was the first time an album made me think and try to understand it. Not only the lyrics, but the whole album had a sound, that was just all over the place, again, how do you go from Techno D-Day to Nitcomb?!
Joe Strummer, through Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, taught me that people are where it is at. That album has a lot to do with empowering people, and above all, hope. That lesson would still take a little while to sink in, but the imminent release of Global A Go-Go would accelerate the process. Where Rock Art confused me with it’s sharp contrasts, Global felt a lot more cohesive, more grounded, more on the mark. To this day listening to Global from start to finish is like a wonderful trip through the 5th dimension, with Buckaroo Banzai at the wheel. In digging into all of the musical references laid out in the title track, I learned more about Joe’s life, moving around and experiencing different countries as a young kid. The album has a wonderful, borderless feel to it, with flavors from many different countries. The lyrics would inspire me to figure out what was going on, and in doing so, discover amazing music from all around the world. Thanks to Mega Bottle Ride I found the Balkan Blues album, which really opened my eyes further to familiar music genres through the lens of other countries, which would only further reinforce the fact that underneath it all, at the end of the day, we are all just people, and we like to express ourselves, in our own way, and we like to be happy.
Suddenly Rock Art started to make more sense, Global started to shine with all manner of new facets after every listen. I found myself looking into the history of other countries, and wanting to know what their country music sounds like. Along the way I met a lot of amazing people through the internets, with their own local band and insight into the scene in Lithuania, Argentina, Norway, Venezuela, or wherever it was, people were living, people were having fun, and people were helping each other. Music reinforced the fact that as bad as the news and media might make it seem, the world wasn’t actually falling apart just outside your door, that there isn’t any difference between you and someone on the otherside of the planet, you put on a jamming tune, and they are going to get in the groove. We are all different in our own ways, and exactly the same at a base level, a level you can instantly access through certain acoustical resonances, through music, sweet music.
I’m sure I’ll write a few more words about Joe in due time, but I just wanted to say, Thanks Joe, thanks for being yourself, high on the hog, or singing to one man and a dog. Your music taught me more than you probably intended for it to do, and I’m sure I got some stuff right, and some stuff wrong, but in the end, they’re still great songs. We’ll keep the campfires burning for you, kindling the kindness that you showed us all.
“It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring..without people, you’re nothing” -Joe Strummer
Take a minute to visit the Joe Strummer Foundation
Or take a look at this interesting documentary about a particular adventure in Joe’s post Clash life