Saturday, August 23, 2008

Anger and Power

"If you can't understand the lyrics -
don't worry you're not alone."

Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer died six years ago. I'm still angry.

Joe promised not to repeat the old mistakes. He promised rock n’ roll swagger and principal. But things went wrong. When that error occurred is a subject for Deep Clash Theoreticians but that he fell hard is incontestable.

The Clash got the Six Years of Greatness like Dylan had in ’62 to’68. Yet, after that, unlike the brilliant peaks and wretched valleys of Dylan’s innumerable second acts Joe produced only that Crap album, a handful of humble solo outings and some marginal soundtrack work.

“Joe Strummer put more into a couplet
than most guys put into an album.” Don Letts

The strength of the Clash’s work is that Strummer-Jones dynamic – their voices shoring up each other’s weaknesses, their contradictory public images and the way they embodied the split between music and lyrics.

In The Future is Unwritten Joe says that, unlike Mick who understood the music, he just wanted to get out some great words. He did. And in the end , no matter what, he left behind a fearsome body of work.

“Joe Strummer would choke on your verbosity and bellicose verbiage.”
Catch22Rye (in my comments)

Those words, Strummer’s densely packed lyrics, meant everything to me. During one of those particularly miserable years of junior high school, I, rather sadly, befriended a cassette tape of London Calling. That tape remained stuck in my Walkman while I tried decrypting Strummer’s garbled argot all on my lonesome. As I translated snippets, I wrote out page after page of them in my Social Studies binder. Joe Strummer did not save my life but he gave me focus when it turned to shit.

“Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer.
I think he might've been our only decent teacher."The Hold Steady

Joe taught me that anger could be power. That knowledge helped me break break old patterns of passivity. It helps me still, after all my anger with Joe's untimely demise spawned these words. However, I've come to learn that anger can also become a weakness and that there are times when truces and forgiveness bypass power altogether.

“So you think we lost the battle? Then go home and weep about it. Sometimes you’ve got wake up in the morning and think, Fuck it, you’re going to win the battle.”
Joe Strummer

Strummer not only inspired thousands to re-think anger and power he also got them to plug in their guitars and pen lyrics about him. I can’t find any songs about Mick, Paul or Topper (and definitely none about Terry) but lots on Mr. Strummer. So here they are collected in one place.

Songs about Strumming: Twenty Songs about Joe

(All songs , in order, are in the DivShare player below - click and enjoy)

  1. The Headlines With No One To Follow (A thrilling chorus drives home a song that celebrates Yoe Strummer in the best Swedish pop-punk style.)
  1. The Hold Steady Constructive Summer (While the sing-speak vocals can grate the Hold Steady are never boring musically or lyrically, as this song ably demonstrates.)

  1. Azra The Strummer (“Sell everything except your strummer.” Amen)

  1. The Radiators From Space Joe Strummer. (A rocking little narrative from this pre- and post-Pogues punk band.)

  1. Perry Keyes Joe Strummer (Keyes is an excellent Australian songwriter mining that seam between Strummer and Springsteen, which turned out to be richer than anyone imagined.)

  1. The Nu Niles Strummer’s Swing (Joe would’ve loved these spaghetti instrumentalists from Barcelona.)

  1. The Sting-Rays Joe Strummer’s Wallet (This 80’s British Psychobilly band name-checks Joe and quotes Eve of Destruction.)

  1. Stiff Little Fingers Strumerville (A newer track from this late 70’s Irish punk band – a bit earnest but such is the curse of Strummer fandom.)

  1. Suciedad Discriminada En el nombre del punk rock (Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone) (Strummer was a citizen of the world - “An atlas” in Bono’s words - so it’s no surprise to hear this band from Mexico, where Joe lived as a child, salute him.)

  1. The Alarm Three Sevens Clash (Mike Peters and co. took a lot of undeserved guff in the 80's for being a sloppy mixture of the Clash and Bob Dylan with worse hair but damn, as he proves here, Mike is still kicking.)

  1. The Beatsteaks Hello Joe (German punk band quotes London Calling riff to say hello and goodbye to Joe.)

  1. Billy Childish Joe Strummer’s Grave (Thirty years on and Childish, still all full of piss, vinegar and the early Kinks, gives us a screed against modern Britain that is venomous and fun.)

  1. The Gaslight Anthem I’da Called You Woody Joe (The very definition of the aforementioned Strum-Steen amalgamation and fucking good at it.)

  1. Die Toten Hosen Goodbye Garageland (The Dead Pants, Germany’s most legendary punk band, say sayonara to Joe with yet another fist-pumping lager-swaying sing-a-long.)

  1. Billy Bragg Old Clash Fan Fight Song (Let Billy, often called a “one-man Clash” in his better days, tell you all about Joe Strummer - good luck stopping him once he starts yammering.)

  1. Cowboy Mouth Joe Strummer (Overall, this New Orleans band seem like real Rock the Casbah fans but this track has some wit and a few fine (likely pro-tooled) vocal parts.

  1. Cock Sparrer Where Are They Now? (Early 80’s English oi band wrote some of the best songs in that genre including this call-out to Joe - and Tony Parsons and Julie Burchil - as they warn us “I believed in them – don’t you believe in us.”

  1. The Vacancies Strummer Hair-raising screams in the verses and a mournful, biting hook combine to “tell you a story about Joe Strummer.”

  1. The Pernice Brothers High as a Kite (Wikipedia says the lyrics include the line "We wore pictures of Strummer" but you'll need to listen closely as this is even quieter than usual for Joe (Pernice, that is). Give his solo album, Big Tobacco a listen, if you're ready for a nasty downer.
20. The Department of Correction A Message From Joe Strummer We end as we begun, in Sweden, this time with an instrumental track provided for some of Joe's final words.

If you'd like to have this collection of songs all together you may (for evaluation purposes only - to be wiped from your computer in 48 hours etc. etc.) here , for a limited time, is the entire folder.

“One of the reasons that (the Clash) still
rings true is that Joe spoke the truth.” Mick Jones


  1. Thanks for the positive comment & the add. I added yours. I've been by your blog many times before, I have it on my list of music blogs to check out. I usually wait until I get a comment from someone before I add them to my links. that's just the way I do it.

    Thanks again,

  2. I have no system for adding - usually someone posts something that just says "this person belongs on the list".

    Once I've done that though I try to keep a tight eye on my blog roll so there's nothing dead or weak on there.

    Thanks for the add.

  3. Glad it works as a comp - considering the restrictions (every song has to be about the same damn thing) it flows pretty well.

    Glad to see you're back.

    I added Burning Sounds to my blog roll.

  4. Awesome. totally fucking awesome.

  5. Being fucking awesome is part of our mission statement here at MRML.


  6. Nice set. Thanks! But you missed a couple of really good ones:
    Attila the stockbrokers "Commandante Joe" puts a tear to any Srummer fan with a heart.
    Rancid also payed hommage to theire great inspirator in more ways thank one. On "Indestructible" where Tim sings "I keep on listening to the great Joe Strummer cause thru music we can live forever".

  7. I added Commanante Joe to the follow-up post and added a Rancid Clash cover there too. Now that you mention it, "Indestructible" would have been a better choice.


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