Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Joe Strummer & Bob Dylan

To me, Bob Dylan and The Clash's Joe Strummer are inextricably linked. On the personal level, it's because Dylan's Greatest Hits and The Clash's London Calling became sanctuaries for me during the worst year of my life. Specifically, it was those words, those lunatic, manic words of Strummer and Dylan's that provided refuge, as I copied verse-after-verse out into my notebook, while the fear and loneliness swirled around me.

The personal aside, there is a great deal that connects these two titans. Certainly, Strummer and Dylan both shared the same record label, both used Woody Guthrie homages to cover up their middle-class roots in their earliest years, both mixed pop and politics to great effect, both went to hell in the eighties and had an upswing at the dawn of the 21st century, both loved using those "flashing chains of images" in their lyrics and, to different degrees, both bore the Voice of a Generation burden. Perhaps most significantly, they were always great admirers of each others' work. To wit:

* Strummer appeared on a BBC feature on Dylan's 60th birthday (alongside Stevie Wonder!) where he can be heard singing Dylan's praises not to mention performing "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues".

* According to Strummer biographer Chris Salewicz, Columbia press officer Ellie Smith gave Dylan a copy of The Clash's self-titled album when he was in England in 1978, which Bob loved.

* The Clash covered Dylan's "The Man in Me" (likely spurred by the reggae arrangement by Britain's Matumbi that bassist Paul Simonon had installed in the band's rehearsal space jukebox.)

* Dylan partially covered "London Calling" on his show at the Brixton Academy in November of 2005.

* In his great comeback single, "Coma Girl", Strummer name-checked one of Dylan's finest creations, "Desolation Row".

* Strummer played Dylan's "Corina, Corina" on his globe-trotting radio show done for BBC World Services back on February 2nd 2000)

* As payback Dylan played "This is Radio Clash", "Tommy Gun", "Train in Vain", "The Right Profile" and The 101'ers "Keys to Your Heart" on his show, Theme Time Radio Hour.

* According to Salewicz, once again, Dylan gave Strummer a tape of a song that that Bob wanted Joe to record but that Joe never took the tape out of the drawer. As this incident occurred around the time of Dylan's pitiful Down in the Groove, (on which Clashman Paul Simonon played bass alongside Sex Pistol's guitarist Steve Jones on the track, "Sally Sue Brown") Strummer's neglect may be forgivable.

* According to Clash biographer Pat Gilbert, the band did two cover songs to warm up for the London Calling recording session, one instrumental from Dylan's soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and a version of Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac" so good that madman producer Guy Stevens (who's bathroom contained two pictures: one of Dylan and one of Hitler!) ran in yelling, "It's a take!" (Years later that same soundtrack would be Strummer's model for his own work scoring Alex Cox's film, Walker.)

* Dylan brought his entire family, about forty people all in all, to see The Clash play in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1979 (turning Jakob into a life-long fan as this video will demonstrate:)

* Strummer's final tour was called "Bringing It All Back Home", a Dylan album title he'd already borrowed for the song "Global-A-Go-Go" ("Everywhere, everywhere Bob's bringing it all back home").

* (And it's hard to forget that the combination of Strummer and Dylan, not to mention Chuck D., remains the gold standard for articles on complaint-rock.)

As two of rock n' roll's great men of words, Strummer and Dylan have much in common and much separating them but for those of us who strain to catch every verse, there remains a wealth of connections between them.

Let us know your thoughts on this Dylan-Strummer connection - it's what the 'comments' are for!!


  1. I agree that Joe and Bob are two sides of the same coin. I've always admired Strummer and though of him as one of rock's best but I am embarrassed to admit that I totally abandoned him after Sandinista.

    My take was that he was similar to John Lennon in that his greatness only manifested itself within The Clash. If London Calling can be favorably compared to Bringing It All back Home, then Sandinista was comparable to The Beatles White Album. There's an outstanding album in there somewhere once you cut out the ego trips and under-rehearsed noodling. Combat Rock did not sound like a return to form, so I did not buy it nor any other album from Joe.

    Once of my most cherished possessions is a movie poster from Rude Boy. I firmly believed that one should grab the future by its face. I'm too old and tired now to live by that credo. I just want to rest a bit and listen to some tunes.

  2. Sorry but Bob's "Down in the Groove" ain't pitiful. There are actually several rockin' tunes on there plus some fascinating covers. In fact, if it had been released say after "Love and Theft," critics would probably have hailed it as another great step in his late resurgence. Timing is everything.

    In fact, Dylan has never really released anything that could be described as "pitiful." Even the worst of his albums have something in there in you're willing to dig and not fall in with the typical timeline evaluation of his career.

    Pitiful? That could describe hacks like Billy Joel, not Bob.

  3. I recall playing a Rolling Thunder bootleg one day a few years back, and a friend who dropped in was surprised when I said was Bob - he was convinced the singer was Joe Strummer. On closer listening found I couldn't fault him for it - and since then every time I hear a Rolling Thunder recording I think of The Clash!

  4. never really noticed/thought about the connection, but when you lay it out like that it seems so obvious. thanks for enriching my life once again, a wee bit at a time.

  5. glad I'm not the only Dylan/Strummer freak on the planet.


  6. I'd say Down In The Groove is as close to pitiful as Bob ever got. "Silvio" is really the only thing worth a damn on it. "Ugliest Girl In The World" is pretty funny I guess.

  7. I have a friend who thought the version of Shelter From The Storm off of Hard Rain was a Clash outtake, so I know what you are saying

  8. Don
    Truth is Combat Rock contains some of Strummer's best lyrical works, "Straight To Hell" and "Car Jamming (which always seems rather Dylanesque to me). If you can get past the hits there is much to enjoy about CR.

    And remember you're never too old to grab the future by the face!

    I did struggle with what adjective to use (I do own the damn thing you know!) and settle on pitiful because it's a collection of scraps from the eighties (not one of Bob's golden eras) and it contains 6 covers and two co-writes with Robert Hunter. Thanks for defending it all the same.

    Anon I/Tilting Suds
    Now I gotta go back and check out my "Hard Rain" (it is often called Dylan's punk album...)

    Anon II
    "Enriching", "Ruining" same sorta thing...

    Oh yeah I do really love "Silvio" even though it gets a lot of sneers from the critics.

    We're multiplying...

  9. Another guy I have always lumped in with Joe and Bob is Jay Farrar. It may just be a personal thing but if anyone ever mentions Joe or Bob I think of Jay....which then inevitably leads me to think of D Boon, even though that was a Tweedy song. It's all very confusing.

  10. And to confuse matter further D. Boon & co did "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs"...

  11. ha yeah and don't forget:

    "Mr Narrator...this is Bob Dylan to me"

  12. I remember this from the Pop-Up Video version of The Wallflowers' cover of "Heroes" (paraphrasing, of course):

    * Most children say their heroes are their parents.

    * Who does Jakob Dylan say is his hero?

    * The Clash

  13. Very good article. I've noticed the Dylan/Strummer connection before and am glad other people can draw on the same thing. I love the story of when Bob took Jakob to see the Clash in 1979. I recall reading that Jakob said he liked Joe's jacket or vest and he gave it to him right there, apparently Jakob has it framed. Not sure of the framing thing, but i'm pretty sure the rest of the story is true. Great post!

  14. Joe
    Another good Minutemen moment.

    Amazing you just induced a feeling of nostalgia for "Pop-Up Video"!

    There are times when I wish Jakob's love of The Clash was more audible in his own music.

  15. I read once that Jakob had chosen the telecaster (which became characteristic of her figure since) in tribute to Joe Strummer.
    also in the clip sleepwalker Wallflowers, Jakob hits his guitar on the floor, echoed the cover of London Calling

    Very good article too^^

  16. This was a good piece. Connecting the two makes good sense to me, but then I guess it would. On my 16th birthday, with money I had gotten as a gift, I went out to the record store and bought Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, and London Calling. Together, the two albums made a good purchase gestalt, although I am sure I could verbalize that better now than I could at the time. I have always remembered that day as important in the formation of music tastes.

  17. Anon
    Glad you liked the article and thanks for adding some Jakob info.

    I loved detailing the connection between my two musical heroes and it was gratifying to hear it echoed back to me through experiences like yours.

  18. Don't forget the Woody connection...

  19. I bet Billy Joel really wishes he was back in the factory...pitiful...


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