Friday, December 22, 2006

Joe Strummer

Dale was commenting on my Friday Random Ten and pointed out that Barb also had Joe Strummer turn up on her Random Ten today. I went over to check on it, and she had pointed out that it was four years ago today that we lost Joe.

I was devastated when Joe died. He was only 50 years old. The Clash were absolutely my favorite band ever. They hit the United States when I was about 17 and bowled me over. I was awakening politically, and the Clash were singing my song.

I mentioned in a previous post Phil Ochs' quote:

"And if there's any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there's any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara."

The Clash were the closest, I think, that we've ever come to that. I remember in an interview in '79 or so, Strummer saying that his intent was to sell as many records as he could. The Clash had a message, and he didn't intend for it to go unheard. He realized that popular music was a medium to pass that message on.

I have a great memory that made that point. In the summer of 1983, my parents bought me a month pass for Greyhound. I was in school in central Illinois and my folks lived in San Jose, California. I took a trip to see them and some friends along the way.

In the course of my trip, I had a stop in San Antonio. We were there for over an hour, so I went out to grab a bite to eat and to walk around downtown San Antonio for a while. I came upon a group of kids-- they had to be high school age-- hanging out in a parking lot on a Sunday afternoon. From a boombox the "Combat Rock" album blared. It really hit me-- here I was, in the middle of Texas, and the Clash were playing. They'd made it. And their message was getting to where it needed to get to.

A few years ago, my friend Viktor Zeitgeist was at a rock festival in Northern California. The line-up was incredible: among them were the Blasters and X with their original line-ups, Reverend Horton Heat-- and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes.

He was walking around the festival with his girlfriend Lynn (now his wife Lynn) and came upon Joe having a beer, chatting with some fans. They joined in. Joe was, he said, just a great guy.

Viktor told him about this friend of his who'd had a really rough time the last couple of years-- a custody fight, financial problems, and was now teaching in a poor neighborhood-- and was a huge Clash fan. It would mean a lot to his friend if he had Joe's autograph. Joe said he'd be delighted. Viktor went and got a poster, and Joe signed it for him.

About six months later, Joe was dead.



If you haven't figured out already, my real name is Brian. And I think you can see why Viktor Zeitgeist is my best friend.

14 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That is a truly wonderful story; I got all verklempt reading it. That poster must be one of the most precious things you have. Just another reason that Viktor should be in line for sainthood, I think.

I believe that Joe was very special. If you ever get a chance to watch Dick Rude's documentary, Let's Rock Again (which follows the Mescaleros on their final tour) you can see how funny and passionate and caring he was. His music is timeless and it speaks as much to our kids as it did to us.

Thanks so much for sharing this tale.

(May I add you to my blogroll?)

Johnny Yen said...

Barbara, I would be honored.

Dale said...

Very moving. Mr. Yen, it's such a small and strange world sometimes. Because of you and your past good deeds, my random brought me back to Phil Ochs earlier today.

Very nice post.

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