I'm Hearing Music from a Different Time

Zeek Salutes Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer, one of the most important poetic and musical voices of the punk era, died in December from an apparent heart attack. Zeek invited some of our regular contributors and readers to talk about Joe and his music. You are invited to do the same by clicking here:

"Then you realize that you've got to have a purpose or this place is gonna knock you out sooner or later." The Clash had a purpose where the Sex Pistols had none, and it was the purpose that invigorated punk music for decades after their short-lived career went down in flames. It was to make music that mattered; it was to challenge authority everywhere; it was to speak truth.

These are the times when "all over, people are changin' their votes, along with their overcoats. If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they'd send a limousine anyway." Hate and war are STILL the only things we got today. The Clash is dead, long live the clash.

But like the man said: "You grow up and you calm down, you're workin' for the clampdown." See Johnny Rotten and his smirking irrelevance. We were waiting for the reunion, Joe. Who will save us now? We're all lost in the supermarket and we're looking for that special offer... the old challenge still resonates... "Are you taking over? Or are you taking orders? Are you going backwards? Or are you going forwaaarrrdds???"

Samuel Hayim Brody

Neil Young's "story of Johnny Rotten" has been quoted for so many early rock deaths that to recite it now seems like a cliché. But Joe Strummer was never Johnny Rotten anyway - it was the Pistols who were about indulgence and self-immolation. The Clash were more responsible. They were the face of punk that a lot of people never seem to understand: that it is a social rebellion, equal parts class struggle and culture clash. The New Jersey kid who gets his nose pierced understands the second half - he gets the part about rebelling against convention and thumbing your nose at bourgeois society. But how many of them understand that the obnoxiousness was only half the story? That the reason bourgeois society sucks isn't just that it's stifling and conformist, but also because it makes so many people - minorities, the working class, women -- miserable?

Sam just IMmed me that he thinks Johnny Rotten won: rock stars are more like him than like Joe. Duh. How many people today even know the song "Spanish Bombs"? How many kno wthat it's is about the Spanish Civil War? And how many know that in that war, the West colluded to crush the world's only non-Soviet leftist revolution? We're so anesthetized to critique today that for a politician to talk about the wealth gap is labeled "class warfare," while MTV's insipid "News" division ignores the social reality that used to define the culture they now commodify. I can't think of a single MTV-played rock & roll song that protested the status quo in 2002. Bruce Springsteen used to write those kinds of songs, but his politics in 2002 celebrated America after 9/11. Same with Neil Young. The best mainstream albums of 2002 - by Wilco, Beck, Moby - were all inward-looking. The most popular ones were escapist shit.


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January 2003

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