The Clash’s Joe Strummer ‘would have made a wonderful old man’
“You really have to check out Cumbia,” Joe Strummer insisted, his intense gaze burning a hole in me after a pint too many.
“Cumbia? ” I was wondering. “What is Cumbia?” I didn’t dare ask, but back in the pre-internet days, I didn’t even know where to look, or even if I had heard Strummer correctly. In some of our first meetings, almost a decade ago, he had introduced me to everything from Charlie Parker and Woody Guthrie to dub reggae, but this music was relatively easy to find in my record stores and library. local. But Cumbia?
The next time I bumped into Strummer at the East Village watering hole we frequented on weekday afternoons, he pulled a tape out of his leather jacket pocket. It was covered in his own fantastic song titles and artists in his unique exclamation scribbling, and hand-colored illustrations by the man himself. When I got home later that sunny afternoon, I listened late into the night. I was trying to make sense of what I was listening to and why Strummer wanted me to hear it. The mixture of Latin sounds, rhythmic and enchanting, with flutes, horns, maracas, accordions and percussion, behind voices that mixed Latin, African, Native American and European styles, was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was both beautiful and chaotic, much like Strummer himself.
Joe Strummer, the iconoclastic leader of The Clash, would have turned 70 today, which is as hard to imagine as it is sad that he is not among us to mark the occasion. And while the band that made him a household name recently released an expanded edition of their best-selling album, battle rockhis birthday is marked by two releases that would no doubt have made Strummer smile sometimes irascible, because they both feature the Joe Strummer with whom I had the chance to meet a handful of times more than a quarter of century.
Joe Stummer 002 is the second anthology volume drawn from his post-Clash work. Contrary to Joe Strummer 001released in 2018, which copiously chronicled the period from the mid-1980s, right after the demise of The Clash’s classic lineup until Strummer’s untimely passing in 2002, the new box set is laser-focused on his studio work of 1999 -2002 with the group he loved so much, the Mescaleros.
“I think he came back to life with the Mescaleros,” insists Lucinda Tait, Strummer’s widow. “It was an extraordinary moment, when Joe met these musicians who were not only very talented, but multi-instrumentalists. Joe’s musical tastes were very eclectic and he was able to explore all the music he had listened to over those years. It was so exciting for him to work with a group that, when he had an idea, could take it and make something out of it. He was energized and invigorated and felt alive again, musically.
So while the collection includes remastered editions of Strummer’s three late career albums with the Mescaleros—1999 Rock art and x-ray style2001s A global go-goand the posthumous street core, from 2003 – which features deep dives into rock and roll, rockabilly, reggae, hip hop, electronica and the EDM that Strummer loved so much, they also feature a healthy portion of world music , one of the true giants of punk rock was so captivated by, from Celtic to, you guessed it, Cumbia. It also includes fifteen rare and previously unreleased tracks, covering early demos Strummer wrote for the band, as well as “Ocean of Dreams”, featuring Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols on guitar, and excerpts from some of Strummer’s later recordings. with the Mescaleros.
“I can still choke when I hear his voice, especially when he’s in the studio and just talking, it absolutely strikes me,” Tait tells me as he reflects on Strummer’s career-ending work. . “But it’s so funny also that it makes me laugh and it makes me smile. So it’s still raw. It doesn’t go away over time. But he was very proud of his work, and I think that is relevant to hear today, especially some of his more political lyrics. I don’t want to sound grandiose, but I think Joe’s work was important, and I like the idea that a younger generation of people who unfamiliar with his music might have the chance to hear it.
“I don’t mean to sound grandiose, but I think Joe’s work was important, and I like the idea that a younger generation of people who don’t know his music might get a chance to hear it.”
And while there’s probably no better way to celebrate Joe Strummer than with much of his music featured in the new box set – which you’re probably unfamiliar with, and which stands proudly against his best work with The Clash – photographer and new book by longtime Strummer collaborator Josh Cheuse print the myth is a beautiful, intimate photobook that, remarkably, somehow peels back the Joe Strummer mythos to reveal more of the man than most of us have probably ever been aware of.
“It was a big undertaking,” admits Cheuse. “How do you do justice to Joe Strummer? How to find the right balance? How can this thing sum up a working relationship between two friends who got along well, when obviously he was also a mentor to me and taught me so much? These questions weighed heavily. But then he also taught me to keep going. So that’s what I did. »
Cheuse’s photographs begin with the snaps he took as a teenager at The Clash’s infamous 17-show stand at the Bond International Casino in New York’s Times Square in 1981, when the band crippled the city and s ‘is put on the trajectory to superstardom, through the mixing sessions for battle rock the following year, Strummer’s work with Mick Jones’ post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite, his days in Los Angeles making his first solo album seismic weather (which features Cheuse’s infamous Strummer figure with his trusty Telecaster on its cover), through family trips to Glastonbury and his brief globetrotting years with the Mescaleros, alongside the notebooks and ephemera that Cheuse has collected over the two decades and more that he has known Strummer.
Believe me when I tell you that print the myth is packed with Strummer blueprints you’ve never seen before. I’ve known Cheuse on and off since the 80s and there are hundreds of photos in the book that I’ve never seen. (“Even my wife hadn’t seen them,” Cheuse told me with a chuckle.) Best of all, these aren’t the excerpts you get too often in these “never seen before” types of books. The artistry and intimacy of each shot in print the myth makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time, to the bedroom with Joe Strummer.
“I think the main thing I wanted to show was the creative process,” says Cheuse. “People think that most of the time you’re just hanging around or goofing around, but when you’re in the studio, it’s this sacrosanct place, and it’s actually this incredible creative space, this kind of safe space. It was important to me to give people a window on that.
For Cheuse, it was about reimbursing Joe Strummer by hopefully reimbursing him.
“I joined the circus with these guys when I was 16, when Joe took me down the stairs from Electric Lady and was like, ‘Go ahead,'” he explains. “It was the start of my career. And so, I’m very grateful for everything I learned around him, and I wanted to honor him. If I can continue that spark that started me on my journey creative and excite people and inspire them to find that thing that they love and do it until they can’t do it anymore, and not just live in that kind of social media haze, then that’ll keep the flame.
print the myth more than honors this idea.
Of course, for those who knew him so well, Strummer’s 70th birthday will be bittersweet.
“It would be really great to have him with us at the moment, because he would have a good vision of things,” Cheuse said, a little nostalgic. “I always thought we’d be old guys sitting in a pub with a dog having a pint and saying, ‘Do you remember that time we were at that Prince concert, and you were bringing people in? on the sly, and they threw us down the stairs?’ I thought we’d be old geezers. Never thought he’d bow out when he did. But what would Joe have done with Trump? Maybe it was the right time to get out before things get really bad.
“Oh, Joe would have made a wonderful old man,” his widow Lucinda says as we end our conversation. “I could never even begin to speak for Joe, but I think he would have had a lot to say. I think that pencil would have been pulled out, and those fingers would have been flying over the old typewriter, bashing the lyrics, venting his anger and frustration. Most of all, it’s sad that he’s not here to see his amazing grandchildren. And he would be so proud of his children. So it gives me great pangs of sadness. But that was his story, wasn’t it? Go quickly. Go early.”