I miss Joe. I always think about him this time of year. I was visiting relatives for Christmas when I heard the news about his death. At the time, it just didn't seem real that he could be gone. He was gone way too early. At first the details about his death were a little murky, and I wondered what had really happened. I remember that when I heard the news, I happened to visit the web site of another favorite band of mine, the Buzzcocks. On their web site, everything was gone and there was just a picture of Joe Strummer and a few words of tribute. It was obvious that they too were feeling the loss. Now every year at Christmas when I visit the same relatives, I always remember hearing about Joe's death this time of year.
Joe really meant a lot to me. In the late '70s, I was a fledgling punk rocker. I had discovered the Ramones and loved their music. Then, after listening to the Ramones for awhile, I ended up getting the first Clash album. It instantly became my favorite album and I listened to it constantly. I was also a budding guitarist and I had learned to play most of the Ramones songs. Soon I was punishing everyone around me as I endlessly practiced "Clash City Rockers."
From the time I got that first Clash album, I was curious about some of the lyrics. It was clear there was something going on with their lyrics that was quite different from what I had heard on the Ramones records. There was quite a bit of mystery for me, as I wasn't sure what it was all about. The version of the first Clash album I got was the American release, which is substantially different from the original UK release. My favorite song was "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," but I really had no idea what it was about.
Soon after that, two things happened. I got "London Calling" and I went to see the Clash on March 6, 1980 at the Tower Theater in the Philadelphia area. Ah, what a show that was! At that time, "London Calling" was completely unknown. In my youthful circle, I didn't know anyone who was listening to reggae. Opening up at that show was legendary Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. "London Calling," along with that Clash show, opened my ears to a whole new world of music.
There are lines in "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" where Strummer sings, "Midnight to six, man, for the first time from Jamaica. Dillinger and Leroy Smart; Delroy Wilson your cool operator. Ken Boothe, for UK pop reggae, with backing band sound system, and if they've got anything to say, there's many black ears here to listen."
Soon enough after hearing that, I was tracking down records by Dillinger, Leroy Smart, Delroy Wilson, and Ken Boothe. If it hadn't been for the Clash, I never would have discovered any of that stuff.
Well, "London Calling" is now legendary and many people count it as among the best records ever made. That album and that Clash show just opened up a whole new world for me. It was my first exposure to a lot of new ideas and music.
Later on in 1980, I moved to Dallas, Texas. Then, in 1983 I think, I saw the Clash again at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas. I had a great time, but I have always regretted one thing. On that same tour, the Clash went on to play in Wichita Falls, Texas. Wichita Falls is the 29th biggest city in Texas. I have no idea why the Clash decided to play there, but I have always regretted missing that show. It would have been a really interesting place to see the Clash.
Then of course, there is "Sandinista!" What a musical adventure that was! Joe Strummer and the Clash were like some foreign news station delivering news and ideas and music from another world. They were providing me education about stuff that I just wasn't hearing about anywhere else. I have a favorite quote from Joe. One time he was asked about why the Clash had decided to make "Sandinista!" a triple album, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. He jokingly said that since Bruce Springsteen had put out a double album with "The River," the Clash put out "Sandinista!" to say, "Oy, chew on that Bruce!!!"
Well, anyway, those are some of my thoughts and memories of what the Clash and Joe Strummer mean to me. In those heady days of the late '70s and early '80s, there were a lot of things about the world and music that I learned from Joe Strummer and the Clash. I don't really think we've seen another artist as important since. In those days, they truly were "The Only Band That Matters."