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Remembering Joe Strummer - 5 Years Dead.

category international | history and heritage | opinion/analysis author Saturday December 22, 2007 11:22author by Ciaron O'Reilly - London Catholic Worker Report this post to the editors

Joe Strummer died on Dec. 22nd. 2002.
This how a few people in London celebrated his memory last night.
Feel free to post your own memoriam as a comment.

Well as memorials go it was a little weird. They meant well but probably tried to do too much at this time, in this venue.

On the eve of the 5th.anniversary of Joe Strummer's death, the crew from Philosophy Football hosted a memorial effort entitled "Clash Culture Christmas Party" in the Offisde Pub near the Angel (London).

It wasn't anything like the memorial I went to in NYC following the death of Abbie Hoffman in '89. That one seemed to have a lot more folks present who knew the departed personally. It was addressed by Abbie's activist cohorts historian Howard Zinn, beat poet Alan Ginsberg and the now late Norman Mailer. Aaron Keyes the Yippie who pioneered by pie throwing in the '70's wandered the bar.

Hard to combine a memorial with the "end of the week/end of the year" Christmas Party vibe - but they tried their damndest with this ecletic mix of remembering, clebrating, film launch, panel analysis and "Attila the Stockbroker" in full punk poetic throttle.

I guess I've always had the impression that the left in general don't do death too well. It can't be an English thang (even though the MC at one point said "if you know Joe he wouldn't want this to be a wake...obviously this guy hadn't been to an Irish, or even an Australian, wake). A few years ago, I went to a wonderful London wake for anarchist pacifist printer and jailbreak maestro Pat Brian Pottle at Conway Hall years ago. It was a great movement gathering, MC'd by his twin Brian Pat Pottle. The highlight was when a well dressed wide boy rose from the crowd of aging folkies and hippies. He was the son of failed Soviet spy, successful prisoner escapee Geroge Blake. He thanked Brian's family and Michael Randel and the Irish ODC Sean Bourke who broke his dad outta jail He remarked how much nicer it is to be able to visit his dad in Moscow rather than Wormwood Scrubs.

Anyways I digress, back to the Joe Strummer Memorial night. I walked toward the Angel along the canel from Dalston. It was atmospheric, misty and a little tense (I dunno, call me paranoid but I'm always worried in London that someone or three are going to rush and push me into the canel or onto the tube line). I was striding pretty fast. I began to overtake an old guy with his shopping. As I approached from behind, I thought I'd put him at ease
"Cold isn't it?" , I remarked.
"That's for sure!", he replied in an Irish accent.
"Where you from?"
"Galway, been here since '75!"
So over the next 500 metrees we discussed the war of independence, the civil war and he's work with the local St. Vinnies!"

Met up with my mate at the Angel tube. Got to the Offside Bar way before kick off. The new Clash -shirts were pretty spiffy and ya got a £6 discount on the shirts with your entry ticket so whey hey. Bought a "Joe Strummer Whiteman in Hamersmith Pali " t-shirt for a mate, bought a"Don't wanna know what the rich are doin'" one as a Chrissie present for myself (hey charity begins at home!) Check out if you're running out of gift ideas

An ecletic mix began to gather in the bar. We took a chair at the reserved table for the "Red Pepper" 'zine crew., who arrived in dribs and drabs until we had to give up our seats. The founder of "Class War" rocked up, Searchlight and UNISON crews. Some folks who must have been born after "The Clash" released their first album, some folks who were at the first Clash gigs. Crowd was mostly male, well it was a lefty footie fan kind of gig.

Proceedings were kicked off by Philospophy Football MC talking about the influence of Joe Strummer. I first saw Strummer and "The Clash" at the Cloudland Ballroom in Brisbane (Australia) in '82. It was a few months before Brisbane hosted the "Commonwealth Games" (I had bought that t-shirt at the time and scrawled "Celebration of British Imperialism" in marker pen over it). Our authroitarian Queensland state government had introduced special legislation to counter planned Aboriginal land rights demonstrations at the Games, they rearmed the cops with the latest designer batons (tried and tested in NZ/Aotearoa during the racist Sprinkbox Rugby tour the year before), there was a heavy police presence that night. Either Strummer or someone in the crowd coined the phrase "Pig City" which went on to become the title of a Briz anarchist cult hit single, later a book about that music scene and this past year are state funded celebration of the music of those times. Go figure!

Like Billy Bragg, Joe was always good at finding out what was happening locally and dragging some rad on to the stage to give a political rap while the band provided a background instrumental. That night local aboriginal activist Bob Weatherall (this must rate alongside "Lawless" as one of the best surnames for an activist!) took to the stage. Bob performed a traditional dance as "The Clash" thumped out the beat. Weatherall stopped dancing and roared out his call to the streets and soldiarity with the aboriginal struggle. A few months later many of us gathered at The Clash gig were in paddy wagons headed for the watchhouse as the Commonwealth Games '82 unfolded. The Games and the demand for indigeneous land rights were being broadcast around the world by the assembled international media.

I last saw Joe Strummer with the Mescaleros at the Brixton Academy a few months before he died. He was brilliant.

The last time Joe played, and the first time Mick Jones joined him on stage in 20 years, was a benefit gig for the Fire Brigades Union in London, November 02. The gig was five weeks before he died. So the next thing on the agenda at the Offside Bar was the launch of the film "The Last Night London Burned" dealing with that gig and the strike. Good flick, a must have, but funds were running low due to my formentioned t-shirt fetish and my principle of "you should always buy stuff by people who do benefit gigs for you!", so the Mark Thomas DVD had set me back £14 and another £2 for the must have "I put Gordon Brown in the Dock" badge.

When the film finished the MC and another guy spoke a bit too long - although they missed Joe and were sincere in what they were saying - the MC then departed on what looked to me like being high risk strategy by holding a panel. This was a bar, it was Christmas, the end of the week, the end of the year for Chrissake....but the noise levels weren't too bad and it was interesting alrighty. There was a Glasgow stike organiser from the Fire Brigades Union whose early politicisation was accelerated by "The Clash". There was a punk Professor Man.City supporter who made some good points about the differences between the punk scene in London and northern England. There was 1970's music journo and early manager of "The Clash", Caroline Coon who I could have listened to for ages if I was in a more sober state. Mark Thomas, AFC Wimbledon fan, was the last to speak from the panel. Initially thrown by the MC outting Mark's three primary inspirations as the Bible, Bertloch Becht and Joe Strummer. Dealing with the bible remark in front of his fellow agnoistics, Mark regained his stride quickly and moved the night from being a "Joe Strummer Memorial: Nostalgia as Mild Form of Depression" to "Joe Strummer as a Dissident Memory: An Inspiration For These Times" kinda night. Mark talked about how Brecht, Strummer and the arts in general can change your perception on the world. He then fast forwarded into his present campaign around free speech in Parliament Square. He spoke of his recent legal initiative to charge P.M. Gordon Bown and Nelson Mendala with failure to apply for a police permit for their recent illegal gathering while unveilling the Mendalla statue in Parliament Square. That's where my £2 for the badge was going.......,,2226425,00.html

Before the former Clash tour DJ, Scratchy Myers, took the decks and we danced the night away, Brighton FC fan (and apparently the Brighton FC stadium announcer) "Attila the Stockbroker" tuned his mandolin and injected anger, energy and football references into the gathering. Apparently Attila was really a stockbroker for 9 months way back then, when someone said he had the ehtics of "Attila the Hun" and the anarcho poet legend was born. He ditched the day job and went on the road for the next 26+ years. Atilla got a little pissed off with the pub punter noise level...but hey this was a bar, the end of the week the end of the year, Christmas but he was more than a match for the crowd (was probably a tactical error on his part to piss of the only Crystal Palace fan in the audience by reading prose about their 9-0 away defeat to Liverpool sometime in the '80's). Hell hath no fury like a Palace fan scorned and this guy wouldn't shut up..... "Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace........."
ad nauseum haunted the rest of his set.

Like many in the room Attila was deeply moved by Joe Strummer and saddened by his departure.............

In Memoriams:
by Atilla the Stockbroker

I guess in quite a lot of ways I grew up just like you
A bolshy kid who didn't think the way they told him to
You kicked over the statues, a roots rock rebel star
Who knew that punk was more than just the sound of a guitar
And I'll always remember that night at the Rainbow
When you wrote a soundtrack for my life, Commandante Joe.
So many bands back then were like too many bands today
A bunch of blokes who made a noise with bugger all to say
The Clash were always out in front, you put the rest to shame
Your words were calls to action, your music was a flame
You were our common Dante, and you raised an inferno
And you wrote a soundtrack for my life, Commandante Joe.
Reggae in the Palais Midnight till six!
Rockin' Reds in Brockwell Park!
Sten guns in Knightsbridge!
Up and down the Westway
In and out the lights!
Clash City Rockers!
Know Your Rights!
I guess in quite a lot of ways I grew up just like you
A bolshy kid who didn't think the way they told him to
Like you I always knew that words and music held the key
As you did for so many, you showed the way to me
Although I never met you, I'm so sad to see you go
'Cos you wrote a soundtrack for my life, Commandante Joe.

Related Link:
author by old punkpublication date Sun Dec 23, 2007 05:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hello I run a website about the early punk scene from 1976 to 1979 it is here:

contributors to my site are most welcome as well.

Related Link:
author by funderland on the cards when the cows come home - (you wouldn't enjoy it anyway dear)publication date Sun Dec 23, 2007 17:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

All memorials are a bit weird aren't they? Starving urchins become bronze statues of resistance. Paunch ridden jaded middle aged men become granite sculptured muscularised authority. two photos from the US press which caught my eye & reflect a growing tendency to over-decorate cemetries in that land.

Rest in Peace & fake snow & tinsel
Rest in Peace & fake snow & tinsel

you're with Santa now.
you're with Santa now.

author by Ciaronpublication date Sun Dec 23, 2007 20:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

.....and your point being?

Ok so you can cut and paste, ramble a little and unsuccessfully appeal to a few prejudices .To paraphrase the kid in the Brusce Willis flick " I laugh at dead people!"

Or more like the scene in the upstairs room after Christopher Walken character gives a psychotic rant and offer of a ride to the station and Woody Allen repies "Thanx but I'm due back on planet earth"

author by iosafpublication date Mon Dec 24, 2007 00:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

: that it was a strange memorial & that the left don't do death well. Unfortuantely I didn't make it to New York like yourself to mark the passing of Abbie Hoffman. But I did meet Ginsberg & over the years using the name "obit" (which is also used by others who feel a similar way ) I've done my best to mark the passing of many men & women of great importance to either alternative or general cultural, political & artistic life. I wrote up the deaths of Tony Wilson (whom I also met) Robert Anton Wilson (who I spilled a drink over by accident) Rostropovitch (whom I was privileged to get a hug from) & every January I remind people Albert Hofman the man who invented LSD is still alive & 101 years of age. I think doing death is both a personal & public matter. I've contributed money to more than a few memorial plaques or engraved bits of stone slightly short of the grandeur of palimsepts over the years. And as a musician who has had a lot of church engagements I've perhaps seen & played a role in more funerals than anyone outside of either the undertaker business or the saying prayers profession. Explaining & encouraging people to learn & engage with history & become aware of their role in the flow of humanity is very important to me. Your article adds as much to that section & strand which has ever been present on indymedia ireland as any death notice has before. & so what was my point with the photo of the santa on the grave stone in Culvert California? Well now - I think it is both sweet, real, personal & oddly public. The icon of coca cola consumerism & the mythical being who like the tooth fairy tends to our childrens' hopes & spites their parents' pocket on the gravestone of a Georgian migrant (forgive me if I read the language on the stone wrongly) to the USA eight years after he died at either the age of 12 or 62.

you think I cut & pasted that or was ranting? Gosh - I feel so scolded that my own words might not be credited to me & that such irony & response to your ridiculous assertion that the left "can't do death" got such a reponse from you. I wonder what Joe Strummer would have thought.

anyway now you can enjoy watching Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros playing Redemption Song. Which is why I referred to it. Maybe you're insulted at the butric purefaction thing instead? Relax he was cremated. He's doing rainfall now.

author by Ciaronpublication date Mon Dec 24, 2007 06:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanx for the above post and clarification.
Love your work.

Your misquote "left can't do death" is different from what I wrote the heavilly qualified
"in my experience the left in general don't do death too well"

We all gotta do death.

I was walking along with a war resister friend who in an early incarnation had done 3 tours out of Cross' with the British Marines. We were talking about Ghandis precept that "if you're going to enter serious nonviolent resistance, you have to be porepared to die!". It occured to me then that is pretty good advice - as we're all going to die and you may as well be prepared.

When someone like Strummer dies there is always a struggle over memory - what theologian Ched Myers refers to as the battle of the myths. One can see this with Martin Luther King being stripped of revolutionary analysis ("the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today") downsized to being a symbol of black upward mobility in "anyone can now make it in" america. The present canonisation process of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day (even tho while alive she said "don't call me a saint, i don't want to be dismissed that easily)

......and Jesus at Christmas, popular culture's emphasis on Maji giving presents rather than Herod's imperial census (interesting that robocop Lockheed Martin have bidded to carry out the British census, Raytheon handling to handle who comes in and out of Britain), the Maji's deception of Herod, the breaking of the royal injunction to return to him and provide the targetting info for seach and destroy. The flight as a refugee into Egypt and the subsequent Massacre of the Innocents.

So do you leave it to Julian Temple and Bono around the bonfire to remember or dismember Joe Strummer? Don't think so.

author by radical jonnypublication date Mon Dec 24, 2007 09:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for this, Ciaron.

I was actually surprised how hard Strummer's death hit me five years ago. It sure took the starch out of Christmas that year!

I think memorials like the one you attended are a fine way of communally remembering the passage of people who have impacted our lives, either directly or indirectly. In the wake of loss, remembering can bring healing, and community is strengthened by acknowledgment of the part that one person can play in the lives of many.

I never met Joe Strummer. I never saw the Clash live. But Joe's death brought back so many memories of the way in which his art and life impacted my own, or helped me see the world around me in a different way. The Clash provided a soundtrack to so much of my life.

I sometimes think that for many of us, the Clash is more of an idea than an actual band that broke up about 20 years ago, as important as the actual band was. many of the bands and musicians that have impacted me since- Asian Dub Foundation, Rachid Taha, Manu Chao, Tinariwen, Midnight Oil, King Chango, Manic Street Preachers, Public Enemy, M.I.A., K'naan, Emmanuel Jal, Rage Against The Machine, B-Side Players, Paris, Daara J- not only were obviously influenced by the Clash; they ARE the Clash. They are a continuation of the Clash's part of the rock-n-roll myth: that music can make us feel important, make us feel powerful, and can spur us on to ask bigger questions, and ultimately spur us to action.

The Clash is dead. Long live the Clash!

Rest in Peace, Joe. And thanks...

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