“A groove, a vibe, a shot of humanity, a bit of uplifting:” Remembering Joe Strummer

December 22, 2012
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Today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Joe Strummer, frontman for legendary British punk outfit the Clash. In addition to his role on the frontlines of punk culture and its attendant possibilities, Strummer (real name: John Mellor) was a solo artist, film-music scorer (Grosse Point Blank, Walker) actor (Mystery Train, Straight To Hell) and radio presenter for the BBC. In 1999, he issued Rock Art And The X-Ray Style, his first album in more than a decade and first as leader of a new outfit, the Mescaleros. Strummer would go on to make two more records with the band, 2001’s Global A Go-Go and 2003’s Streetcore, which was finished by the band after he passed away in his sleep from cardiac arrhythmia on December 22, 2002.

This interview took place prior to the release of Global A Go-Go. Jason Pettigrew spoke to Strummer while he was at home curating another installment of his BBC World Service radio program, London Calling. If you’re not familiar with the man, there’s a plethora of material to draw from, including (bur not limited to) the body of work he created with the Clash, solo recordings, the Mescaleros’ three albums (a double-vinyl live album of one of his final shows was released by Epitaph as part of Record Store’s Black Friday event this past November), as well as two crucial films available on DVD, Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten and director/actor Dick Rude’s startling Let’s Rock Again! which display both Strummer’s poetic vision, as well as his tireless underdog spirit.

What music did you receive today?
Let’s see. [Sound of rustling papers and moving boxes.] I’ve got a record here of Congolese soukous music, a new Meters record… Something here by a trumpet player, [Bellemou] Messaoud’s Wahran. Not sure where he’s from, though… It’s Eastern jazz.

Can I assume that maybe you’re kind of bored with rock ’n’ roll?
[Laughs.] Well, you have to spread your net far and wide to get something interesting, really. But that’s also part of running a radio show for BBC World Service; it forces me to get out and about and hunt down tracks.

You talk about hunting down tracks. I don’t want to get nostalgic, like, “Let’s talk about the good ol’ days, Joe,” but when you’re young and you hear new music for the first time, it’s so invigorating and spirited, like when I was a teenager and hearing the Clash, the Specials and Delta 5 for the first time. I get that same kind of vibe off of Global A Go-Go, that sense of discovery, like I’m part of something that not a lot of people really know about …
All right! That’s great.

Like I said, I don’t want to make this about nostalgia, but I want to frame this. There’s a lot to do on this record with the essence of the vibe.
That’s very cool of you; you spotted it in one, really. [The Mescaleros] had been on the road and we made a record [Rock Art And The X-Ray Style], and then we went on the road to tour it. That’s the way you get to know each other—on the road in stressful situations. Musicians kind of build up a vibe together. When we came to record [Global], we actually didn’t have any material ready, due to some accidental circumstances. So we kind of blundered into the studio. I booked five days to begin with as a tester to see what we could do, and it began to roll so nicely. Everyone was co-writing and working together like a team. It began so well, we just kept rolling on it. We had to break to do a three-week tour with the Who in Britain, but apart from that, we kept going with it, building the whole record in the studio, on the spot. And I think that contributes to a nice cohesive feel.

Written by Jason Pettigrew