Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Joe Strummer, 13 years gone.

Joe Strummer, thirteen years gone today. Died of a massive heart attack at age 50.
If you're unfamiliar with his late-career re-emergence as a solo artist, take a listen to this cut, the title song from his last album (while living), Global A-Go-Go, a piece of power, complexity and depth. That's what I lament as much as anything. We were robbed of so much new work from this man.
I told this story to a couple magazines after his death. In 2000, Strummer & the Mescalaros did their first (and last) US tour, stopping here in Cleveland on a bitterly cold November evening to play at the late, lamented Odeon. It was an amazing show. Strummer, once the angry young punk, bantered playfully with the crowd and appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. I knew he was playing Clash stuff on this tour...but halfway into the set, when his band tore into the opening bowel-shaking chords of "Safe European Home" it was still a transcendental moment. With a bellow of joy, I hurled my creaky 40-year-old body into the exploding mosh and gave myself up to the music like I was an orange-haired 20something again.
After that incredible show, I was walking to my car, to head to a nearby tavern and meet up with Akron friends who had driven separately. I passed the big tour bus parked outside the Odeon and there was Joe, leaning against the bus talking casually to a dozen fans.
"Thanks, Joe!," I shouted over their heads. A simple statement...which had so much more meaning than the simple literal interpretation. Layers and layers of meaning. It's a rare privilege to personally thank the voice of your generation.
He smiled and nodded. "You're welcome, mate."
He knew exactly what I was trying to say. It was the last time I saw him play.