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Strummin' Along
greatest r&r songwriters, part 2

This is working out great. Today happens to be a really busy day, but this greatest songwriters thing is allowing me to break out old posts.

Part 2 brings us to a heavily nominated guy, Joe Strummer. Below is what I wrote after he died in 2002.

1977 was a watershed year for me. Punk rock arrived in the USA and it forever changed the way I listened to music. Though I didn't pick up on it until the following year when I heard the Ramones on a college station, I still recognize 1977 as the year the music changed.

A friend whose uncle owned a record store lent me an import copy of Clash (UK), which hadn't been released in the US yet. It was I'm So Bored with the USA that wrapped itself around my head and never let go. Janie Jones, Remote Control...I listened to the album on my piece of crap record player over and over. I was in 11th grade. 16 years old. My friends were listening to the new hearthrob of the music scene, Bruce Springsteen. Some of them were still doing the hustle, openly engaging in disco dancing while the rest of us wore our "Disco Sucks" pins.

At the end of 1978, a friend gave me a cassette copy of Give 'em Enough Rope. Safe European Home and Tommy Gun were staples of my days and night. Sitting in my bedroom with my newer, yet still crappy stereo, those huge, cushioned, oversized headphones on, bopping my head up and down and humming punk rock tunes all to the annoyance of my parents.

This isn't so much about the songs - I could sit here all day listing which songs played on my stereo during specific times of my life - it's about what Joe Strummer and the Clash meant to me. There were times when the only sounds coming from my room or my car were The Clash or The Jam.

So many hot, sticky summer nights, sitting in my Nova, drinking beer and listening to Joe Strummer's passioned voice.

I had my first major break-up with Clampdown playing in the background.

When I threw up that entire bottle of Boonesfarm wine, Brand New Cadillac was blasting from the speakers we had set up in the park that night, before the cops came, before we were chased through the woods by snarling dogs, smelling of puke and Miller Lite. Every time I hear that song, I can recall the taste of warm beer vomit.

And even though Sandinista disappointed me, I can still recite all the words to Magnificent Seven, and I bet my sister can, too.

By the time Rock the Casbah came around and everyone was a Clash fan, I had earned the right to call myself an old school fan and maybe, just maybe, looked down upon those who thought The Clash were a "great new band."

The most telling memory of what Joe Strummer meant to me, perhaps, lies in the bottom of a box in my bedroom closet. It's a tiny stuffed chicken that someone gave me, I have no idea why. It was just one of those things. When that person, my old friend Chris, gave me the chicken and said I had to give it a name, Radio Clash was on the air and I thus named the chicken Strummer.

I guess I'll fish little Strummer out of the box today and give him a place of honor on my dresser, right next to the tattered photo of Joey Ramone.

I think you all should leave your favorite Clash lyrics here. Just for the hell of it.

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Cast a vote if you haven't already.

Comments

my favorite clash song has always been "magnificent Seven", so my left behind lyric would be

wave buh-buh bye-bye to the boss, it's your profit, it's his loss.

I have to go with "Straight to Hell" for my favorite Clash lyric. What a killer song.
Y'wanna join in a chorus
Of the Amerasian blues?
When it's Christmas out in Ho Chi Minh City
Kiddie say papa papa papa papa-san, take me home
See me got photo-photo-photograph of you
and Mamma mamma mamma-san,
Of you and Mamma mamma mamma-san
Lemme tell ya 'bout your blood family kid,
It ain't Coca-Cola it's rice.

Although for some reason "Guns of Brixton" really gets to me on a scary level too, and I have to give it an honorable mention. When they sing "When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come, with your hands on your head, or on the trigger of your gun?" I get all angry and militant like the goon squad are rightnow on their way to my apartment to take me away from my wife.

OH! OH! I forgot "Lost in the Supermarket!"

I'm all lost in the supermarket I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality

I wasn't born so much as I fell out
Nobody seemed to notice me
We had a hedge back home in the suburbs
Over which I never could see

I heard the people who lived on the ceiling
Scream and fight most scarily
Hearing that noise was my first ever feeling
That's how it's been all around me

[Chorus]

I'm all tuned in, I see all the programmes
I save coupons from packets of tea
I've got my giant hit discoteque album
I empty a bottle and I feel a bit free

The kids in the halls and the pipes in the walls
Make me noises for company
Long distance callers make long distance calls
And the silence makes me lonely

I also like "The Right Profile" a little more than I really should, but that's neither here nor there. That's Montgomery Clift, honey!!

Joe Strummer was not the first rock musician I idolized, but he was the last and the best.

All over
People changing their votes
Along with their overcoats
If Adolf Hitler
Flew in today
They'd send a limousine anyway

Man had a point; how many loathsome murdering tyrants have been hosted at number 10, or even the White House? And you know they didn't take cabs to get there.

And I'm with Johno on "The Right Profile." (I don't know what's wrong with me, but for some reason I find that strangled "AARRR-glih-glih-glubbub--ARRGGH!" bit towards the end uh, sexy.) But anything from London Calling, really.

I always liked this from "the Prisoner:"

Johnny Too Bad meets Johnny Be Goode
in the Charing Cross Road
that's the only thing that happened today
says the west end jungle code
and all the Germans and all the French
jam themselves down the tube
and re-enact the second world war
while the rude boys get rude!

Additionally, one of the most sublime musical moments ever is when Strummer sings, "I thought I saw Lauren Bacall," in "Car Jamming."

Sorry for the OT:

Michele, is your RSS feed bjorked? For some reason, Sharpreader wont pick up anything past your 3/22/05 7:53 AM post "not reading any more emails today, thankyouverymuch "

As mentioned above in "Lost in the Supermaket," I have a small frisson everytime with "I empty a bottle and I feel a bit free." I have no idea why.

Not great writing, but I still love "Train in Vane"'s
But without all these things I can do
But without your love I won't make it through.

Favorite, though is White Riot's "I wanna riot of my own."
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick

This was actually an easy one to pick:
we met when we were in school

never took no shit from no one,
we weren't fools
the teacher says we're dumb
we're only having fun
we piss on everyone
in the classroom

when we got thrown out i left without much fuss
an' weekends we'd go dancing
down streatham on the bus
you always made me laugh

got me in bad fights
play me pool all night
smokin' menthol

i practised daily in my room
you were down the crown planning your next move
go on a nicking spree
hit the wrong guy
each of you get three
years in brixton

i did my very best to write
how was butlins?
were the screws too tight?
when you lot get out
were gonna hit the town
we'll burn it fuckin' down
to a cinder

cos years have passed and things have changed
and i move anyway i wanna go
i'll never forget the feeling i got
when i heard that you'd got home
an' i'll never forget the smile on my face
'cos i knew where you would be
an' if you're in the crown tonight
have a drink on me
but go easy...step lightly...stay free