If life were kind, Joe Strummer would be celebrating his 60th birthday today. As it is, he died suddenly 10 years ago this December of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.
It was a cruel irony for a man who was all heart, one of the mightiest voices in all of rock ‘n’ roll, who could roar like a lion or whisper like we imagine angels might. When he was in the Clash, with Mick Jones writing and arranging these incredible parts for songs, Strummer seemed invincible. He was an impassioned live wire, suffering no fools and singing for the disenfranchised masses.
Strummer was also a joyful force, which became clearer when he formed his last band, the Mescaleros. When the Clash broke up in 1986, they were a spent shell of themselves. It took time, but eventually Strummer rose above the ruins, his ears tuned to stories and sonic avenues some people just couldn’t hear.
The open-ended punk sound of the Clash, who absorbed many musical styles and cultures to create something uniquely their own, was taken to new heights in the Mescaleros. In 2001, Strummer and his new band released a brilliant second record called Global a Go-Go, which I became obsessed with. When the band made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman that October, I had my VCR running and watched their performance of “Johnny Appleseed” 3,000 times.
Watching it now, I’m still lifted out of my seat. I have chills. Strummer can’t stand still, provoking the camera operators to keep up with him, as he wanders around the stage. It wasn’t something you saw much on Letterman anymore, performers stepping beyond the boundaries of their prescribed place on the show’s set. But Strummer’s aura wasn’t meant to be caged, and you see that in his smiling eyes on Letterman’s show.
It’s warm and rebellious all at once. It’s what Strummer was all about, to me. He wanted to connect with people, even if he had to unsettle us out of our stupor to do so. There was no one like him, and he is immensely missed.
To celebrate the extraordinary life and career of Joe Strummer, Hellcat Records proudly announces the digital release of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros, The Hellcat Years. The album comes out on August 21, which would have been the iconic artist’s 60th birthday. In addition to the digital release, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, Global A Go-Go and Streetcore, will be re-issued on September 25.
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on Aug 21, 2012