James has his personal eulogy for Joe Strummer:
I was a bit shocked this morning when I read that Joe Strummer, the
guitarist and heart of The Clash, had died over the weekend of a heart
attack. The Clash was an important part of my college days, and
has the strongest influence on my musical tastes.
Going back to the 1970's, music had become stagnant. Disco was a
victory for style over substance, and was in recession. The major
labels were cranking out what can only be described as corporate rock,
groups like Kansas who wrote music, but had no soul. The industry was
ripe for change.
Change came from Great Britain. For most Americans, their first
exposure to punk rock was in newpaper reports of the Sex Pistols.
Just don't expect the AM radio stations to play the music of the
Sex Pistols. In that great wave of punk was another group, The
Clash, which was considered good, but didn't get the same notoriety
as the Sex Pistols.
(Here, I should note that when I finally heard their music, I enjoyed
the Sex Pistols.)
The person who did more to bring this music to my attention was a high
school friend, named Mark Krob. He was a DJ on Virginia Tech's student
radio station, and he kept mentioning these great bands to me, and I'd
listen, and like them. One of those albums was The Clash. It had a lot
of energy, and the song "Career Opportunities" quickly became one
of my favorites. When they came out with London Calling, I bought
it and loved it.
Today, it remains my favorite album: I still have the original vinyl.
More than many groups, the Clash was loyal to their listeners. London
Calling was a double album that was sold for the price of a single,
because the Clash insisted on it.
Some people were disappointed by Sandanista, I wasn't. Sure, side six
(a triple album!) was odd, but the energy was still there for
songs like Washington Bullets and Call-Up, and the other music was
good. I found the lyrics in Rebel Waltz to be among the most poignant
I've ever heard:
A cloud crossed the moon
A child cried for food
We knew the war could not be won
I recall that when I was learning Russian with Dr. Jerzhinsky I
translated Washington Bullets - The Clash were not exactly lyrical
in Russian. What they were was particularly appropriate to the time:
Please remember Victor Jara
In the Santiago stadium
Es verdad, those Washington bullets again
If you can find an Afghan Rebel that the Moscow bullets missed
Ask him what he thinks of voting Communist?
Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet
How many monks did the Chinese get?
In the war-torn swamps stop any mercenary,
'n check the British bullers in his armory.
In the years since the Clash were famous, I've seen several
deconstructions of their music. I suppose it is true that they
were one of the most political bands of all time, or that their
music was a reaction to the times, or the like. It doesn't make
a difference... To me their music had more life and more energy
than any other music I have heard. For me, that is enough.