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Defining voice of the punk years

Material to accompany the Joe Strummer lesson plan

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Joe Strummer

Quotes from fans - from the sleeve notes to 'From Here To Eternity' - The Clash 1999.

'I am only 18. I have never seen The Clash but I would sell my grandmother to see them.'

'I remember just feeling terrified, standing there with all these mad looking punk rockers, not knowing what was about to happen. The guy next to me screamed "Come on" & Joe appeared on stage. The place went beserk. I'd never seen anything like it before. I've been to see a thousand bands since & nothing comes close to them live, nothing.'

'Masonic Auditorium, Detroit 1978. A packed house. Lights go down, band goes on. After the first number, an empty whisky bottle crashes near Joe's feet. He laughs "Is that the best you got?" In an instant hundreds of bottles rain down on the stage ... whizzing past Mick's ear, smashing into Topper's kit. Amazingly, the band play on undeterred. This band will do nicely, I thought.'

The Clash

'It was on a hot spring day 1980 in Gothenburg, Sweden where I saw The Clash for the first time. I was sixteen years old & it was one of my first concerts ever. It was just magic. There I was in front of the stage pogoing & listening to the lyrics which in a positive way affected me for the rest of my life. Ever since that moment I look at The Clash as one of the best bands ever. Thanks!'

'Sometimes the audience would kick in at the same time as the band, and you'd think Christ, this is amazing.'

Joe Strummer obituary

Defining voice of the punk years

by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
Financial Times 24.12.02

A diplomat's son and ex-public schoolboy who made some of the most thrillingly insurrectionary music in the history of pop music, no one better epitomnsed punk's mix of artifice, opportunity and anger than the Clash's singer Joe Strummer, who died on Sunday, aged 50, at his home in Somerset. A less nihilistic counterpoint to Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, he led punk's political wing and will be remembered not only as the defining voice of a generation but also as a leading member of one of the best British bands ever.

Strummer, real name John Meilor, was born in Ankara, Turkey in 1952 where his father was a diplomat. His childhood was peripatetic, with the family living briefly
in countries such as Mexico, Cyprus, Iran and West Germany. At the age of eight he joined his elder brother at a boarding school in England, where he developed a keen interest in art and music.

Hoping to become a cartoonist, he enrolled at an art college in London on leaving school but was soon expelled. He dropped out and became a busking musician, changing his name first to Woody Mellor, in honour of folk, singer Woody Gutbrie, before choosing Joe Strummer, in honour of the ukulele he strummed at various Underground stations.

Living in squats in west London and drifitng between busking and odd jobs - he was fired as a cleaner by the English National Opera for practising guitar in the orchestra pit - he joined his first group, the 101'ers, in 1974, playing a traditional form of pub rock whose limitations Strummer found increasingly irritating.

His epiphany came when the newly formed Sex Pistols supported the 101'ers in the spring of 1976. "The difference was, we played 'Route 66' to the drunks at the bar, going 'Please like us,"' he told Jon Savage, author of punk history England's Dreaming. But here was this quartet who were standing there going, 'We don't give a toss what you think, you pricks, this is what we like to play and this is the way we're gonna play it."'

Fired up by the Pistols' attitude and their scorching, abrasive music, Strummer formed The Clash with Mick Jones, a graduate of fledgling punk band London SS. The songs they wrote together, such as "White Riot" and "I'm so Bored with the USA" were fast, caustic and politically engaged, the lyrics conjuring a west London dystopia of race riots, mass unemployment, police brutality and US imperialism. But there was a suspicion of radical chic too, an example being Strummer's endorsement of terrorist group Baader Meinhof.

A quartet, The Clash's live performances were legendarily ferocious, while Strummer's interest in reggae gave their music an extra dimension. More adventurous than any other punk band, their songs grew increasingly complex, leading to small-minded accusations of their betraying punk's stripped-down ethos on their masterpiece, the 1979 album London Calling. They continued into the 1980s with the richly varied if overlong Sandinista!, before running out of steam mid-decade.

Strummer's post-Clash career never carried him back to such heights: he had starring roles in small films, made a few soundtrack albums and had a stint with The Pogues. Last year he released a well-received album with the Mescaleros, suggesting that the creative fires weren't yet diminished and making his sudden death seem all the more untimely. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a step-daughter.


A few comprehension questions

1. What knid of background did Joe Strummer come from?

2. What jobs had he done?

3. What inspired him to form The Clash?

4. What were some of the themes of The Clash's songs?

5. Why were they different form other punk bands?

6. Why were they criticised?

7. What did Joe Strummer do after The Clash?

Song lyrics

London Calling

London Calling album cover

London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared - and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look to us
All that phoney Beatlemania bitten the dust
London calling, see we aint got no swing
Cept for the ring of the truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning - and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it brother an' go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out - and take another breath
London calling - and I don't wanna shoot
But when we were talking - I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we aint got no highs
Except for that one with the yellow eyes

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning - and I live by the river

London calling, yeah I was there too
An' you know what they said? Well some of it was true
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this won't you give me a smile?

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