Niall McGuirk on new Joe Strummer compilation, Joe Strummer 001
Perfection. What does that mean? We spend our life striving for “perfection” in many things. Whether that’s the craft we do, the sport we play, the life we live, or the work we enslave ourselves to. We strive to improve, forever. What would happen if you reach that elusive perfection? Try harder, of course, to improve more.
Confession #1: My dog is named after the man who wrote these songs. While I didn’t feel a need to have a non human animal in my house, this dog was left abandoned. On the streets. Nowhere to go. I got the phone call, can we take it home. I conceded, but only after getting to name it Strummer.
Confession #2: I don’t believe in heroes. When Glen E. Friedman published his Fuck You Heroes book I was there front and centre saying right on. My version of heroes is people leading by example or as Martin Sprouse put it “threat by example”
Confession #3: My dad died earlier this year. It was the most painful and harrowing experience I’ve ever been through. Since then I’ve experienced rawness that I never knew existed. Emotions are twirling inside my gut. It’s like they’ve been placed in a waltzer in Tramore and set off inside my body. I find comfort in knowing I’m not alone and understanding that nearly everyone goes through similar. My dad was my anchor in life, and I’m starting to think Joe Strummer is my anchor in music. Certainly listening to this collection it feels like it.
Confession #4: Being a father of three I’m not a regular traveler, but I did have the good fortune to visit New York City recently. For me the visit could be marked by one tourist attraction. Not the Statue of Liberty, not the Empire State Building, but maybe a little look at Radio City where the clash played a residency, and then Tompkins Square park for the Joe Strummer memorial. Once I caught this mural my trip was complete. I imagined Strummer looking at the inequality of this amazingly diverse city and just been drawn in.
Confession #5: Nicaragua – I doubt I would have known much about this beautiful yet oppressed land if it wasn’t for the Clash’s triple album, Sandinista. Certainly not in the mid 80s. That set a fire burning in my heart to see why people were fighting against oppression in this and other countries. That flame still burns brightly as I sit on committees that look to pour light on countries like Bahrain, Colombia, and Myanmar, and on Palestinians, Rohingya Muslims and so many more seeking refuge, solace and assistance from the world.
When Joe Strummer died I mourned. Not in the way rawness enveloped my body when my Dad went – my world suddenly had a void then, but with Strummer’s passing it just seemed to leave a void in music.
And now we have this record. The punk cynic could say it is people cashing in. The songs have mainly been released before as more polished versions; those versions that haven’t weren’t released at the time for good reasons. This is a compendium of Strummer releases that aren’t Clash songs – none of the Clash tracks are in here. And that’s ok.
While Strummer is deservedly remembered for his work in The Clash, that wasn’t his only work. It was arguably his most vital, and some might argue THE most vital, but Strummer has a long list of other recorded output. On here we get versions of them that didn’t make the final cut. After he tragically passed away an Aladdin’s cave of material was found stored in his back garden. 20,000 pieces of an archivists dream. Not just recordings, but writings also. Joe was quite the keeper.
This collection tells only part of the story of Joe Strummer. His legacy is kept alive by Strummerville, an annual event that keeps the music going, and all over the world tributes are held in December remembering this great man. A charity has been set up https://joestrummerfoundation.org/ whose mission statement reads “Our mission is to provide opportunities to musicians and support to projects around the world that create empowerment through music.” This is more than just music – it’s a lifestyle
Joe Strummer 001: Not perfect, but enough to make you think of this one great man, and wish life didn’t finish.