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Clash: The Joe Strummer Story (2006)

by on 2012/09/03

“A nuclear error, but I have no fear, ’cause London is drowning, and I live by the river.”

* * *

My favourite teenager is a little nervous about attending high school this month. The best way I could think to calm her jittery nerves was to drive her around by the light of the big, yellow moon, listening to “Lost in a Supermarket, White Riot, London’s Burning.

“I can’t think of a better way to spend the night than speeding around underneath the yellow lights.”

I guess this was our own little tribute to Joe Strummer, lyricist, singer, punk icon, rabble-rouser, and Clash frontman. I was first exposed to The Clash in high school and I figured it was high time to give Miss_Tree her first Clash tutorial.

Earlier in the day, I watched Clash: The Joe Strummer Story, a workmanlike documentary about the life, work and death of Joe Strummer. From his birth in Turkey, son of a British foreign diplomat and Scottish nurse, to his boarding school education with “thick rich kids,” to his days squatting in run-down houses in London, to his first meeting with Mick Jones and other members of the Clash. It is all there.

Strummer’s story is told by band mates Mick Jones and ‘Topper’ Headon, his road manager Johnny Green, music journalists and his squat-mate Tymon Dogg. What’s particularly striking about all of these interviews is how much genuine affection each of the interviewees seemed to exude even when recounting how Joe Strummer did them dirt.

Like any remarkable life, Strummer had some meteoric ups and downs. The documentary doesn’t pull any punches and deals out some painful honesty when covering  Strummer’s decision to turf both Headon and Jones out of The Clash, a move that cast him into a years-long career drought. It was only in the years prior to his death, with his formation of the Mescaleros, that  Strummer entered his career’s “Indian summer.”

I walked away from this documentary with the impression that Strummer was a study in contrasts.  He was sensitive; he was a spitting, sneering maniac. According to Johnny Green, Joe was a paradox – a very private man, and then sharing himself openly, painfully.

A hyperactive force of nature, with his leg pumping like a pneumatic drill on stage, Joe then would sit quietly like a “newspaper man at a typewriter” writing lyrics that would inspire a generation.

Anti-conformist, caring, always questioning authority, loving, an incisive, razor-sharp social observer, forgiving, an underrated lyricist, his own man, Strummer’s a pretty good role model to a nervous high school freshman.

* * *

64 minutes

Rated PG

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