Joe Strummer: The Past is Unintelligible

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You’ve seen them. The concert films. The “rockumentaries.” These hagiographies of has-been musical acts that litter cable TV. They’re, always the same. There is some claim to the bands authenticity, though what they are supposed to authentically be is vaguely defined and quickly glossed over. There is a brief recitation of the band’s hardscrabble beginnings in back alley bars and tiny clubs that vaguely conveys a sense of chaos and a scent of urine. Then the story lingers on the bands success, which is always defined commercially and never artistically. There is usually a breakthrough hit that gains the band mainstream attention, at which point they start playing on network TV and in arenas. A year or so later the band releases a follow-up album which cashes in on that mainstream attention. Then soon afterwards the band falls apart. Usually these documentaries locate a scapegoat to blame for the breakup. Drugs, girlfriends, greedy managers, lawyers, labels, etc. These documentaries never explain a band’s demise by noting that the band grew increasingly embarrassed and self-conscious about running around on stage acting like idiot teenagers and the moment they were rich enough to do so, they quit.

So I’m watching this documentary about Joe Strummer. Joe Strummer was the guitarist in a band called the Clash. The Clash is the band that put out the song “Rock the Cashbah,” which is supposed to be an example of punk rock. Punk rock which is a sub-genre of rock-and-roll music in which the musicians spend more time coiffing their hair and choosing their wardrobe than practicing their instruments. In this documentary, Joe Strummer and his ever expanding circle of Hollywood actor-apologists explain to the fawning viewer Joe’s important contribution to the music, politics and culture of the 1970′s and 80′s.

Again, we are talking about the man responsible for the jaw-dropping guitar pyrotechnics you hear on “Rock the Casbah.”

This is Joe Strummer, as he represents himself:

I am watching this documentary, and it’s existence puzzles me. As I listen to this buffoon slap his way through another three-chord “song” in front of a drunken crowd of thousands, it occurs to me to wonder why it is that television, which has the unique and magnificent ability to make anyone seem important and interesting on an almost permanent basis, seems to go to great lengths to lavish that attention on people who’ve done nothing to deserve it.

I don’t mean that subjectively. I mean it comparatively. I may not like The Clash, but even people who do like them would have to admit that The Clash aren’t feeding the world’s hungry or curing cancer. They aren’t discovering extrasolar planets or new species of frog in South American rainforests. They aren’t teaching English to Mexican immigrants or arithmetic to white surburbanites. Their aren’t inventing alternative fuels or providing pro bono medical or legal services to the underprivileged.

But other people are doing these things. Some of those people are interesting and lead very complex, dynamic lives full of dramatic tension and comic relief. But the few rare exceptions aside, none of these people are on TV.

This is why: if you’ve done something important, noteworthy, difficult, or challenging, you are terrible for TV. It takes an entire career in quantum physics to get to the point where you are looking for the Higgs boson, and despite that long and dedicated career, all I can say about you on TV is that you are looking for the Higgs boson. You might even be the go-to guy for the Higgs boson, but let’s face it, TV can only talk about the Higgs boson so many times.

But what if you’ve done nothing? Or more precisely, what if all you’ve done in word and deed is strike a series of contradictory and irreconcilable poses one after the other, successively reinventing and retconning your image against a backdrop of de minimus lyrical and musical content.

In short, what if you are Joe Strummer and all you’ve done is wear your hair in a variety of unconventional styles and flop around on the guitar singing the praises of living life sarcastically? Well, my friend that’s different. In that case, you are an almost spectral figure, intanglible, ephemeral and non-specific. You are great for TV. Because TV can say all kinds of things about someone like you. It can say things like (and these are actual quotes) he “changed music,” or he “made me think of stuff like of nuclear war” or “he fought the system,” which system includes “corporate greed” and the “greedy labels.”

None of those statements mean anything in the English language. Neither do statements about “what the band stood for,” or that the Clash was “the only band that mattered.” And that’s what makes for great TV. All of these empty slogans get tossed around without context, comparison or grounding. The burden falls on the viewer to comprehend the incomprehensible. To assign meaning to the meaningless. Did Joe Strummer’s music fight back against racism? Uh, I guess he must have if you are asking the question. Did it shock Middle America? I’m not sure where that is exactly, but the album was called Sandinista, so yes? Did it stick it to those fat cats in Washington? I don’t see why not.

Because the truth is that everything and anything can map to noise, and for that reason producing content about noise is a lot easier than producing content about “signal.” I can make a documentary about Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain or Elvis simply by editing Joe Strummer’s picture out of this documentary and splicing in images of any of those guys. I wouldn’t have to change a single line of dialogue. Nothing that was said about Strummer could not also be said about any of those people.

John Cusack auditions for the biopic

But if I want to make a documentary about the Higgs boson guy, I first need to learn what the hell a Higgs boson is, and I need to find an interesting and compelling way to communicate that to an audience, and that isn’t easy. Better to film the guy making loud noises and have Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp and John Cusack tell us how important those noises are. Because actors are musical experts, don’t you know.

It’s a truism that buried within white noise is every symphony ever written. But that doesn’t mean the noise itself is a symphony.

 

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23 Responses to Joe Strummer: The Past is Unintelligible

  1. JohnJ says:

    I would suggest that it’s because artists have the ability to find some connection with people on a deeper level, except that often the really bad artists get more publicity than the really good ones. So I dunno.

    • qubitman says:

      I think the argument is that the connection isn’t all that deep, that it is only the illusion of depth, and that this combination is exactly what is needed for good television.

      Just don’t base your value structure on it.

  2. Guy Fox says:

    It’s absolutely fair to criticize the movies for being formulaic, but your argument about the Clash, or anybody else, being artistically worthless is a lot harder to swallow. Some people might dig the Carpenters as the perfect vehicle for Burt Bacharach tunes. Some might revel in bopping to NKOTB’s greatest hits on repeat ad infititum just because they love harmonies of adolescent voices. Even if you Ravel in Rachmaninov (rimshot?) because of the virtuosity required just to make it through the first dozen bars, it might not and need not mean anything to the guy sitting next to you on the bus. To each his own, there’s no accounting for taste, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yo. There’s no inherent value in art. It is only worth the meaning people ascribe to it, and there is no authoritative arbiter of meaning. (Sorry, JohnJ, if I’m recapitulating you again.)

    The Higgs boson is kinda different. Unlike art, it’s ontologically independent of people. Sure, it doesn’t mean anything more than what we agree it does (and most humans who’ve ever lived have gotten by fine without it), but its discovery would represent something categorically and *objectively* new in terms of what people know. You can’t say the same about Arcade Fire or Lawrence Welk.

    Feeding the hungry is also different from musical taste. Whether you feed the hungry or not, or forego feeding the hungry to focus on disarmament or global warming or perfecting your burrito recipe, is a moral question. It’s a question of obligation. There is no obligation in the consumption or production of art. The question with feeding the hungry or curing cancer is what you must do to contribute, but the question with music and film is just one of freedoms. You can if you want, but foregoing won’t be wrong or right.

    So, yeah, the only rockumentary that ever needed to be made was ‘Bad News’ (possible exception: ‘More Bad News’), you’re free to find the Clash dull and amateur, but comparing ANY kind of music with curing cancer or the Higgs boson is rather like comparing kumquats and steel radials and the two left arms of Vishnu.

    • Guy Fox says:

      BTW, some wisea$$ also once appropriately wrote “If you’re watching it, it’s for you”.

    • Zarathustra says:

      Out of curiosity, why do you think things that are ontologically independent of humans (ie discovered) should have more inherent value than things that are ontologically dependent on humans (ie invented)? Whether a thing is discovered or invented, there is a point at which that thing becomes known, as opposed to unknown. So, at least epistemically, both music and science can represent things that are ‘categorically and objectively new in terms of what people know.’

      • Guy Fox says:

        There’s a very long answer to that, but I’ll give you the short one: Lady Gaga can be a harlot, a quasi-deity, a genius, an omen of the Anti-Christ’s coming, etc, depending on your aesthetic, theological, and moral convictions. An electron is an electron is an electron, whether you’re Sunni, Shiite, Polish or Klingon. If you think Lady Gaga sucks, it’s your opinion. If you think an electron has a positive charge, you’re wrong.

        With ontologically independent things, there is a fact of the matter that we can know and that cannot be reasonably disputed. (Incidentally, this is why all the best minds in the former East Bloc went into natural sciences rather than marketing and finance, as they did in the west.)

        Also, I didn’t say the ontologically independent things necessarily have more inherent value (just that art has none). It would seem, though, that polar attraction, massive particles, meiosis and such are a precondition for the existence of music and other art forms, but I don’t see how the converse could be true.

        I’d love to expound more on the source of value and how it affects the ontological status of ontologically dependent things (e.g. music that is so catastrophically bad that it loses its status as music), but the day job calls.

        • Comus says:

          ..or to put it into Lacanian terms, the Imaginary > the Real.

          Escapism, alienation. That is the combining feature. You cannot escape facts. Meaning is a way of (necessary) diversion. What better way to escape from the real impenetrable futility and impending mortality than to song about imaginary impenetrable futility and impending mortality?

          There’s a difference between a man showing you a rock and saying it is granite, and a man showing you a rock and saying that it can be whatever you want. Kids stretch these boundaries all the time. Most of us would follow the latter man, because hell yeah, imagination trumps reality. That’s why we project, anthropomorphize and escape.

      • Rooster says:

        Things that are ontologically independent of humans are inherently more valuable than human affairs because the value of the latter is contingent on the value of humans — if humans turn out to be chimps in the general scheme with things (what, with the singularity or aliens) — our culture is chimp culture, the Higgs boson is still fundamental for the universe’s functioning.

        Particularly long-lived things like the Higgs boson or tectonic plates are even more important, because they’ll still be there when humans disapear altogether.

  3. Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

    Yes PastaBagel, makes sense.

    For a long time, all the emperors have looked naked to me.

    How do I convince myself to play along with the game to get along in our society?

    Or am I just resentful that I’m such a failed existence that I’m tricking myself that all that expensive finery of whch I’m unworthy because I can’t afford it is just invisible and worthless.

    Maybe it’s just a sad case of sour grapes.

  4. sdenheyer says:

    “People are always amazed by how much “free time” I have.
    They’re also amazed that I don’t know who Ally McBeal is.
    Frankly, I’m amazed that they can’t make the connection.”
    — Robert Wenzlaff (h/t lesswrong.com)

    I agree with everything in this article, but I’m a complete hypocrite, and so, I suspect, is everyone. Even the guy working on the Higgs Boson indulgences in “noisy” entertainment.

  5. V.V. says:

    People’s connection with music often runs wide, deep, and/or long. Which music is preferred by any given individual often becomes a story in itself, one that can help define who one is. I like The Beatles, Phillip Glass, Jacques Brel, Lou Reed, Handel, and “Camelot.” Where did all that come from? But this isn’t about me, it’s about the power of the Clash culture and others related to it. Specifically, what mystifies me is what caused the great tattoo display of the last ten or twenty years, which seems to me to be spreading still? I’ve attributed it to the MTV pop music/rock star deity that Mr. Strummer more or less represents, although I don’t know if he’s got tats. What I’m really wondering is what it is that all of a sudden, large swaths of people permanently scar their skin in the most primitive way available. Kind of like right out of the blue. What will forensic anthropologists say about that in 200 years?
    Am I veering too far off the subject matter?

    • operator says:

      … in the most primitive way available …

      There are more primitive ways, but most find that they hurt more than the statement is worth (and they’re not flashy enough to serve as courtship plumage).

      What will forensic anthropologists say about that in 200 years?

      Trying to answer that question presupposes knowledge of the intervening 200 years… were this phenomena observed by present-day forensic anthropologists in an 1800′s population, it seems likely that the conclusion would be that the marks served to build some form of cultural identity (and whether or not the marks were still in practice would suggest whether or not the cultural identity in question was cohesive).

      Outside the context of a small tribe, can tattoos be considered an indicator of cultural identity? If not, what significance do they have? (One guess: Beautiful and unique snowflakes need to remind themselves of their beauty and uniqueness sometimes)

      • V.V. says:

        … in the most primitive way available …

        Yes, I was vague. I meant the body art is primitive, and not in a pejorative manner, but primitive as an art form. My use of “scar” was also unfortunate. I might have said “etch,” “inject,” “burn,” or “singe,” for instance. And you are right that a branding iron would be a more primitive means of applying the art in question.

        “Beautiful and unique snowflakes need to remind themselves of their beauty and uniqueness sometimes”

        So Narcissism strikes again?

        Does that mean when everyone has a tat the identity fad will have run its course?

        There is a prediction in the Bible about people being known by their mark. Tat couldn’t be that, could they? Man, oh, man!

        • operator says:

          So Narcissism strikes again?

          Best to ask someone with a face full of metal and rainbow-colored skin, see if any answers point to something more. (You’ll likely hear a lot about “aesthetic”, possibly even “inspiration” – code for “reflection in mirror” … more honest answers may even mention peer group, role models, and media – but the decision to reflexively identify with a given group or ideal is all ego)

          “But the idea was planted and it grew from there. As soon as the concept occurred to me, I knew someday I would have angel wings even though I hadn’t ever gotten tattooed before. ” – Why Do People Get Wing Tattoos? at BMEZine

          “I’ve always been a tattoo person.” / “I am in love with this work of art and I’m very proud to carry it around with me.” – Why Do People Get Star Tattoos? at BMEZine

          These are books yearning to be judged by their covers (whether they’ll admit it or not).

          Does that mean when everyone has a tat the identity fad will have run its course?

          Everyone will still be a unique snowflake with their idiosyncratic twist… (consider: ironic tattoos)

          There is a prediction in the Bible about people being known by their mark.

          … but humanity is doomed once those bearing Insane Clown Posse tattoos reach peak reproductive capacity/critical mass.

  6. BHE says:

    I hate to say this, but clearly you don’t understand the power of music. Quite frankly, that’s sad.

    The Clash are not virtuosos, that much is clear. But the emotional reach of music is not limited by the technical proficiency of the people playing it. I’m not a big fan, but melodically the Clash are catchy and their sound, crude as it may be, clearly touched the subconscious of a generation growing up in a world too large and complicated to make sense of at a young age. When you are angry and confused, music that sounds angry and confused can mean everything to you, because it is the *only* thing can really connect. I’m in my mid-30s and I still can’t make shit for sense out of the world, try as I might. The only thing that ever really seems to speak to me in a way that doesn’t have an edge of bullshit to it is music, and I think that’s the case for millions of people. If you haven’t had the experience of feeling really lost, and then found music that spoke to exactly what you were feeling, then you have missed out on what may be one of the single greatest experiences of existence. And again I say that is sad.

    The beauty of music is that as an art form, *it doesn’t matter who the artist is or what they intended*, all that matters is if it hits you emotionally in the right place. Solitary as that experience may be, it also helps make you feel connected. As though someone else understands, but didn’t fuck it up by attempting to explain it with words.

    The attempts by the producers of television and the actors in these documentaries to capture that feeling that music gives you, therefore, is laughable at best, but to denigrate music of any kind and what it can mean to an individual is to shit on individual experience, and is incredibly pompous and short-sighted.

    Get out of your shell and put on some headphones.

  7. TheCoconutChef says:

    I just wanted to say I thought that was one of your better post.

    It allowed me to make several link with other texts presented here and on TLP, namely those about the Obama fame phenomena, the ones about The Limit of Control, one posted here called Born Which Way? and some other things (Beaudrillard, Rorschach pictures).

  8. V.V. says:

    Thank you for the research. I wouldn’t have known the key words. The wings bearer looks like a mermaid. The stars are interesting beyond the connection between tatted one and “star.” The Posse is obviously what Revelations was referring to. Hatchetman looks like the old Atlanta Brave fans gone wild. They are better in color, not so moldy as the old blue/purple/black ones.

    Am I right that rock stars took the tattoo baton from the convicts and music fans took it from there? Or was it bigger than even that? Movie stars did it, too. Almost simultaneously came the “shaving down there” trend.

    Google images has some nice prison tats.

  9. operator says:

    It was always big in Tahiti – from Captain Cook’s Journal (1768-71):

    Both sexes paint their Bodys, Tattow, as it is called in their Language. This is done by inlaying the Colour of Black under their skins, in such a manner as to be indelible. Some have ill-design’d figures of men, birds, or dogs; the women generally have this figure Z simply on every joint of their fingers and Toes; the men have it likewise, and both have other differant figures, such as Circles, Crescents, etc., which they have on their Arms and Legs; in short, they are so various in the application of these figures that both the quantity and Situation of them seem to depend intirely upon the humour of each individual, yet all agree in having their buttocks covered with a Deep black.

    Polynesians make for an interesting case study in humans whose lives include a relatively great deal of leisure time (as opposed to subsistence farmers, anyway); perhaps the rise of “Tattow” is an expression of the ennui attendant to abundance – those youngsters certainly weren’t starvation-poor if they could afford rock’n’roll albums.

  10. Dan Dravot says:

    You sound like my vegetarian girlfriend telling me my steak smells horrible. To her, it does. She hasn’t acquired a taste for steak.

    Smells pretty damn good to me, though.

    Trust me: To people who understand what the Clash were doing, London Calling and Combat Rock (except “Rock the Casbah”) are top-shelf aesthetic experiences. For you, they aren’t, obviously. But don’t tell me there’s nothing there, because you are blind in that spectrum and I ain’t.

    However, I’d love to get my mitts on the idiot who jabbered about the “jaw-dropping guitar pyrotechnics” on “Rock the Casbah”. It’s a crap song and there’s no interesting guitar on it (I’ve just sat through the whole wretched thing to make sure — there’s nothing). Even if there were, Mick Jones would have played it, because he was the real guitarist (relatively speaking) in the band. Strummer was nothing special as a guitarist. Hell of a singer, though. The rhythm section was something pretty special too, once Simonon learned to play, not that you’d know it from that song.

    Journalists. They seem like they know what they’re talking about until they write about a field where you know what you’re talking about, and you realize they just type glib bullshit as fast as they can make it up.

    But OK, anyhow, yeah, rock documentaries. Agreed: Pointless bullshit. The only interesting thing they did was the music. It’s like lit courses where the prof drones on about D. H. Lawrence’s goddamn life or whatever. Christ, if the novels are so bad you have to talk about his girlfriends instead, can’t we just read Nabokov?

    • Dan Dravot says:

      Oh, and Strummer’s politics: Yeah, he’s definitely the guy I go to when I want some deep thoughts about fiscal policy. Hardy har har.

      But that crap, the hagiography of incoherent left-wing popcultural boneheads reciting ideas that smarter and power-hungrier people put in their heads, that’s what most Clash mythology is really all about: The idea that there’s something breathtakingly ennobling and majestic about defending the right of the powerful to use and control other people’s lives for their own benefit. Something so wonderfully ennobling that only a really churlish and just plain mean person notices what a crock it all is. I mean, idealism, right? Youth and idealism! They make ANY old malicious bullshit true!

  11. Red says:

    I like The Clash. Your criticism is that their music is simple and meaningless. True, but that is exactly why i like them. What the hell is a “Casbah?” ( I always thought he was saying “cashback.”) And does it matter? It’s catchy, fun, meaningless, and stupid, and, sometimes, that’s what i want to listen to.
    Excellent analysis though. I think it’s true how television, and media in general, will use vague, canned phrases so the viewer will “assign meaning to the meaningless” so they can define themselves, seek identity, etc.

  12. typedef struct says:

    You’re asking why the entertainment industry spends more time/money producing media about prominent figures in the entertainment industry?

  13. Firecoalman says:

    Allow me to respond to your article with some point for points corrections…

    You’ve seen them. The concert films. The “rockumentaries.” These hagiographies of has-been musical acts that litter cable TV. They’re, always the same.

    *Incorrect
    They aren’t ‘all the same’… and if you think they are; then you haven’t seen enough of them…

    There is some claim to the bands authenticity, though what they are supposed to authentically be is vaguely defined and quickly glossed over. There is a brief recitation of the band’s hardscrabble beginnings in back alley bars and tiny clubs that vaguely conveys a sense of chaos and a scent of urine.

    * Isn’t this usually the common denominator of rags to riches stories ?
    In the Clashes case, as in every case, its different; Mellors; a diplomats son, Jones; an adopted High-rise dweller…
    Every rock and roll story has its original slant… but somewhere along the line the components do see hardship… no true art derives from comfort.
    Elvis… Blondie… Big Country… Johnnie Cash… All knew hardship at the chrysalis stage; this is where musical and artistic souls ‘see’ their true calling… and act upon it.
    What happens after is dependant on circumstances and how they as individuals choose to deal with it.

    Then the story lingers on the bands success, which is always defined commercially and never artistically.
    * Again, Isn’t this usually the common denominator of rags to riches stories ?

    There is usually a breakthrough hit that gains the band mainstream attention, at which point they start playing on network TV and in arenas. A year or so later the band releases a follow-up album which cashes in on that mainstream attention. Then soon afterwards the band falls apart. Usually these documentaries locate a scapegoat to blame for the breakup. Drugs, girlfriends, greedy managers, lawyers, labels, etc.

    * Incorrect… generalisation.

    “These documentaries never explain a band’s demise by noting that the band grew increasingly embarrassed and self-conscious about running around on stage acting like idiot teenagers and the moment they were rich enough to do so, they quit.” is not only incorrect; its downright petty and unadulterated snobbery…

    You obviously are not a musician… or a performing artist… for if you were, then you would know that a live performance is intrinsically dependent on your personality and how you showcase your particular instrument or voice. Do you think any of ‘thee’ great bands would have garnered any type of reputation by subduing their natural quirks or eccentricities ? Hendrix ? Moon ? Lydon ? Bowie ? Byrne ? Waits ? (and on and on the rock and roll list goes…)
    So… are these individuals supposed to distance themselves from their stage persona at a particular age in order to justify themselves as respectable when they get older ?
    At what age exactly should this take place ?
    Maybe we should ‘meme-ify’ a day to allow us all to shed our old selves and enter into adulthood with true and obedient respectability… like baptism, marriage, birthdays…
    Would that suit ?
    Would it be okay for an elderly Charles Chaplin or Marcel Marceau to reenact a scenario accredited to their more youthful artistic output, for a family gathering say, and be allowed ‘respectability’ ?
    But that’s not okay if one is a ‘rock star’ …
    It might be considered that many such ‘rock stars’ are ladies & gents who invariably became parents within their lives journey and who, having fallen from grace (or public favour as is usually he case) found themselves struggling to ‘justify’ their chosen path when there are mouths to feed… And depending on their success and their record companies willingness to renew their contracts, maintain a low key diminishing output as a day job. So, for example, should Suzy Quatro be frowned upon as she treats her fans to a comeback tour when in reality she needs to feed her kids, pay bills, mortgage, taxes, save for a pension, by revisiting the talents she exhibited in her more youthful days…
    Is there a ‘credibility law ‘that I haven’t heard of ?

    So I’m watching this documentary about Joe Strummer. Joe Strummer was the guitarist in a band called the Clash.

    *Incorrect…
    Joe Strummer was one of the ‘co’ frontsmen in the band … he was seen to be the predominant vocalist by virtue of the fact that he performed most of the bands songs… recorded and/or live

    The Clash is the band that put out the song “Rock the Cashbah,” which is supposed to be an example of punk rock.
    Incorrect; the spelling is “Rock the Casbah… do your research…. or copy and paste ;-)

    The Clash is the band that put out the song “Rock the Cashbah,” which is supposed to be an example of punk rock.

    *Incorrect:
    It is an example of ‘post’ punk music by a band that were part of the punk movement.
    They, in countless interviews, (do your research) went to great pains to extricate themselves from the stifling label of punk… Their 2nd album started to include acoustic guitars in their music, their third album included pianos, horn sections etc etc… They were amongst a handful of bands who ensured their relative longevity within the initial plethora of ‘punk’ bands; (this longevity included individual subsequent post Clash careers) precisely because they were intelligent, articulate and forward thinking musicians.

    Punk rock which is a sub-genre of rock-and-roll music in which the musicians spend more time coiffing their hair and choosing their wardrobe than practicing their instruments.

    *Incorrect and a truly ignorant statement…
    Again, do your research into the genre. And yes… it is a recognised genre.

    In this documentary, Joe Strummer and his ever expanding circle of Hollywood actor-apologists explain to the fawning viewer Joe’s important contribution to the music, politics and culture of the 1970′s and 80′s.

    *Which he, like it or not, in his own way did… within all of the branches of human endeavour you mention.

    Again, we are talking about the man responsible for the jaw-dropping guitar pyrotechnics you hear on “Rock the Casbah.”

    Incorrect again… It was the Drummer who actually penned the music, and co-worked by Strummer who wrote the lyrics. Mellors (Strummer) does not endeavour to include any ‘guitar pyrotechnics’ on the record; Mr. Mellors played rhythm guitar not lead guitar and further more his name ‘Strummer’ referred to his role as rhythm guitarist, in a rather self-deprecating way. Though left-handed, he was taught to play right-handed by his friend Tymon Dogg; a busking friend. On many occasions in recorded interviews, written and filmed, he was self deprecatory about his own guitar skills.

    This is Joe Strummer, as he represents himself:
    I am watching this documentary, and it’s existence puzzles me. As I listen to this buffoon slap his way through another three-chord “song” in front of a drunken crowd of thousands, it occurs to me to wonder why it is that television, which has the unique and magnificent ability to make anyone seem important and interesting on an almost permanent basis, seems to go to great lengths to lavish that attention on people who’ve done nothing to deserve it.

    ” As I listen to this buffoon slap his way through another three-chord “song”

    Incorrect: (and downright insulting to his memory)…
    Many of the Clashes songs contained more than three chords… some were even major, minor, augmented, diminished, seventh chords, extended chords, major thirds, minor triads, major sevenths, altered fifths, augmented sevenths etc… Go and research Clash tablature for a full catalogue.
    Furthermore, he deserved the attention he earned within the profession he chose by peers within that and related professions. That others in said related professions also gave him much credit is testament to his popularity amongst a wide variety of peers; these include Springsteen, Hewson (Bono), Hirst… amongst many

    I don’t mean that subjectively. I mean it comparatively. I may not like The Clash, but even people who do like them would have to admit that The Clash aren’t feeding the world’s hungry or curing cancer. They aren’t discovering extrasolar planets or new species of frog in South American rainforests. They aren’t teaching English to Mexican immigrants or arithmetic to white surburbanites. Their aren’t inventing alternative fuels or providing pro bono medical or legal services to the underprivileged.

    *Incorrect:
    The Clash, amongst others, brought politics into the punk genre and as such illustrated that it was possible to unify a specific type of music with social commentary. Many individuals, fans, peers, contemporaries, journalists and documentarists will testify to their own education or awakened interest (initially or belatedly) because of the blending of same within their music. That they metamorphosed into other areas of lyrical wordscape neither dampens or diminishes the fact that they were one of the first to deliberately do so.

    Furthermore ,
    Strummer was a supporter of The Future Forests environmental charity , which encourages people to plant trees to help compensate for the pollution they cause. “He helped get Future Forests started. His inspiration and energy backstage at Glastonbury 1997 was the spark that got Future Forests going… Joe then decided that he would have his own forest planted, to offset the emissions from his CDs, and became the world’s first Carbon Neutral artist.”

    *The worlds first… that, in itself, should account for something…

    But other people are doing these things. Some of those people are interesting and lead very complex, dynamic lives full of dramatic tension and comic relief. But the few rare exceptions aside, none of these people are on TV.
    *Incorrect.
    They could promote themselves if they wanted to; Hawkins, Attenborough, Sagan, Pyke, Moore…
    All scientists who promoted themselves and their beloved professions to a waiting world… and not necessarily because they wanted to bask in any spotlight.

    This is why: if you’ve done something important, noteworthy, difficult, or challenging, you are terrible for TV. It takes an entire career in quantum physics to get to the point where you are looking for the Higgs boson, and despite that long and dedicated career, all I can say about you on TV is that you are looking for the Higgs boson. You might even be the go-to guy for the Higgs boson, but let’s face it, TV can only talk about the Higgs boson so many times.

    *Incorrect
    Not if the term or discipline in question becomes important within scientific jargon… who would have thought the word ‘ozone’ would be a term recognised globally 20 years ago ?…

    But what if you’ve done nothing? Or more precisely, what if all you’ve done in word and deed is strike a series of contradictory and irreconcilable poses one after the other, successively reinventing and retconning your image against a backdrop of de minimus lyrical and musical content.

    *Incorrect… and contradictory. Reinvention is precisely what rock and roll music or art is about. Did Picasso paint in the same style he did when he was younger ? Did Elvis sing in the same style or genre ? Madonna ?

    In short, what if you are Joe Strummer and all you’ve done is wear your hair in a variety of unconventional styles and flop around on the guitar singing the praises of living life sarcastically?
    *Incorrect… see above…

    Well, my friend that’s different. In that case, you are an almost spectral figure, intanglible, ephemeral and non-specific. You are great for TV. Because TV can say all kinds of things about someone like you. It can say things like (and these are actual quotes) he “changed music,” or he “made me think of stuff like of nuclear war” or “he fought the system,” which system includes “corporate greed” and the “greedy labels.”

    And your actual quote was incorrect too (see earlier), as was the spelling.
    ” The Clash is the band that put out the song “Rock the Cashbah,” which is supposed to be an example of punk rock ”
    *Incorrect; the spelling is ‘Casbah’… do your research…. or copy and paste ;-)

    None of those statements mean anything in the English language. Neither do statements about “what the band stood for,” or that the Clash was “the only band that mattered.” And that’s what makes for great TV. All of these empty slogans get tossed around without context, comparison or grounding.

    *Incorrect;
    They are subjective. Individuals; be they fans, friends, peers, colleagues, journalists or whoever are entitled to describe someone or something in whatever language they see fit. Whether said quotations snowball into general lore or mythology is purely down to popularity, relevance, memorability or luck.

    The burden falls on the viewer to comprehend the incomprehensible. To assign meaning to the meaningless. Did Joe Strummer’s music fight back against racism?

    * Yes it did… He, as part of the Clash (and in his follow on carreer) was a member of one of the early ‘punk’ bands who deliberately took many risks musically (and personally) in an ongoing attempt to break down racial barriers within music and society through lyrical awareness and actual political involvement. They were one of the first bands to play at the ‘Rock against Racism’ outdoor festivals in Victoria Park (April 1978) at the peak of the race riots in London and England . Their own colleagues and crew included black individuals; Don Letts and Mikey Dread to name but two.

    Uh, I guess he must have if you are asking the question. Did it shock Middle America? I’m not sure where that is exactly, but the album was called Sandinista, so yes? Did it stick it to those fat cats in Washington? I don’t see why not.

    Because the truth is that everything and anything can map to noise, and for that reason producing content about noise is a lot easier than producing content about “signal.” I can make a documentary about Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain or Elvis simply by editing Joe Strummer’s picture out of this documentary and splicing in images of any of those guys. I wouldn’t have to change a single line of dialogue. Nothing that was said about Strummer could not also be said about any of those people.

    * Incorrect.
    The above statement is pure unadulterated ignorance for reasons set out by me earlier.
    ‘Every’ story is different… and if you maintain to proffer your view so, without proof of research
    (your own is appallingly evident in your above article) then you prove yourself to be not only incapable of mature and open thought, but worse; you embellish your own journalistic efforts with disservice.

    John Cusack auditions for the biopic

    But if I want to make a documentary about the Higgs boson guy, I first need to learn what the hell a Higgs boson is, and I need to find an interesting and compelling way to communicate that to an audience, and that isn’t easy.

    *Any scientific premise can be made not only palatable, but interesting and exciting in the right hands.
    Jurassic Parks quirky scene whereby Richard Attenborough (ironically, the elder brother of real life naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough) illustrated by way of a simple cartoon more kids in one fell swoop about the concept of genetics and cloning than a billion words ever could. It’s the format and delivery style which is important…. and there is nothing stopping experts in any field from learning how to promote their specific passions.

    Better to film the guy making loud noises and have Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp and John Cusack tell us how important those noises are. Because actors are musical experts, don’t you know.

    As a matter of fact Mr. Depp is an accomplished guitar player himself (do your research), so he’s a bit more qualified to pass judgement on a fellow musicians output. Cusack is a music-obsessive so he is entitled to his opinion. Being an ‘actor’ doesn’t diminish this whatsoever; on the contrary, being involved within a related art form does give him creedance amongst peers of the related art forms.
    It might also be remembered that proponents of either art form (the astute ones at least) can be only too aware of how ‘opinions’ ‘quotes’ and ‘sound bytes’ can return to haunt and even injure in some cases their careers in future.
    So if anyone ventures to be a tad more tactful in forwarding opinions for public consumption; I would suggest those within the industry would be.

    It’s a truism that buried within white noise is every symphony ever written. But that doesn’t mean the
    noise itself is a symphony.
    Incorrect.
    I Googled this ;-)
    There isn’t a single shred of evidence that such a idea has been mentioned or quoted…
    So how is this a ‘truism’ ?

    Hers’ a truism
    “The future is unwritten” (Joe Strummer).

    Oh and here’s another:

    ““everybody has a story to tell”
    ― Joe Strummer

    (Ironic eh ? ;-)…)

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