Jacob's Ladder: People...You Are The Reason I Am...

Joe Strummer

Nick Tesco, former frontman with The Members, offers this appreciation of Joe Strummer

“So is that what you're calling us now?” said the arresting officer on seeing my Clash badge with the classic picture from the 1976 Ladbroke Grove riots. “No,” said the Desk Sergeant. “They're a band, and they're really good.”

It's hard for most people these days to know just how edgy Ladbroke Grove was back in 1976-77. Squats, cheap flats and pubs with “characters” still could be found in plenty. The Clash lived there.

For anyone who was involved in punk The Clash was the voice of it all. The Pistols had been upstaged by the clownish antics of McClaren and with the departure of Lydon had become a parody of punk that gave succour to the dreadful lumpen-punk that followed. But The Clash remained true. There were endless discussions over whether the band had “sold out” by signing to CBS, all played out to the soundtrack of their music. Did it really matter?

Joe Strummer was a real man. Compassionate and committed, but then everyone already knows that. What they probably don't know is the respect he was held in by people whose lives were touched by his actions. At his funeral his coffin was preceded by an honour guard of fire officers and a piper; men and women who turned out in the driving rain to pay their respects to Joe after he'd appeared at their fundraising benefit and wholeheartedly supported their cause. That was the core of the man.

While many of us from those days have greyed and filled out, both physically and spiritually, Strummer had remained convinced. His music was still eloquent and his articulation, both in his lyrics and his conversation, of the state of the world around him should shame those of us seduced by the idea that there are no more alternatives. He did this with humour and kindness, as he had always done, and never saw violence as an answer to much at all.

In many of the obituaries and pieces on Joe since his death much has been made of the fact that he was somehow embarrassed about his background having come from a middle class family. This slightly twisted idea that somehow punk was a working class uprising has been propagated for so long by people who were never really there. The whole idea was that there was no class or colour and that was the point about Strummer's lyrics. People like Mick Jones and Paul Simonon knew about design, literature and the power of the image regardless of where they happened to have come from and the mixture of these personalities gave us the instant message. Make your own music, make your own clothes and make your own life.

Strummer, and The Clash, never stood still and in reality left the rest of us behind. In these days of amorality there is a view that their refusal to reform for the big payday tour was somehow a pointless gesture. Well it wasn't for me and the hundreds of thousands like me who would have loved to have seen the band perform again but knew that it would have been purely an exercise in nostalgia. The Clash were always more than that. They were the Last Gang in Town, and Strummer was their spokesman.

What a man.

© Nick Tesco

With thanks to Music Week.

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