Saturday, November 3, 2007


I'm looking forward to seeing this documentary - Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. It comes fairly close on the heels of another Strummer doc, Let's Rock Again, although that one documented Strummer's last tour with his band The Mescaleros. My understanding is that The Future is more about his entire life/career, including, of course, The Clash.

I felt really fortunate to have had the chance to interview Joe Strummer. I was working at VH1, and it was at the time when they were really moving away from music. My boss at the time saw which way the wind was blowing, so to speak, and while he appreciated my passion for music, he was more worried about ratings, and rightfully so.

I remember seeing the listing for Strummer's multi-night stand in Brooklyn in the Village Voice, and thinking "Man, it would be cool to cover that." And then thinking, "No way." So, I was shocked when the boss asked me to cover one of the shows. it was early 2002. I remember before the interview, shooting b-roll of the huge lights that were shining where the Twin Towers used to be. It was a weird time. It was a few months after 9/11, but right across the river from where the attacks happened, there was still a somber vibe in the air.

Anyway, Joe Strummer was one of the few artists who I had to admit I felt a bit intimidated by. You just always got the sense that he didn't suffer fools lightly. But my attitude as an interviewer was, if anyone can do this, I can. Anyway, Joe was really, really cool. Kind of humble in a way. Super passionate about music, not really jaded at all. He loved The Mescaleros. He felt people generally weren't as passionate about music as they used to be: he asked why people weren't rioting over artists like Kylie Minogue, ;e just felt that most "pop" music was so awful. I remember asking him about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - the word was they were going to be on the ballot that year, and of course they were going to get voted in. He kind of scoffed at the idea of performing with them, or even showing up. He didn't want to wear a suit, he felt it was a betrayal of everything he and the band stood for to show up at the Waldorf, of all places, in a tux. I told him that not everyone wears tuxes, and that no one would tell him what to wear (not that I was in any position to tell him what the Rock Hall does and doesn't do - but I'd been to a few induction ceremonies, and not everyone wears suits or tuxes). I also pointed out that Talking Heads reunited for a few songs at their induction, and it sort of served as a nice "last page" in the band's story. Then, he started being like, "Hmmmmm..." But then he got a bit annoyed on the topic of the band: he pointed out that he's been working with his current band for the past couple of years, and the other guys weren't even making music (not totally true: Mick Jones produced The Libertines, but hadn't recorded any of his own music). But none of those guys had called him and asked him to make music with them, which seemed to annoy him.

I remember my camera guy was also a huge Clash fan. We walked out of there dazed and amazed. I felt like Joe Strummer was radiating electricity, and now some of it was on me. I had goosebumps. So, we start shooting the show, which was great. Some of Joe's songs, like "Tony Adams" and "Johnny Appleseed," stood proudly alongside The Clash classics - it's a shame that more people weren't familiar with his solo material, he worked so hard on it, and was rightfully proud of it. But what radio stations would play Joe Strummer's solo material in 2001?  That's part of what the Let's Rock Again documentary is about.

The most shocking moment of the night was seeing this guy in the audience. I thouht to myself, "Is that Mick Jones?" I mean, in the audience. Not in some roped off V.I.P. area, he was just walking around. It was him. Not a lot of people seemed to notice. I figured, I should probably try to get a quote out of him. But I made what I felt was a more moral choice. I didn't think the guy wanted a camera in his face, it would certainly blow his cover. I decided against it.

After the show, people did start to notice that it was him and crowded around him. He made a beeline for the backstage door. I felt like, "That's nice, maybe he'll hang out with Joe." I could potentially have ruined that. It turned out that they hung out for a little while. A few months later, Mick joined Joe and the band at a fundraiser concert in England. It was one of Joe Strummer's last performances.

A few weeks later, Joe Strummer passed away unexpectedly. I think by then, he had heard the news that The Clash would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the induction ceremony was still a few weeks away. I'd heard that Joe and Mick wanted to perform, but Paul Simonon didn't want to. The week of the ceremony, I got to interview Mick and Paul. I told Mick my story. He looked at me and nodded slightly. Not being a sentimental seeming guy, I think he apprecitated what I'd done (or didn't do).

I've heard that The Grammys are holding a vote on the best moments in Grammy history. I don't think that you can beat the Joe Strummer tribute. Most Grammy tributes fall short. There's too many people paying tribute, not enough time, it ends up being a medley, etc. But when Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Elvis Costello and Dave Grohl (with Tony Kanal of No Doubt on bass and Pete Thomas from Elvis' Attractions and Imposters on drums) performed "London Calling"... I just don't think you can beat that one. I've often referred to it as "the best four minutes in TV history," which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was pretty damn cool, and a fitting tribute.

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