photo manipulation by nacrowe
its funny with JOE STRUMMER and THE CLASH i have kept at arms length. i am familiar with their catalogue and enjoy it but i always considered them a bit of an anomaly in terms of early PUNK ROCK. to my ears they were a bit slick and rather contrived. they sang about "LONDON'S BURNING" but the music seemed contained and under control, unlike say "ANARCHY IN THE UK" by the SEX PISTOLS which i can easily see as the soundtrack to LONDON burning to the ground. i also never knew what to make of their global ambitions, infusing their sound with rhythms and lyrics dedicated to rebel groups and liberation struggles in faraway lands. all seemed very colonialist to me. maybe its the fact that my grandmother is ENGLISH and is convinced they gave the world "culture." maybe THE CLASH and STRUMMER in particular hit that blindspot of mine and just didn't come off convincing.
how pleasantly shocking it was when viewing JULIEN TEMPLE's crafty documentary JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (FILMFOUR, 2007) to learn that this iconic frontman was, in fact, the son of a left-leaning BRITISH diplomat and grew up the world over. he was born in TURKEY and lived in places like MEXICO, IRAN, ZIMBABWE, INDIA throughout his childhood. this coupled with surviving ENGLAND's notoriously draconian boarding school culture makes me question my assumptions about the man. probably because they mirror my own experiences growing up abroad and surviving boarding school (ha!). seems maybe he was genuine in his affinity for world culture after all.
also the man knew about suffering. the isolation of boarding school didnt come without consequences and his brother's suicide makes quick note of such. i think before i knew his backstory, i always saw STRUMMER as a culture opportunist. someone who fiddled with folk and hippiedom only to find PUNK ROCK as a vehicle for his ambitions that maybe didn't align perfectly with their dictum for nihilism and and anarchy. what this documentary show me was that in fact PUNK ROCK served as a key to unlocking his ability to take his expansive knowledge of how the world actually functioned and hold a mirror up to it in a way none of his contemporaries could. he wasn't interested in destruction but rather the deconstruction of the forces and systems that manipulate human behavior en masse. that same process can also be said to his own persona, having to strip everything back clear his identity by discarding his past associates and previous community of supporters, including THE 101ers. this new order was extremist and fanatical in nature.
for these reasons PUNK ROCK for him was that ideal vehicle, its direct messaging and fiercely confrontational, often polemical stance in relation to BRITAIN's strained relationship with the world and itself. "england's dreaming" as JOHNNY ROTTEN put it.
on a purely cinematic level, i think the way TEMPLE constructed this film was particularly ingenious. the film is essentially a campfire vigil/gathering of sorts along the banks of the RIVER THEMES across from downtown LONDON with fans, colleagues and peers relating their experiences with the man as they listen to him over the radio airwaves on the BBC WORLD SERVICE. in essence it is is a representation of how his music is what continues to bind them all. his message and his music is his legacy. its a very eloquent conceit rooted in his later life ritual of embracing campfires as a means of connecting with others. to use that as an organizing principle in a film is a novel approach which i havent seen utilized before. all talking participants were also unaccredited, another ingenious choice by TEMPLE meant to draw focus on their words. these include family members, musicians such as STEVE JONES (SEX PISTOLS), MICK JONES (THE CLASH), PAUL SIMONON (THE CLASH), BOBBY GILLESPIE (PRIMAL SCREAM), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), ANTHONY KEIDIS (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), and BONO (U2), actors STEVE BUSCEMI, JOHNNY DEPP, MATT DILLON, JOHN CUSACK, artists BOB GRUEN and DAMIEN HIRST as well as directors JIM JARMUSCH, MARTIN SCORSESE and DON LETTS.
as much as i hate giving BONO any credit, he probably has the quote of the film when he states, and im paraphrasing here, that the legacy of JOE STRUMMER and THE CLASH was that at a moment in the late 1970s ideas trumped guitar solos in rock and roll, which provided an entry point for musicians across the world to pick up an instrument. virtuosity was not a requirement to become a viable band, just three chords and the truth as they say. not a bad legacy in the least and id argue THE CLASH more than held up their end of the bargain on providing "the truth."
well executed, cutting documentary on a PUNK ROCK icon that be should of interest to anyone interested in the subject.