So Long, Comrade Joe
not fade away
So Long, Comrade Joe: “Streetcore” (Epitaph Records)

The death of Joe Strummer still hangs in the ether like a stubborn stink – an ozone layer’s worth of air freshener will never alter the fragrance of the hollow vacuum he left behind – and that’s just the way it is. We live – we die - & only we have the power to make a difference to the days that fill the void between those twin pinnacles of this mortal coil:

“...and that’s the day I said I’m gonna make the news” – “Cast A Long Shadow”

To say it took some time for me to come to terms with the passing of Joe Strummer is totally untrue – I’m not really sure I’ll ever achieve closure – after all, I never got over the death of The Clash - so I’m hardly cut out for this kind of shit – am I?

I’ve read the reviews of “Streetcore” elsewhere in the media (a weird mixture of reverence & the usual misunderstanding that dogged The Clash’s latter LPs) with the kind of fervent interest usually reserved for new groups & their debuts – that’s how much I wanted this LP: to make it all right – to make some sense of it all – to leave us with something to treasure. An LP & a 45 to place next to “The Clash” & “White Riot” respectively - without fear of contamination.

At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning why I fell out with Joe all those years ago:

Picture the scene – a cavernous hall in faceless Middle England sometime in 1984 – onstage were Strummer, Simonon, White, Sheppard & Howard - & 16 tons of shite written with Bernie Rhodes that had surfaced under the name “Cut The Crap” & purported to have been performed by one of THE greatest Punk Rock n Roll outfits ever to stalk the face of the earth: THE CLASH.

It sucked harder than Courtney Love on the casting couch & weighed less than fuck all. I was enraged. Had I ever felt like I’d been cheated? I had now. I screamed my vengeance at the top of my voice from my seat in the stalls (I was there under partial protest from the get go - & swore to anyone that would listen that there was no way I was gonna bother to venture anywhere near the stage) – steadfastly deflecting the criticism of my fellow “Clash” fans with naked aggression & unbridled attitude. The group I had considered the masters of my own destiny had been ruined by the enemy within - & all the promises they had made in the name of Punk Rock littered the back-streets of my mind like the used & torn up betting slips Joe would sing so emotively about all those years later. I stormed from the hall in vacuous, pitiful protest - 6 or 7 songs into the set - to bitch & scratch with the ticket-less & the bootleg t-shirt sellers outside the venue (& to wait for the rest of my mates who wanted to get their money’s worth).

I was utterly deflated – crestfallen – The Clash without Mick & Topper (or even Terry Chimes, for fucks sake) was like The Stones without Brian Jones – empty, calculated, hollow & fake. I swore that night never to forgive Joe Strummer. I lasted until “Earthquake Weather”.

In conclusion to that tale – time is, of course, the only healer - & the subsequent “Westway To The World” documentary went a long way to bridging the rift that saw me follow BAD from then on in (& grow up accordingly - along with the Hip Hop Revolution that Wack Attack Mick had so intuitively introduced to the Punk Rock soup). The humility with which Joe acknowledged his debt to Topper & Mick on screen was as moving as it was overdue. Fuck – we all make mistakes - & life is too short to hold grudges - &, after all – it’s only rock n roll. Isn’t it? Yeah – right.

And so we come to “Streetcore” – the last recorded will & testament of Joe Strummer (the salt of the earth – as Mick had so eloquently pointed out during the group’s legendary tube train interview with Tony Parson’s in 1977).

The 1st thing I have to say about “Streetcore” is that I fell asleep the 1st time I listened to “London Calling” – make of that what you will. “Streetcore” has grown immensely in stature with every subsequent listen - & I am eternally grateful to the painstaking labours of Martin Slattery, Scott Shields & their fellow Mescaleros for ensuring that “Streetcore” was no “My Sweetheart, The Drunk”.


streetcore
“Streetcore” – a song by song guide:

“COMA GIRL”:

The final Mescaleros 45 – issued in indispensable picture disc format – is the most complete & affecting single to bear Joe’s name since “Trash City”. A stomping, mid-paced, archetypal stonker that encapsulates everything perfect, poetic & poignant about the Mescaleros evolution. Joe quotes Dylan’s “Desolation Row” in possible homage to the ghost of Woody Mellor - & spins an observational tale of modern festival mayhem. Gone are the folky world music inflections of “Global A Go Go” – this is punk rock & roll via “(Whiteman) In Hammersmith Palais” - & all the more sturdy for it:

“Some fast food fanatic was burning down a burger van”

The production & arrangement frame Joe’s voice like a Rothko original – surely he’s never sounded as full of confidence, commitment & self belief?

“GET DOWN MOSES”:

Continuing the return to a rockier environ – “Get Down Moses” skanks the spirit of white boy reggae to the boundaries of culture clash city. Lyrically castigating the lack of moral & spiritual backbone in today’s society – another killer vocal take is ample evidence that Joe was on top of his game when this cut was laid. Etched with quality Hammond fills & Mick Jones-esque choral la-la-las – there’s a depth & breadth to “Get Down Moses” that most can only imagine.

“LONG SHADOW”:

Written for Johnny Cash & recorded by Rick Rubin, “Long Shadow” is a tantalising glimpse at where Joe may have moved onto had he lived. Completing the circle from busking folker Woody to manic strummer Joe – traditional song writing doesn’t get any better than this. How prophetically lyrical “Long Shadow” actually is – one can only speculate. You can read into it anything you damn well want – I’m sure that’s what Joe would have wanted you to do. After all:

“Somewhere in my soul – there’s always rock n roll”

“ARMS ALOFT”:

Stalking an intro that takes back an entire career’s worth of exploitation from those Irish stadium usurpers – “Arms Aloft” explodes from the speakers in celebration of everything that ever made Joe tick:

“Just when you thought you were going down the drain”

May I remind you of that scene – indeed. The listener is rapidly transported back in time to an era when a rock n roll show was so much more than an advertising opportunity, a photo call or a vapid video shoot. The guitars rage with righteous indignation as Joe thanks the Gods of Punk Rock for another chance to rattle the mirror ball. An ode to the Locarnos & Top Ranks of this world – the very places Joe always felt so utterly alive.

“RAMSHACKLE DAY PARADE”:

Reminiscent of “Yalla Yalla” in sprit & feel – an apocalyptic vision of a decaying market place – paradise polluted – doused in gasoline & burning with the intensity that enflamed even Joe’s weakest moments. “Ramshackle Day Parade” feels like an outtake from “Sandinista” – until the filthy guitar solo drags you (by the ears) rudely back into the current millennium. This is the sound of The Mescaleros – let’s not make any revisionist bones about it. Another vocal performance up there with “Straight To Hell” - & another towering indictment of what a fucking great rock n roll band The Mescaleros had become.

“REDEMPTION SONG”:

Again, with Rick Rubin at the controls – on first listen this Marley classic felt like a demo – a b-side at best - the intro chord structure simplified to a strum to accommodate Joe’s fretwork restrictions. 25 listens later I’m wracked with guilt at the thought of that fatuous dismissal – just 48 lonely hours ago. I was having a bad day – I’m having a bad year – it started off with Joe’s death - & only on listen 26 is it beginning to make any sense at all. Maybe I’m too close to both the man & the song (in spirit) – but I’m crying as I type this – real tears, real sorrow – real life. It bites, you bleed - & there are scars. They will heal - but they will leave their mark.

“ALL IN A DAY”:

All hail the electric guitar. “All In A Day” knocks “Techno D-Day” & “Cool’N’Out” into a cocked flight case. More vocal Clash flashbacks – more implication than you can shake at a 1000 garagebands in a thousand toilet venues.

“Don’t worry, baby, your credit is good. Everybody’s clocking you round the hood”

Tunes of this stature may well have been all in a day to Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - but rarely have they sounded this rounded, this populist or this tight. Got a busy day – wearing a vest – try not to get vexed. Get a load of Joe, baby, & his rumba jive. Where BAD meets GOD.

“Show all those crews how to make that rhythm & blues”

“BURNING STREETS”:

“London’s Burning”: reprise? In spirit – maybe – maybe not. Possibly written about the striking firemen Joe supported so wholeheartedly – possibly not. The true meaning of a song is only truly known by its composer – as I said earlier – we can read into it what we see fit (eh, Mr Topping?). Musically “Burning Streets” is as expansive as The Mescaleros have gotten yet. Epic springs to mind – which was also The Clash’s US label – that alone seems pertinent enough.

“London’s burning – don’t tell the Queen”

“MIDNIGHT JAM”:

A rolling instrumental celebrating Joe’s World Service radio show – cutting intros, outros & dedications from the man himself into a jazz inflected groove. Again, “Sandinista” is recalled to the frontal lobes almost on cue. Topper would have loved this.

“We got a ticket - & there’s the train”

“SILVER & GOLD”:

The Bobby Charles’ classic “Before I Grow Too Old” is here to close tonight’s show - re-titled “Silver & Gold” - & dressed in Tymon Dogg’s best Sunday fiddle & stumblebum harmonica – simple words can only fail to express the emotion, regret & ultimate pain Joe’s evocative take summons up in what passes for my (washed up) mind. You must excuse me this maudlin sentimentalism – to write anything but the truth (as I perceive it) right now would be a failure – a dereliction of duty – a third denial – a vote for Judas Iscariot & the rampaging hordes of ‘the man’ over salvation & ultimate truth. Wine is strong – man is stronger – women are even stronger - & truth will conquer all.

“OK – that’s a take”, says a lone voice at the end of the cut - & the ensuing silence is overpowering. The tears roll again – as I said – maybe I’m to close to this shit. I don’t trust you – so why should you trust me? Right?

In conclusion – “Streetcore” is everything I’d hoped for - & more. My vinyl copy hugs the “Acton EP” like a long lost brother roughly 100 x LPs behind “The Clash” in the 12” pile. “Coma Girl” is about 150 x 45 rpm discs behind “White Riot” in the 7” pile. All is well with the world. Except it isn’t - & it never really will be again.

Joe Strummer has left the building & The Mescaleros have no option but to follow - & that’s a crying shame. I hope all you subsequent generations out there have someone equal to Joe Strummer to call your own. Someone to carry the can who will give you their all & ask nothing by way of return. Someone who will fuck it all up & live through it to earn your forgiveness. Someone who will turn left when everyone else is turning right.

Over & over – over & out.

For ever & ever.

Amen.

Jean Encoule – tMx 12 – Oct 03

Links
Check: www.joestrummer.com


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