So Long, Comrade Joe: Streetcore (Epitaph Records)
The death of Joe Strummer still hangs in the ether like a stubborn stink an ozone layers worth of air freshener will never alter the fragrance of the hollow vacuum he left behind and thats 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 thats the day I said Im 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 Im not really sure Ill ever achieve closure after all, I never got over the death of The Clash - so Im hardly cut out for this kind of shit am I?
Ive read the reviews of Streetcore elsewhere in the media (a weird mixture of reverence & the usual misunderstanding that dogged The Clashs latter LPs) with the kind of fervent interest usually reserved for new groups & their debuts thats 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, its 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 Id 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 moneys 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 its only rock n roll. Isnt 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 groups legendary tube train interview with Tony Parsons 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 a song by song guide:
The final Mescaleros 45 issued in indispensable picture disc format is the most complete & affecting single to bear Joes name since Trash City. A stomping, mid-paced, archetypal stonker that encapsulates everything perfect, poetic & poignant about the Mescaleros evolution. Joe quotes Dylans 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 Joes voice like a Rothko original surely hes 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 todays 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 theres a depth & breadth to Get Down Moses that most can only imagine.
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 doesnt 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 Im sure thats what Joe would have wanted you to do. After all:
Somewhere in my soul theres always rock n roll
Stalking an intro that takes back an entire careers 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 Joes 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 lets 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.
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 Joes fretwork restrictions. 25 listens later Im wracked with guilt at the thought of that fatuous dismissal just 48 lonely hours ago. I was having a bad day Im having a bad year it started off with Joes death - & only on listen 26 is it beginning to make any sense at all. Maybe Im too close to both the man & the song (in spirit) but Im 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 & CoolNOut into a cocked flight case. More vocal Clash flashbacks more implication than you can shake at a 1000 garagebands in a thousand toilet venues.
Dont worry, baby, your credit is good. Everybodys 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
Londons 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 Clashs US label that alone seems pertinent enough.
Londons burning dont tell the Queen
A rolling instrumental celebrating Joes 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 - & theres the train
SILVER & GOLD:
The Bobby Charles classic Before I Grow Too Old is here to close tonights show - re-titled Silver & Gold - & dressed in Tymon Doggs best Sunday fiddle & stumblebum harmonica simple words can only fail to express the emotion, regret & ultimate pain Joes 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 thats 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 Im to close to this shit. I dont trust you so why should you trust me? Right?
In conclusion Streetcore is everything Id 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 isnt - & it never really will be again.
Joe Strummer has left the building & The Mescaleros have no option but to follow - & thats 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.
Jean Encoule tMx 12 Oct 03