I just finished Salewicz’s Joe Strummer biography, Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. It’s a fascinating book, dense as shit and since I’m not British or been “in it” (punk rock and music in general) since like the 1960’s, a lot of names don’t really mean as much to me as they probably do to others, which I’m OK with. I’m well aware of my limits when it comes to knowledge and tastes, especially in music.
John “Joe Strummer” Mellor really was a complicated and interesting guy, and this book from someone who was more than just a journalist but also more than a friend seems to cover that quite well. The love that people had for him totally shines through the pages, and while it’s a dense read, it’s definitely one of the best books that I’ve read in a while. If you really want more than just a history of the Clash but a real biography about someone, then this is a book to look for.
However, reading a few things about Strummer’s life and the way that he’d interact with people does paint him, occasionally, in a light that wouldn’t be necessarily considered all that flattering. The question is, and this is something that I recently wrote for somewhere, is does that matter? Well, in a way, it does. Because no one likes an asshole. The only kinds of people who, in my mind, are friends with assholes are assholes themselves.
But at the same time, there are, and I FUCKING HATE to say this term, “extenuating circumstances”, which you sort of have to read in the book because I’m not gonna summarize the whole goddamn thing to you.
My personal issue and thought here;
Am I excusing it because he’s Joe Strummer of the Clash? I don’t know, I fucking hope not. I always tend to think of the Ramones as the definitive punk rock band and kind of always had the Clash and Strummer in my peripheral musical vision but still, he was a musical icon and incredibly talented, probably a thousand times more fucking relevant than the Sex Pistols.
My recent bent this past year or so has been a broader acceptance of issues as falling under a “gray” category, because life is often not as simple as black and white. Shit, it’s NEVER as simple as black and white most of the time. We are all human beings in the end and need to look at each other like that, as human beings. Not as dogmas and doctrines. People learn, people change, people feel bad.
And at the same time, reading this book, I really don’t know if I’d automatically want to be friends with Strummer, no matter how much I respect him. Because I do believe in some absolutes when it comes to life and human behavior, and there are some things that you just don’t do. And when it comes to making decisions about “liking” and “respecting” artists, it’s always going to have to be subjective and based on a case-by-case basis. It sucks that I can’t just allow myself to love my musical and literary idols and heroes, inasmuch as dumb punks like me can have “idols”, but it’s just one of those things I sort of chalk up to having a big mouth, being older, and a drive to just read all sorts of stuff.
But that’s OK.
By the way, I’m not really talking about him having done terribly egrarious shit, just personal behavior that I don’t think is cool at all. Not like he killed a man or ate a baby’s still-beating heart or anything terrible like that.
You know what? Forget I said anything, I’m just being fucking weird and been thinking about whether or not I should throw my fucking Bad Brains records away, because if you ever hear/read some of the stories about them, you’ll wish you never wrote “I AGAINST I” on your notebook.