“I’m Gonna Keep Fightin’ for What I Believe Is Right”
Twelve years ago today, December 22nd 2002, I took a phone call that told me that Joe Strummer had passed away.
He was just fifty years old and had died suddenly of a rare heart condition while at home with his family in Broomfield, Somerset.
I lost something that day, Joe had been a constant companion in my life since the late 1970’s when I first heard ‘White Riot’ played in anger, I became a fan and have remained so ever since. I played every 7″ Single and Album I could afford to buy, to destruction – often having to replace some that had become so worn and scratched, that the arm on my ageing Record Player used to dance about on the surface skipping between the tracks. I knew every word to every song on every record and cassette I owned, and voraciously absorbed the passionate and heavily political messages contained in the lyrics.
This was Thatcher’s Britain, I was in Care and was as rebellious as any other teenage lad, but while most kids my age were sniffing glue and pretending to be robots with their idiotic dancing, Joe’s music spoke my language and had narrated my life thus far.
I became interested in and deeply involved in politician activites, usually of the more radical and militant kind, as complacency was not in my vocabulary even then.
I read ferociously , I educated myself, disappearing for weeks inside the works of Marx and Engels, and becoming ever more aware of the world around me.
This continued after leaving the Care system, I began to travel around the country, settling in London for a decade, and grabbing life by the scruff of the neck and shaking the life out of it.
I saw Joe and the Clash perform many, many times during those days, and I had the privilege of meeting him on three occasions. Twice while standing at the bar of the Marquee Club, and once when we briefly chatted as he was walking down Tottenham Court Road with his dog attached to the ubiquitous piece of string that served as a lead.
He always had time for people did Joe, always ready to give himself over while putting the world to rights over a drink or a spiff. He showed young people there were alternatives to the complacency, opportunism, greed and political apathy that dominated the culture of Britain. He was the face of rebellion, his resistance shone through in both his politics and his music and remains an enduring legacy to this day.
One song in particular, ‘Clampdown,’ affected me deeply. The song is a stark account of living and working in a capitalist society. It presents the contradictions that are made to make us believe that if only we work hard, don’t complain, and don’t rock the boat, we can get ahead. Look out for number one.
The song expressed the anxieties of working-class youth only fit for menial jobs, to become part of the state’s repressive apparatus, or to join one of the many extreme right-wing and ultra violent groups.
“You grow up and you calm down
You’re working for the clampdown
You start wearing the blue and brown
You’re working for the clampdown
So you got someone to boss around
It makes you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize
You made your first kill now”
So, many, many thanks for the music and the memories Joe, and for giving this angry, aimlessly drifting young man the inspiration to find himself.
Rest In Perfect Peace Joe.
“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed”
*Originally published on the Outlaw – December 22nd 2012*