On what would have been The Clash and Mescaleros frontman Joe Strummer’s 66th birthday, Margo Tiffen recollects a notable evening in Boston with Joe and friends.

I was lucky to get to spend some time with Joe Strummer, and he was as cool and fun as I imagined he might be. When I interviewed Roddy Byers from The Specials, he spoke of how The Clash treated The Specials when they opened for them on tour. When Joe found out they weren’t getting paid enough to eat and stay in decent lodging, he shared The Clash’s hotel rooms with them and made the promoters raise their salary. Roddy spoke of how much this meant to them, and how they remembered that, and when they became successful, they treated their supporting bands accordingly.

Joe’s greatest legacy was that he led by example. So many people fall into the trap of blaming rock star behavior on the music industry, on personal trauma, on whatever excuse comes their way. Joe gave us someone to point to and say – he never did that, and he was still successful. In fact, he was successful in part because he never did that. Joe always tried his best to be an honest, true person. Which is why when the dust settles on history, Joe’s true legacy will be the art of his music, and the art of a life honestly and ecstatically lived.

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I first met Joe Strummer in 1998, just after I’d graduated from college in Boston. I ran a punk/oi/ska magazine at the time, RUDE International, which I’d started a few years earlier with Tim Burton (aka Johnny Vegas), the sax player for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. RUDE was glossy and had good distribution in stores like Tower, Borders, Barnes & Noble, but it could best be described as a ‘zine.

I had put together a wish list of the people I’d most like to interview for upcoming issues. Joe Strummer topped the list. I hadn’t heard anything about what he’d been up to in years (besides some movie cameos) but I figured, he’s got to be somewhere out there, right? Hanging out, eating, breathing, shopping, doing shit people do when they’re not in famous bands anymore.

I talked to Tim about it when he got back from tour and he said it was worth a try. It turned out that John Doe from X was involved with the Clash tribute album that was coming out and one of the Bosstones’ managers was friends with John. John got us Joe’s manager’s number. Tim spoke to him, but he said we didn’t have a chance of getting an interview. “Joe doesn’t do interviews and he hasn’t in a long time. Sorry.” I told Tim to send the guy the magazine anyway, maybe it would help if he saw it. This was me being cocky, but I thought, what the fuck. Maybe Joe would dig our little punk rock mag.

Tim mailed him the magazine and a few days later Joe’s manager called. He said that he loved the magazine, and he would try to get us an interview within the year. He said he knew Joe would do it for us. I was psyched. Within the year seemed like a long time but a hell of a lot better than nothing. And I was proud that Joe’s manager liked our magazine.

A week or so later, Tim told me that the Bosstones were getting a gold star on the walk of fame in front of Tower Records on Newbury Street. “I found out this morning who is going to present us with the star.” “Who?” “Joe Strummer.” “No fucking way.” “Yeah, but it’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.”

Since Tim had already made contact with Joe’s manager, and the Bosstones were all big Clash fans, they thought – let’s see if we can get Joe here to present the band with the star, and Tim could also get the interview for RUDE. Turns out Strummer liked the Bosstones and was down with a trip to Boston to come hang out.

By the next week the word was out – far from being a secret, they were going to hang up a sign in Tower about it, tell radio stations, that kind of thing. Then it hit me — I was going to see Joe Strummer and maybe even get to meet him. I did realize, however, that if anyone interviewed Joe, it was going to be Tim. Originally Tim and I agreed that if we got the phone interview I could do it. But it was different now because Joe was coming to town for the Bosstones and Tim was in the Bosstones. I wasn’t anyone in all this, just some kid with a ‘zine.

But I was cool with it — hell, we were going to get the interview; that was enough. I was excited but I knew it was unlikely that I’d actually get to talk to him. There was going to be a party after the ceremony and it was sure to be crowded. Everyone would want to talk to him. I figured well, I’ll just stand back and kind of watch him all night and maybe I’ll get to shake his hand or something.

The night before the awards ceremony I had crazy dreams about Joe. When I woke up, I called Tim. Tim said, “I had dinner with Joe Strummer last night.”

He’d gone out to dinner with Joe and Joe’s wife, Lucinda, Bob Gruen and his wife, Elizabeth, and some of the other Bosstones. I asked what Joe was like and he said “Really cool. He’s real mellow, real accessible and nice. He’s great.” Tim had never complimented anyone in all the time I’d known him. He also said Bob Gruen was cool, that Jessie Malin from D Generation was there, and that Jessie and Bob mostly did the talking all night telling stories.

That afternoon, I went down to meet Tim at Tower Records. I joined the crowd that was already outside, waiting. A ton of people from the Boston and NY punk scenes were there – the Ducky Boys, Clowns for Progress, the Shods, H2O, people from WFNX and other radio stations, label people, the works.

A little while later Joe Strummer walked through the crowd and went inside. He looked fabulous. He didn’t look aged at all, he looked exactly the same as he always looked in pictures. Over the next few years Joe seemed to age much quicker, gaining weight, his jowls becoming more pronounced. But back then he still looked pretty much the same as in his Clash days. Tim came over – “Why don’t you come with me after this, I have to take Joe’s manager back to the hotel. You’ll meet Joe at the party tonight.”

The crowd got bigger and police and TV people showed up. Tim went inside Tower with the rest of the band. Everyone started yelling “Joe! Bosstones! Joe!” Some idiot kept shouting “White Riot! White Riot!” After a while they all came out onto the raised steps in front of Tower. Joe made a little speech about the Bosstones, Dicky spoke briefly, and everyone posed for pictures. They unveiled the star and then it was time for the signing.

Joe Strummer at the unveiling of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' star - Photo by Jay Hale

Joe Strummer at the unveiling of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ star – Photo by Jay Hale

It was nice that the Bosstones got a star on the walk of fame, but most people were really there because of the signing. The crowd filed into a line that stretched for blocks. I wormed my way inside and one of the managers stuck me in a little corner in the signing room where I could watch and be out of the way. For the next hour or so, I watched people come in and get their shirts, cds, books, tapes, records signed. People were more comfortable talking to the Bosstones than to Joe. When they approached him, you could see the reverence glowing in their faces. Joe was happily chatting, shaking hands, signing. Everyone had something to tell him, some little story about how the Clash had changed their life, how his music had affected them. I just stood there, silently watching, probably boring a hole through Joe’s head with my eyes. At one point, he noticed and glanced up at me. I looked away, embarrassed.

Until that moment, I’d never really been anywhere near starstruck. But seeing Joe for the first time, I was completely starstruck. Why not? Yeah, he was just a guy. He wasn’t without his faults. But in some of the darkest times in my life, the music this man created gave me comfort and enabled me to find the strength to move forward. That this impressed me enough that I wanted to stand there and stare at him for a little while, so be it. But I also didn’t really want to get caught gaping and then have to try to have a normal conversation with him later.

So I went for a walk. When the last fan had been appeased, Tim and I packed up and hopped in the car with Joe’s manager (whose name I can’t remember). He was a nice guy, small, and very talkative. We drove over to the Plaza and he left us in the lobby, saying Joe would be down to meet us in a bit. Tim and I got drinks and sat down.

We were finally going to get the interview, but the thing is, neither of us had really decided what we should ask him. Tim had tried to ask a few questions at dinner the night before, but felt it was impolite and awkward to conduct an interview when everyone else was chatting and having fun. He said Joe was kind of quiet and it might be hard to get him to talk about certain things. Joe’s manager had mentioned he wasn’t keen on talking about The Clash. So if we couldn’t talk to him about The Clash, then what should we ask? This was before the Mescaleros got together and we weren’t sure Joe had any new projects going on. But he was an interesting guy, and just hearing about his life would be a story enough.

“Hello.” I looked up and Joe was sitting next to me, hand extended, his leg touching mine. Sneaky fuck, didn’t see him coming. I jumped a little and shook his hand.
“Hey, I’m Margo.”
“You do the magazine with Tim, yeah?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, fantastic, I fucking love it. You guys should really keep at it. I know it’s hard work but we really need magazines like yours out there. Don’t give up on it. Really.”
“Thanks, I’m very glad you like it.” I smiled nervously at him.

Joe nodded to Tim and smiled at us both. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. His leg was touching my leg. There was a piano not far from us that was playing itself. Joe stared at it.

“You see that? What the hell is that? Since when do instruments play by themselves?” He snorted derisively. “This bullshit is the reason most musicians can’t get by. There should be a musician sitting there, getting paid to play music. The damn thing shouldn’t be playing itself!”

Joe went over and examined the CD player attached to the bottom of the piano. “How do you work this thing?” he asked me. I had a friend in high school whose parents had a fancy apartment in Lincoln Center and owned a piano like that. She had showed me how it worked. In my head I silently thanked her parents for their bad taste.

I went over and knelt down next to Joe and showed him. He flipped through tracks and we watched the keys press themselves for awhile. When we sat back down, he said “You know, we should really flip that thing over and fucking burn it!” and flashed an impish grin at me. Yeah… there was good reason I always liked this guy.

Joe invited us up to his hotel room. The Bosstones had put him and Lucinda up in a suite, with a big plush living room. We sat down on the couch and Joe went to fetch Lucinda. A large polished wood table in the corner was stacked with bottles of alcohol, cartons of cigarettes, CDs, vinyl, and a bag of weed. Lucinda came out and introduced herself. She was petite, with delicate features and chin-length straight blonde hair. I liked her immediately. I had been sort of curious as to what Joe’s wife would be like, and imagined she would be some statuesque brunette, chesty, with big eyes. You know, a rock star’s wife. But Lucinda, she wasn’t at all what I expected. Although very pretty, she was almost plain. Unglamourous. She seemed simply sweet and genuine. I was glad.

She glanced over at the table and smiled apologetically at us. “I know, it looks a little extreme, but the duty free is just great. We picked it all up at the airport, much cheaper that way.” She opened a pack of cigarettes and lit one. I was dying for a cigarette but there was no way I was going to bum one. Well, okay, maybe I would.
“Mind if I bum one off you?” I asked.
“Not at all! Do you want a pack? Just take one, we have so many. Please.”
I blushed. “No, I, um, that’s okay, I don’t want to take…”
“Oh honey, don’t worry about it at all. Here.” She handed me a pack. They were Silk Cut, King Size. Joe came out of the bedroom and poured us rum and cokes. Everyone settled down, and Tim asked if Joe wouldn’t mind our interviewing him for a bit. Joe said sure, and Tim turned on the tape recorder. Then came a knock at the door, and people poured in. Suddenly it was very loud.

Bob Gruen came in with his wife and there were greetings all around. Bob is a renowned rock photographer. He took most of the seminal pictures of The Clash in their heyday, as well as famous pictures of the Sex Pistols, including the one of Sid eating a hotdog with mustard smeared all over his mouth wearing a pin that says “I’m a Mess”. Bob also took many early pictures of the Who and was close friends with John Lennon. He shot the famous picture of John, arms folded, staring into the camera, wearing a cutoff NEW YORK t-shirt. Bob said the t-shirt was his, he had lent it to John. He loved that shirt and could never wear it again after that because everyone would tease him, saying he was trying to be John.

The interview was officially not happening. Everyone sat down and Joe poured drinks. Bob spoke loudly and was very animated. He told stories about John Lennon, Yoko, all kinds of people. They all started with “One time John and I were hanging out…” or “This one time so and so and I were hanging out…”

I was very interested in these stories. I don’t really remember them all now, but one I do vaguely remember him telling was a story about how it was the 70s and he was living in a dive in the East Village. He had to go pick up his girlfriend’s mother for Easter Sunday to go to church or something like that. He was nervous that his car was such a rundown piece of shit and John was teasing him about it. When he woke up the next day, John had painted obscenities all over his car. He had to pick the girl’s mother up with the car covered in curses. Or at least I think that’s how the story went. Stuff like that.

Photo by Bob Gruen - The Clash - 1979

The Clash – 1979 – Photo by Bob Gruen

Everyone was laughing, talking over each other. Joe, Tim, and I were pretty quiet, listening. I certainly didn’t have any stories about hanging out with John Lennon. When Joe was done playing bartender he sat in a chair across the room next to Lucinda. After awhile he got up, picked up the bag of weed from the table, and sat down next to me on the couch. I was involved in a very interesting discussion with Bob’s wife Elizabeth about the Mach 3 razor and how fantastic it was. I had never tried it, but she assured me it was top notch – never even nicked your leg no matter how hard you pressed!

Joe leaned over and tapped me on the leg. “Would you like to smoke?” Okay. Here’s the thing. Sure, I liked to smoke. In my living room with my friends. Watching a movie, listening to music. But here I was, sitting on a couch in a room full of famous people feeling just a tad nervous and sorely out of place like – who brought the random little teenage punk rocker to the party? What the hell is she doing here anyway? Shouldn’t someone call security?

It was nerve-wracking enough just being there. Pretty early on I realized I had absolutely nothing to add to the conversation. As much as I would have liked to impress them with my witty banter, my scathing intellect, a bit of older-than-my-years insight, I had pretty much abandoned any thought of opening my mouth. Or moving at all and drawing any attention whatsoever to myself. I realized that this was one of those times in your life when you don’t talk. Just listen.

Now Joe Strummer was offering me weed and I was having a moral dilemma. On one hand, if joe-fucking-strummer offers you weed, you don’t say no. On the other hand, I was trying to make some kind of decent impression and when I got high I had a tendency to giggle and say stupid shit. And when I didn’t feel comfortable enough to giggle and say stupid shit, I got paranoid. And this was the kind of room you could get pretty paranoid in. (They’re all looking at me/ They want to know what the hell I’m doing here/ I’m the only one here who isn’t famous or married to someone famous / They know I’m high/ I have to leave.) That sort of thing.

Well, what the hell. I nodded, and he pulled out papers. “I’m going to show you how to roll the English way. We don’t waste weed like you Americans. We mix it in with tobacco, it’s better that way and it goes further in the end.” I wasn’t a total plebeian, I did know how Europeans rolled their joints. I saw no need to tell Joe this, however.

“Could I have a cigarette, please?” He asked. I gave him one and he patiently explained to me all the steps of rolling a proper English joint. I watched, fascinated. Not with the joint rolling, but with the sound of his voice. That voice, so familiar. I’d heard it so many times, knew every nuance of how it cracked and moved through each song, how it howled, how it sang. And now it was next to me, talking quietly to me, and it was actually concerned that I knew the correct way to roll a joint. When Joe was done, he lit it, and passed it triumphantly to me.

The rest of my time in the hotel room was hazy, as you might imagine. Joe and I talked about the magazine for awhile. Joe and Lucinda talked about their daughters, about how they went shopping for them during the day – one of them was into Hello Kitty and they had found a great store on Newbury and bought a bunch of Hello Kitty stuff for her. They did some record shopping and found a record that Joe had been searching for a long time, and he was excited. It was an old tune and I was the only one who didn’t know it, so Joe sang part of it for me. God, that voice. There was something utterly magical about it. Everyone stopped talking to listen.

The one major observation about Joe that stuck with me is that he wasn’t a frivolous talker. He kept quiet mostly but when he did speak, it was well thought out and eloquent. It wasn’t as if he was trying too hard, it was very natural. He had a kind of quietly authoritative manner, not brash or cocky, but you were aware that he knew what he was talking about. Not only was he knowledgeable, but his observations were always insightful and interesting. This impressed me.

After awhile, it was time to head out to the party at the Middle East club. Tim and I drove Joe and Lucinda over, and on the way, Tim took us around Boston a bit and gave them a brief history lesson. Joe had been there before, but not for great lengths of time and was curious about the city.

We arrived at the Middle East and went inside. The party had already started but you could tell people had been keeping one eye on the door, because when we walked in, everyone turned and stared. Some people came over to talk to Joe and I went off to find my friends Jay and Robyn. The place was packed. It seemed as if the whole room was half pretending to have conversations and half watching Joe’s every move. He meant a lot to the crowd in that room.

Everyone was polite at first and gave him time to get a drink, say hi to friends. Then they began to slowly pounce. A loose circle formed around Joe as people informally lined up to talk to him. Robyn, Jay and I hung in the back, watching. It was amazing to see all these tough guys, with tattoos and muscles to spare, become like kids in front of Joe. Smiling nervously, showing him pictures, telling him stories, hanging on to his every word. And he was so gracious. He touched them on the arm, looked straight into their eyes. He was truly interested in everyone. I have seen many people fake being nice to their fans, go through the motions. I’ve also seen a lot of people not even bother. Joe was not a fake. He never rushed them, he asked questions. He cared. I remember a bunch of people, including Todd from H2O, showing him their Clash tattoos, which is one thing Joe seemed a bit overwhelmed by. There were a lot of fucking people with Clash tattoos. I don’t think he expected that.

Joe Strummer with Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Kevin Stevenson of The Shods in the background) during the party at the Middle East on October 20, 1998 - Photo by Jay Hale

Joe Strummer with Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (and Kevin Stevenson of The Shods in the background) during the party at the Middle East on October 20, 1998 – Photo by Jay Hale

At some point, when the crowd lightened up, Joe spotted me in the corner and came over. I introduced him to Robyn and Jay and they talked for a bit. Jay took a picture of me and Joe, and Robyn took a picture of Jay and Joe. This was probably not the best idea. Once people saw the picture-taking commence, everyone wanted one. People rushed over with cameras and it got pretty claustrophobic. I pushed away from the crowd and ran into Joe’s manager. He and Lucinda were looking kind of nervous. He grabbed me. “Listen, I think this is a bit much for Joe, he hasn’t done this in awhile. It’s getting kind of crazy. We’re gonna bail and go to another bar. You should come, but I’m asking you not to bring anyone else. We want to keep the crowd down. I guess there’s a VFW hall around the corner, so we’re going there. You know where it is?” I nodded. “Okay, meet us there in a little while. Make it casual. Don’t bring anyone though, okay?”
“Sure.”

Joe Strummer & Margo - Photo by Jay Hale

Joe & Margo – Photo by Jay Hale

I finished my drink and found Robyn and Jay. I told them what Joe’s manager said. Jay had work in the morning and was getting ready to bail anyway. They headed out, and I wandered off to find the VFW hall.

I got there the same time as everyone else and we all walked in together. There were a few veterans sitting at the bar. It was a long hall filled with cafeteria-style tables and bright with fluorescent lighting. As we were filing in, someone asked the bartender – “Okay if we drink here?” The bartender, an elderly black man, glanced over at the couple bottles of alcohol behind the bar.

“Sure, as long as I have alcohol left.” Then he took a long look at us.

“I know who you are. You…” He pointed to Dicky and some of the Bosstones.

“You’re all in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And you…” He pointed at Joe.

“Well, you’re Joe Strummer from the band The Clash. I don’t know what you’re doing in my hall on a weeknight in the middle of Cambridge, but welcome.” He said this very casually, and turned back to pouring a drink.

We all sat down at the tables. There were quite a few people there considering the attempts to keep it small. I talked to Julie Kramer and Angie C, two disc jockeys from WFNX, and Tim’s brother Paul. Joe sat at the other end of the table. Kevin from the Shods, who was an obsessed Clash fan (I had once heard about him smashing a bottle over someone’s head at a party after the person complained that they should shut off The Clash), sat next to Joe. Kevin took up most of Joe’s ear for the next hour or so. The next day Julie and Angie joked on the radio that Kevin was practically sitting in Joe’s lap. Joe didn’t seem to mind, though.

The crowd thinned out and they turned the lights down. It was getting late and everyone was pretty well lubricated. The bartender went in the back and opened a set of doors. There was a room in there, with a dancefloor, a little stage and a disco ball. There was a DJ booth. Who would have thought? Tim and I went back to check it out. He said, “Man, this would be a great place to have little bands play, you know? Like punk bands just starting out? We should talk to this guy about promoting shows here.” He went over to talk to the VFW guy.

Someone put music on and turned on the disco ball and colored lights. Joe came in with some people and everyone started to dance. He was trashed. He was spinning around and boogeying and dancing up a storm. He was getting belligerent – “Come on you fuckers, dance!!” Grabbing everyone, swinging them around. Everyone was laughing. It had to have been nearly 5 in the morning.

I stood against the wall and watched for a long time. The weed had worn off long ago and I was drowsy and warm from the alcohol. The lights were flashing off the disco ball. I was standing in a VFW hall in Massachusetts watching Joe Strummer and a bunch of drunken rockers whoop it up and dance away the night to blaring pop music. It was a brilliant sight. I took a deep breath and one long last look, emblazoned the scene onto my eyes, into memory. I turned, and without saying goodbye to anyone, walked up the stairs and out into the cool dawn light.

The next morning I overslept. I’d set my alarm cause Tim said maybe we’d have breakfast with Joe. It never went off and I grabbed my phone as soon as I saw the time. I had three messages from Tim. He was taking Lucinda and Joe record shopping and they wanted me to come. Where was I? They were doing the photo shoot and Tim needed me to help hold stuff. Wake the fuck up. They were going to be hanging out for awhile, I could still make it. I called Tim.

“Yeah, you missed it. I just dropped them off at the hotel. They’re leaving later today.” Damn. I knew I’d regret that for a long time, but I thought of the previous night and smiled. It was a perfect night. I went back to sleep.

The issue of RUDE International with Joe on the cover and Tim’s interview sold out in about a week. It was our top-selling issue. People really dug it, which made me happy.

A few years later I was living back in NY and Joe’s new band the Mescaleros came to town. As luck would have it, my friends The Slackers were opening for them at Irving Plaza. I went down early and was able to catch soundcheck. It was the first time I heard Joe’s voice through a live sound system. I was born in 1977, robbed of the chance to see The Clash through the fate of showing up in the world a little too late. But as soon as I heard Joe sing, with the Mescaleros’ muscle backing him, it didn’t matter so much. I knew it was probably nothing like seeing The Clash in full force, but it was my little piece of glitter anyway.

The show was packed to the hilt, as it was the first time in many years that Joe played New York, and among others in attendance were the Beastie Boys, Matt Dillon, Joey and CJ Ramone, Tim Armstrong. The crowd was mostly full of older Clash fans, trading war stories, anxious to see Joe perform again. The Slackers played a tight, energetic set, revving up the crowd and turning up the heat. I was front row center (where else) when the Mescaleros burst onto the stage.

The show was amazing, half Clash songs, half Mescaleros material. The crowd went wild and I had to bail out from the front after getting smashed in the head too many times by over-enthused men flailing their meaty arms about. My little brother came with me. I had gotten him a photo pass and he took pictures in the pit next to Bob Gruen. He was 18 and as a responsible older sister, I had raised him on The Clash. It was a great experience for him.

Joe Strummer - Photo by Craig Tiffen

Photo by Craig Tiffen

Joe Strummer - Photo by Craig Tiffen

Photo by Craig Tiffen

After the show, it was off to Niagara, a bar on Ave A in the East Village. Tim Armstrong, BJ Papas (the rock photographer), Chris LaSalle from Hellcat Records, Joey Ramone, CJ Ramone, Johnny from Clowns for Progress (who co-owns Niagara), a lot of people were there. Someone took a picture of Tim, Joe, Joey, and BJ that ended up in Rolling Stone the next month. I sat down at the bar with Vic Ruggiero, Marcus Geard, and Agent Jay from the Slackers.

We were pretty wasted by the time Joe made his entrance. He came roaring in, stinking drunk, hugging everyone. “Hello! Hello!” He came over to Vic, Marcus and Jay. “The Slackers!” He yelled, and hugged them. He practically threw them on the ground. “You guys were fabulous, amazing. Such a great show! You know,” He said, more seriously, “I was really nervous tonight before I went on. I thought – man, I can’t fucking do this. I don’t know if I can pull this off. And then I went out to watch you. And you guys were so wonderful, the energy, the music, it was so incredible. It made me happy and it gave me strength, and I thought, I can do this. When I saw you, I wasn’t nervous anymore. I couldn’t wait to get out there and play.”

The guys were caught off guard at Joe’s outburst, his enthusiasm. They shook his hand. “Thanks, man!” Joe spotted me. “Hey there.”

“Hey, I’m Margo, we met… I dunno if you remember…”

“Of course I do! In Boston! How are you? Great to see you!” Big hug. We were old friends.

Joe carried on like this for awhile, tumbling all over everyone. He was shouting, everyone was shouting. Joe’s energy was infectious. It got pretty rowdy and after awhile Lucinda came in to fetch Joe. She was kind with him, but firm. “Come on Joe, everyone’s going back to the hotel. We have to go with them, they need the keys. Say goodbye, let’s go.”

“I want to stay!!” It was pretty obvious Joe had too much to drink. Lucinda was smart, if she left him with us, we’d have egged him on all night. After a bit of prodding, Lucinda finally corralled Joe and dragged him off to the hotel, but not without sloppy hugs all around and shouts of “Goodnight! Goodbye!” from Joe. When he was gone, we all giggled and continued drinking late into the night.

I saw Joe play with the Mescaleros two more times. Once in Boston, and then again in NY. Each show was a different experience, each a great live set. After I heard of Joe’s passing, I didn’t listen to any of his music for a few days. I thought it would be very hard to let something that had always filled me with joy, for the first time fill me with so much sadness.

A few nights later, I went to a tribute night at a bar in NYC. They showed a film of one of the Mescaleros performances in Brooklyn. Afterwards, they popped on The Clash video collection and Agent Jay spun reggae. Watching the performance and videos, I realized how incredibly lucky we were to have this man’s life so well documented, for us to have been part of his world, and he part of ours.

Most of the music out there today is banal and useless. Even the stuff that’s passably witty, the stuff you can shake your ass to and have a good time, is really nothing more in the end than a fleeting laugh. Little of it means anything. None of it has the power to change the world. We have lost many of the people who did change the world. Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, to name just a few. They changed the way we think, the way we felt. They affected us so deeply that they were, at their best, able to unite people across class, geographical, and racial divides.

Music is one of the most potent mediums of expression we have. It has gotten to the point where all people seem to be able to express is their desire for sex, money, and expensive commodities. These people will never light a fire around the world like the Ramones, The Clash, and the Beatles did. These people will never show alienated kids who feel scared and alone that they have a voice. That even if they don’t have the right clothes, don’t come from a happy, well-to-do family, don’t look like the models in the magazines, it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth anything. That they can make a difference.

Right now, when we most need it, we get nothing from our musicians on any topic other than who’s a hater, who’s a player, and what they were wearing when they did it. The Clash truly were, as they say, “the only band that mattered”. Joe was in many ways the beating heart of that band. Ever since his heart stopped suddenly on December 22, the silence has been deafening.

— December 31, 2002

Joe Strummer, 1981 - Photo by Bob Gruen

Joe Strummer, 1981 – Photo by Bob Gruen

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