joe strummer: streetcore

I never got a chance to write about Joe’s passing. The news reached me literally as I walked into the door of my childhood home for Christmas, text messages chirping out of my cell phone every few minutes as word of Joe’s death spread across the world. I had no time to write, and no one to commiserate with.

All of this is by way of saying, this is probably more eulogy than album review. It’s impossible to even feign any objectivity while listening to Streetcore, because, well, this is it.

As an epitaph, it’s a mighty one. But beyond that, it’s just a fucking good, sometimes GREAT record. I listened to it non-stop after I bought it, and that took me by surprise. I bought it out of grief and loyalty and admiration, but I did not think it would end up that firmly ensconced in heavy rotation, that I would be putting individual songs on repeat on the iPod.

“Arms Aloft” is inspiring, anthemic, full of hope and exhortation: “May I remind you of that scene?/We were arms aloft in Aberdeen,” the chorus for all the world reminding me of a bouncing mosh pit circa 1980, and the story sounding like it was inspired by his days on the road with the Clash. “Long Shadow” is a wonderful, wry, Strummer-countrified, rollicking ballad that he’d written for Johnny Cash. The last line being, “Somewhere in my soul/there’s always rock and roll…” Someone needs to pick this up as a standard cover. I am dead serious about this and am going to make this some kind of personal crusade. I can hear musicians from Springsteen to the Supersuckers to Ryan Adams to John Doe, covering this song and keeping Joe’s memory alive.

Joe’s cover of “Redemption Song” reminded me how the Clash were singlehandedly responsible for any genuine appreciation and understanding of reggae that I possess. This version… no other rock singer should ever be allowed to cover this song again. I listen to it, and think of “Police and Thieves” and “Pressure Drop” and their cover of “The Harder They Fall”. I remember the Clash bringing Gregory Isaacs to open for them in 1981 at the pier (Grandmaster Flash was there one night, too). Nowadays, the crossing of genres in that fashion is taken for granted. But mixing reggae with punk was about as disturbing back then as putting a CCM artist in front of a Good Charlotte crowd today.

The album ends with his cover of “Before I Get Old,” retitled by Joe as “Silver and Gold”. It’s bare, just Joe’s voice, accompanied by fiddle, acoustic guitar, touches of harp, some keys in there. “I’m going to go out dancing every night/I’m going to see all your city lights/I’m gonna do everything, silver and gold/and i got to hurry up before i grow too old…” he sings, and you have to wonder if maybe, somehow, he knew? After the song finishes, it becomes clear that tape is still rolling, and then you hear Joe’s voice, with that trademark Strummer self-assurance, stating, “Okay, that’s a take!”

Yeah, Joe. That’s a take, all right.