Hero Worship Will Be The Death of Us All

19Jul07

the combo

In absence of faith, the Clash were my surrogate religion. Joe Strummer was my saviour. The three-in-one; father, son and holy spook with a battered Telecaster and rotten teeth. Greasy quiff for a crown of thorns. Sweat and gob for holy water.

Assigning supernatural importance to “rock stars” is nothing new, and I’m sure Lennon fans felt much the same at his passing. But let’s fuck pragmatism for the moment, embrace messy sentimentality and forge down that rose-coloured path to the past.

Circa 1995, I had just graduated from high school, got my first “real” job (which, in the Maritimes, means “call-centre”) and got turned onto punk rock. It started with the Sex Pistols and, oddly enough, the Lemonheads’ first album. I got them off a coworker who talked a mile-a-minute and loved Cannibal Corpse (what ever became of you Paul?). Another co-worker, John, also bears mention in the guidance-towards-good-music category. For this I am forever grateful.

Of course, the Offspring and Green Day had exploded onto the mainstream radar at the same time, and I won’t engage in any revisionist history in the name of Cool. I loved Dookie, Kerplunk, and Ignition (still do). The Clash were there too, but all I had was Combat Rock and a poorly dubbed version of the first album. On cassette of course — the only format lamer than compact disc.

I gradually grew tired of the Pistols (I mean, they only had what? fifteen songs?) and realized the Lemonheads were shit. The west coast skate-punk thing didn’t really speak to me, aside from Bad Religion in bursts, and I was never a Misfits fan (because I never spent much time wondering what the Ramones would have been like had they traded Dee Dee for Gene Simmons). So there was the Clash. They exuded cool. Rebellion, radical thought and so on. Everything a disillusioned teenager looked for in a band, before major label marketers latched on and turned punk rock into an outright commodity.

I remember buying London Calling at Sam the Record Man in Brunswick Square (in good old Saint John, NB) and popping it into my parents’ stereo upon arriving home. Expecting to hear something along the lines of the first album, I was taken aback at first. LC’s reputation had preceded it and I was expecting a life altering experience. After all, Rolling Rag had named it the “best” album of the eighties. But the guitars were much more restrained; less distortion, more reverb and phase. Power chords replaced by minors and sevenths. Les Paul sophistication rather than Jr. raunch, and Joe was actually playing melodies rather than augmenting the rythm section with clicks and pops.

I didn’t like it. Jimmy Jazz? What the hell? Reggae? Ska? Indeed.

But something happened. At some point. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but next thing I knew, London Calling was worn out. Stretched and warped. Coming apart at the seams. Thrown to the weeds from the window of a moving vehicle on a back road and promptly replaced with a fresh copy the next day.

I was obsessed. Fueled by the net — a newfangled thing at the time — I devoured anything Clash-related that I could get my hands/eyes on. Jeff Dove’s bootleg site, and London’s Burning (webmaster by the name of Dave) provided me with more than enough fodder. I think I’ve probably read every article ever written about the Clash. And I’m not one for overstatement. Old scans of NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds. Sniffin Glue. Rolling Stone. Etc.

Couldn’t get enough.

Of course, I was filling a void. A void of loneliness and unrequited love. A void of dissatisfaction with everything around me. A bankrupt value system. A loss of faith that had never really been there for me in the first place. Confusion. Emptiness. Typical teenagey angst things — things which, in all fairness to teenagers, dog me to this day. And I’m pushing thirty.

The Clash were one hell of a distraction though, despite the fact they had broken up ten years previous. Needless to say, they were the single biggest influence on me during my late-blooming formative years. They turned me on to radical politics and philosophies. Got me interested in history. Got me to buy a cheap electric guitar at a pawn shop, and an even cheaper amp. Got me into reggae, ska, dub, jazz and soul.

And Joe Strummer was the centre of it all. Sure, Mick was a mean guitar slinger, but he wasn’t cool (as evidenced by his latter-day stage outfits and reluctance to play the fucking guitar). Paul was cool, but a bit one-dimensional and a lousy bass player. Topper was a skaghead muso, albeit an awesome drummer.

But Joe Strummer was the man. A poet. The centrepiece. The heart of the band. A seemingly regular guy who maxmized his rudimentary chops and got by on sheer balls, charisma and hard work.

And maybe that’s just the way it was planned, but I’m not Marcus Grey. I have no interest in debunking any myths. All great historical figures are romanticized on some level, and that’s fine by me. I realize Joe Strummer was just a guy at the end of the day. A guy with a heart defect.

A guy who I’ve never met and never will, but feel as though I know like a brother. And if that’s delusional and creepy, then so be it.

But the Clash fans know. And at the end of the day, we’re the ones who write the band’s history. Revisionists be damned.

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2 Responses to “Hero Worship Will Be The Death of Us All”

  1. 1 Laney

    This is a really interesting piece, written in such a natural way. There is nothing delusional about your quite normal thoughts. As you say, “Clash fans know”. yes we do. I had never shed a tear over a famous person dying and thought those who did were wankers… until Joe. So many hearts broke that day, and there is nothing wrong with it. He was not an average guy, and the love and sorrow he inspired is therefore not average.I do not worship him and no one should, but he held the hearts of fans and friends alike, and if Mick cannot mention Joe without weeping and Topper says his grief gets worse not better over time, your quite mild form of “worship” for this lovely lad is fine. Clash Fans KNOW.

  2. 2 arsebundren

    Laney,

    Thanks for the words. I’m glad you enjoyed it… I’ve been hoping a fellow Clash fan would stumble upon this piece at some point. I actually wrote this on the anniversary of Joe’s death last December in a moment of spontaneous inspiration. I had tried doing the same a few days after his death, but I was never satisfied with the results. Too much heart and not enough brain or maybe just too soon. Regardless, I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying.


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