"Can we, as a country, all
: April 2003: Silver
Spoons & Rotten Teeth
was close enough to see his teeth, those stumpy, rotten,
yellow-and-brown tombstones that signified he'd lived
a HARD life. That jagged mouth spat thunderous fury
against the rich and powerful. A rabid Clash fanatic,
I had muscled my way up to front-and-center stage
and stood the entire concert about three feet away
from Joe Strummer, that honest outlaw, that wrathful
prophet of the dispossessed, that man whose bad teeth
sought to leave deep fang marks in the ass of global
seen anyone sweat so much. The sweat poured from
his face down his neck, down his guitar strap, and
onto the stage. After a few songs, he stood on a
sweat puddle three feet in diameter. I feared he
might even electrocute himself.
It was like
being attacked by an army, mercilessly pummeled
by massive sonic steel artillery. I wondered how
sounds of such magnitude could come from mere guitars.
It was the most powerful musical performance I've
ever witnessed. No one else ever came remotely close.
The Clash had stolen Thor's hammer and beat me up
This was back
in 1980 at the Tower Theater right outside of Philly.
The Clash were on tour to promote London Calling,
an album that didn't have nearly the force of their
live show. The next night, me and some friends drove
over to Jersey to see The Ramones, who had visited
Britain in 1976 and were subsequently plagiarized
by every British punk band that followed, including
was no comparison. The Clash blew them away. The
Ramones were a good rock 'n' roll band. The Clash
were something blinding, something frightening,
a primordial fist knocking out all your teeth.
At the time,
rock critics led me to understand that the reason
for this was because The Clash's music was POLITICAL,
whereas The Ramones sang about sniffin' shoe polish
with girls. Joe Strummer was described as "a highly
articulate rabble-rouser for the dispossessed,"
a man who was "working-class," even "proletarian."
Every Clash song was an anti-rich, pro-poor rave-up
about how fucked-up the wealthy are, and isn't it
great we're a little garage band from garageland,
and the truth is only known by guttersnipes, and
wouldn't it be cool if one day pasty-white Joe Strummer
woke up as a dreadlocked Jamaican musician, à
la Watermelon Man?
for me at least, is that Joe Strummer was born to
wealth. His father was a British diplomat...a representative
of the nation which colonized Africa and Asia and
caused many of the Third World problems that fashionably
leftist Joey-come-latelys could come along and decry...all
while making millions and doing little to solve
the problems. Joe spent his youth not in the Cockney
London which he would later ape as part of his stage
persona, but as a diplomat's son in Turkey, Egypt,
Germany, and Mexico. When he returned to England,
he enrolled in a private boarding school.
the gentle art of slumming very well, though. He
even dropped out of art school! As a London subway
busker in the early 70s, he fused his birth name
(John Graham Mellor) with that of American folk
singer Woody Guthrie and called himself "Woody Mellor."
He also spent some time squatting in flats, presumably
to see how "real people" lived. In 1982, at the
height of The Clash's popularity, millionaire Joe
disappeared for three weeks to try "living like
a bum." How cute! The pro-Marxist Clash
tried to arrange a concert in communist East Germany,
but German authorities were frightened of their
"inflammatory" lyrics and denied them.
That stands right up there with psycho feminist
author Andrea Dworkin helping to write such strict
anti-pornography laws in Canada, her OWN BOOKS
were seized by Canadian Customs as being obscene.
The Clash, who waved a Red flag wherever they
went, would have been silenced and probably jailed...or
even lobotomized...in the sort of Red People's
Utopia they championed from afar. Communism proposed
to uplift common people but wound up killing and
torturing those commoners in numbers that would
have made the Nazis jealous.
years following that transcendent live show in
1980, I watched The Clash devolve from an unstoppable
force of nature to a cheesy arena-rock band whose
horrible doodlings in 3rd World riddim were not
only insulting to everyone in the 3rd World, but
to anyone who was forced to endure their sloppy,
embarrassingly self-indulgent three-album sets.
When me and my droogies were tooling around Philly
in our car and heard the insipid "Should I Stay
or Should I Go?" for the first time on the radio,
we laughed at how low the band had fallen. Still,
we went to see them again in 1982, only to witness
a heartbreakingly hollow, mannered performance
sucked clean of all The Clash's prior atom-splitting
energy. To compensate, they now had a fucking
LIGHT SHOW with scary POLICE LIGHTS and everything.
The Clash, probably because they now sucked, went
on to become MTV stars and were touring with The
Who. These strident anti-capitalists eventually
allowed "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" to be
used in a Levi's commercial.
all, there were even rumors that Joe Strummer
had used some of his lucre to buy himself a spankin'-white
new set of teeth.
bother me. Neither does celebrity. And I don't
think it's wrong for rich people to feel BAD about
the poor. But it bothers the FUCK out of me when
they PRETEND they're poor. And I'm irked that
Joe Strummer, who SEEMED so authentic, was just
another in a long tradition
of rich white kids pretending they're oppressed...and
getting away with it.
In the end, he was
just a studio gangsta. Fool wasn't even FROM Compton.
of a heart attack right before Christmas, and
officials were summoned to remove him from his
million-dollar home. I was saddened. I'm also
confused. If he was a phony, why was that show
back in 1980 so powerful? I can only conclude
that Joe Strummer was angry he WASN'T poor. REALLY,
REALLY angry about it. Not angry enough about
it to sell off his belongings and go live with
poor people, but angry nonetheless.
doesn't explain the bad teeth, though.
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