Joe Strummer – 10 years gone today. Wow.
The day that Joe died, I sat in a shitty little fast food restaurant in Dallas and read the obit in the newspaper. In my early 30s, in the ashes of 9/11, in wake of the Internet bust and a recession – his death seemed like the death-knell for my youth. It seemed impossible to live in a world where Joe Strummer didn’t exist.
Now I understand that youth isn’t a time or a place as much as it is a state of mind. Joe Strummer and The Clash weren’t so much of a band as they were an idea. It wasn’t music. It was philosophy. And philosophy doesn’t die unless you let it.
Watching the clip above, you can see why a band like this could capture the imagination of so many people. And as teen, you just love loud, frustration-venting rock and roll that Strummer could belt out with face-melting intensity. However, the brilliance of The Clash wasn’t that I found them essential at 15, it’s that I still find the music to be meaningful at 43. Circumstances have changed, but the music is still relevant. Like all great music, whether you are talking about Beethoven or the Beatles, there is a universal truth at the core of it that hasn’t diminished.
While some hear The Clash and find only punk rock nihilism, I always heard optimism. The theme that ran through Strummer’s music and his life always came back to one message – you are not a victim of circumstances, you have choices. Life is what you make of it. The future is unwritten.
I spend a lot of days reading and writing about “talent management” and “human capital” as business issues. Joe would have smashed a guitar over those words, but the ideas were ones that he was fascinated with. It’s about people and power structures, the shitty things they do to each other, and finding a better way. Watch the clip below where Joe sums it all up. Without people, you’re nothing.
So today, let’s heed the words of another big-time Clash fan: “Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer / I think he might have been our only decent teacher. Getting older makes it harder to remember / We are our only saviors.”
RIP Joe. And thanks for the lessons.