Brushes with Joe Strummer



38 Water St brooklyn ny 11201

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Dumbo

It’s frustrating being over two thousand miles away from home and hearing about the death of the great Joe Strummer, the Clash singer, guitarist. As I read his obituary in the LA Times (on page 1 – nice to see he got the respect he deserves) all I want to do his to listen to his music, but I’m at my parents house and I can’t.

I’d seen the Clash play twice before, or maybe more appropriately one and a half times before. The first time was when they opened up for The Who at Shea Stadium. A couple of years later, I saw the fake Clash (the band was without their guitarist Mick Jones) at my college. The latter show doesn’t even count, it was like seeing the Stones without Keith Richards, but the Shea Stadium show left a big impression. They kicked The Who’s ass even before they played a note, from the moment they entered the stage with the swagger of a 1950’s street gang I knew I was in for something special. Joe had a mohawk and I remember very distinctly the way Mick Jones tapped his foot with a certain nonchalant coolness. I have to admit I was there to see The Who. I was not a cool kid, and I’m fully aware that Clash shows from earlier tours were far better, and I wish I could tell stories of the legendary Clash shows at the Palladium or Bonds but I can’t. but maybe this shows exactly how powerful a band they were. They emitted a stage presence so strong, 300 feet away from me in centerfield at Shea Stadium that I would never listen to The Who again and I became a Clash fan.

I was hoping to see them at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this year. I’m a voting member of the Hall but just because you vote doesn’t get you into the ceremony, but as soon as I heard that they had been elected in I started trying to pull some strings. This was going to be a great moment seeing the band on stage and seeing them play together again.

It’s funny how that works, I’ve been thinking them a lot lately. A few years back someone at Sony music gave me a Clash box set of all their albums. And about eighteen months ago I was in the presence of the great Strummer. I’ve worked in the music business for 15 years and I can say I don’t usually get nervous about meeting my heroes, but when Joe Strummer showed up to the show of a band I work with in LA I was kind of awestruck. And I wasn’t alone, my friend Dennis who never gets nervous was apoplectic. It was he who spotted Joe hanging out in a bar at the after show party. He nervously suggested we go meet him. I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t know what to say. Later I saw Dennis who is usually full of bravado, meekly introduce himself and through stutters explained what a huge fan he was. Joe was very cool, he smiled and shook Dennis’ hand as if Dennis were a little child. As Joe left that night he stopped by the drummer while I was talking to him. Joe told him how much he enjoyed the show. The drummer smiled and politely and said, “Thank you.” I could tell that he thought he was just some record company person or something, When I told him that it was Joe Strummer who had just complimented him, he fell on the floor and couldn’t believe that Joe Strummer not only had been to his show, liked it, but that he didn’t recognize him. Of course the drummer had the excuse of being 5 years old when the Clash broke up.

Last spring I had the great fortune to see Joe Strummer playing a show a few blocks away from me in Brooklyn at St. Ann’s Warehouse. The venue is pretty new and is not really near the St. Ann’s Church or school, but very close to the Fulton Landing at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge which is close to where I live. As I walked down to the Warehouse I thought that Joe probably saw my apartment building when he crossed the bridge to go to soundcheck and he probably had dinner at a place I’ve eaten before. These are thoughts that teenagers usually have. I was 37.

The show itself was incredible, there was no seating and I pushed my way up close to the front. His voice was uniquely sweet and hoarse. I was singing along loudly hoping it wouldn’t end, and thinking if it lasted longer I could replicate Strummer’s hoarseness. The next day when someone asked me which Clash songs he played, I couldn’t remember the ones he actually played from the ones which were evoked from seeing him so close. Joe played a second night at the Warehouse and I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t go to that show too.

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