Olivier Assayas's film on the aftermath of May 1968 is infantile ultra-leftism
JOE GLENTON explains his need to respond to a world that is unsustainably divided
looking at the career of Joe Strummer
It's just over 10 years since Joe Strummer left this mortal coil. It's certainly true that absence makes the heart grow fonder as the number of celebrations and commemorations taking place last week was considerable. Back in the summer we had the Strummer of Love festival.
Although it was perfectly clear during his lifetime that Strummer was a one-off, his stature as a radical cultural and political figure has only grown since 2002 as the dearth of protest singers and politically motivated musicians today becomes ever more pronounced.
A cottage industry of books and websites about him has grown up since he died - most tend to beatify him. This is wrong because he was not without many contradictions - most obviously between elements of his personal life and his political convictions.
But that is to be expected of anyone and makes that point that we should not put people on pedestals. That said, whatever the clashes between the personal and political in his life, there is no taking away from the fact that he was a spokesman for a generation and a very radical and authoritative one at that.
His platform was not just as the lyrisist of The Clash and his last band the Mescaleros but also as someone prepared to use his public profile to further progressive causes.
Throughout his life Strummer played many benefits gigs including for the striking miners and firefighters. Important as these were in putting his money where his mouth was, he reached many more by writing lyrics which imparted a political education.
He said the anger of disaffected youth at home was legitimate but critically needed to be creatively directed. It was a case of "don't just get angry - get even."
As a citizen of the world, Strummer also wrote trenchant criticism of imperialism, dictatorship, war and militarism especially of the US-sponsored variety.
Naming an album after the Sandinistas in Nicaragua was just one instance when he encouraged draft resistance. When this song The Call Up was released its B-side was Stop The World - an anti-nuclear anthem. It was a fundraiser for CND.
As a radical musician, Strummer was also ahead of his time when it came to environmental issues. It did not stop with just the lyrics. He was instrumental in setting up Future Forests, an organisation dedicated to planting trees in various parts of the world to combat global warming and was the first artist to make the recording, pressing and distribution of his records carbon neutral. Future Forests planted Rebel's Wood in his honour on Skye.
Fans and followers often told him that his lyrics and personal example "had changed their lives."
All Strummer said and did stemmed from two fundamental questions - why are things the way they are, and do they have to be this way? This meant that social change for the better was at least possible because, he insisted, "the future is unwritten."
Fans would be let in through back windows to gigs, invited to after-show parties and the price of records was deliberately kept down. He felt it was his responsibility to be the friend of the fans - so much so that he wouldn't leave the venue until every fan who wanted to speak to him had.
But there was more to his appeal that just the ability to empathise. While he could be like his fans - the "ordinary Joe" who was good at listening to them and their tales - he also had the ability to be a confident, at times cocksure, radical spokesman.
It was for both these reasons that he had fans and that these fans looked up to him.
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