is the posthumous new CD
Strummer's wonderful life
magine a newfangled "It's a Wonderful Life," starring
Joe Strummer in Jimmy Stewart's never-been-born role.
Without Strummer as the Clash's frontman, we might
be coming up on 30 years of unending disco, wearing bell-bottomed
leisure suits and spending $20 bills that carry the mug of ex-President
Fortunately, Strummer and his fiery British mates
became primary catalysts for dragging popular music back into the
The Clash wed reggae, punk and rock with street-level
populism; disco became an amusing five-year footnote.
Streetcore, the posthumous new release, is
somehow remindful of all these things a year after congenital heart
failure claimed Strummer three days before Christmas at a still-feisty
The recording, made shortly before Strummer's death,
reveals the prototypical ex-punk still at the peak of his powerful
passions. The disc's 10-song arc spans from folk to hard-edged rock
and weighs in on living in the moment and not backing down when
It's like a great new album from the Clash.
& the Mescaleros: Streetcore is the recent release
(Click for Strummersite).
"Coma Girl," a paean to a motorcycle gang's
Mona Lisa, starts the album with a promising kick. "Get Down
Moses" is a cool blend of rock, reggae and politics with a
sing-along hook and a pleasingly indelicate guitar. "Midnight
Jam" is slow and slinky. And Strummer's rendition of Bob Marley's
"Redemption Song" is apt, intimate and heartfelt.
The album at large benefits from adventuresome guitars
and a thick, bass-happy nightclub sound. Its standouts are many.
One, "Arms Aloft," is a jubilant life-affirming
rave that finds Strummer channeling bygone ghosts to deliver a sage
pep talk to a mate who's dulled by modern-day life.
"Just when you were thinking about slinking down,"
Strummer sings, "I'm gonna pull you up ... I'm gonna pull you
He invokes the likes of Elvis, Bird and Diz before
croaking out his anthemic knockout punch:
May I remind you of that scene / The spirit is of
May I remind you of that scene / We were arms aloft in Aberdeen
matter: right band, right time, right place.
Another standout is "Ramshackle Day Parade,"
said to be Strummer's elegiac reaction to post-9/11 Manhattan. With
stately uplift, the lyrics take a somber stroll alongside four minutes
of heavenly choir and a beautifully edgy electric guitar.
Strummer went far in his half century: from diplomat's
son to boarding-school busker to leader of an outfit that was lovingly
and frequently regarded as "the only band that
"Well, I'll tell you one thing that I know,"
Strummer sings in "Long Shadow," a buoyant folksong said
to be written for Johnny Cash. "You don't face your demons
down, you gotta grapple 'em, Jack, and pin 'em to the ground."
He proceeds to sing of climbing mountains, hearing
the hounds of hell and everything in between before ending the song
with nearly a shout: "Somewhere in my soul ... there's always
rock and roll."
All of which is emblematic of Streetcore, a
mid-life missive from a seemingly self-actualized rocker caught
unaware that the statement would be his last.
Aside from the odd likelihood that a President Travolta
would be better than the current oaf, the upshot is that
Strummer's whole-hearted display of middle-aged everyman vigor lends
immense hope for the planet's future.
And that's a wonderful life.