Memory Motel, Part 43: Strummer Saves The World?
Part 43: Strummer Saves The World?
Phillip was dozing in an armchair, at first he was waiting for Fatou to return but after an hour he realized that wasn’t about to happen and so he thought about going to bed, but didn’t have the energy. He just sat there, sprawled, snoozing and sleeping, his mind a jumble of images, flicking in and out of consciousness, in that place where dreams like a short stories flit into your mind and you sort of wake up, and sleep again. He was with his Mommy, he had a stomachache, how old? Five years old and she was lying next to him in bed. And then he woke again. So alone, he had never felt more apart from the world round, had never felt less a part of a greater world and more completely alone and isolated. Why save or bother with this? For who? For Gloria, shot in the back by a careless, selfish, arrogant cop? How would that help her and where was she and was this anything to do with her?
The thing about being alone is that you are alone and as Michelle just proved to him, all the talk of family, of responsibility, it only mattered when they needed you, when they didn’t need you, well at that part of the day you might as well be dead, or elsewhere. Responsible to his mother, to a girl he killed, to a world at war with him. “new boots wearin suits…” he misquoted to himself. Closed his eyes. And he was back on that night, racing through the streets in hot pursuit, pistol drawn, black as night, pump pump, a body drops, he runs towards it, and down she falls, and then he is next to her, holding her, bloody hole in her back. Locate the wound, stop the bleeding, keep her from going into shock, Phillip covered her with his body and she turned her face and stared into his eyes. But it wasn’t Gloria, it was Susan. He jumped out of the chair and it was really Susan standing in front of him, with Fatou, an attractive woman in her 20s. and in jeans, a Rock Steady tee shirt and a denim vest, Joe Strummer. Strummer looked at Phillip and Phil thought, he couldn’t be any more Joe Strummer if he was the Strummer blueprint, all pompadour and brylcreem and Strummer held out his hand to Phil. “How ya doing, mate?” He said.
Susan replied for Phil. “This ain’t the guy.”
Joe laughed, “I thought he looked a little old.”
“Mike is sleeping.”
“Wake him up.”
Phil looked at her, shrugged and banged on the door. “Get up Mike, get up now. A big surprise in here for you.” No answer. “Get up now.” Still no answer. Now he banged hard, “Will you wake the fuck up and get out here.”
“Fuck off”, Mike replied.
Joe smiled, and shook his head. “Let’s just go in and…”
But the door opened and Mike stood there glowering in a George Jones tee shirt and boxer shorts. “It’s past four in the morning…” Mike snarled and if Phil wasn’t so big, he might well have taken a swing at him. “What the fuck is…” Then he scanned the audience and looked back, surprised. “Joe” was all he said.
Joe just looked at him with a wide smile, pushed towards him, put his arm round Mike’s shoulder and walked him back at. “I hear you’ve been causing trouble, son. What’s it all about.”
“How am I causing trouble, Joe?” What do I owe these guys, they don’t understand anything. This is my time, me and Michelle….” Michelle had taken the chance to dress fast, and looked clear and innocent in jeans and a tee shirt. “I am not like these guys, I’m not rich, I’m not anything. I don’t even know what they want from me, I don’t believe them. What has it got to do with us?”
Joe pulled a giant spliff from his vest pocket and lit it. Smoke filled the room. He took another hit and handed it to Mike. “Then don’t go to Central Park with the Stones”, he said with a smile and sat on the sofa, Mare beside him, a big grin on his face.
“And what happens if I don’t.”
“I have no idea. I guess they could survive your defection, if not, well, that will be the end of the Universe. But, I think I agree with you. It really is the essence of freedom to not help, to not do what you can. I never believe in owing people at all. That wasn’t my scene.”
“You wouldn’t have done it?”
“Don’t be silly, of course I’d have done it but I wouldn’t have seen it the way you do. I wouldn’t see service as a lack of freedom, but the essence of freedom. “
“How can you say that, Joe, surely punk was a giant up yours to everybody.”
“And the music of course…”
“Please get me a scotch and coke,” Joe asked Mare and turned his attention back to Mike. “I don’t think that was what happened. In 1975, 1976, kids my age, you know, out of art school, with no money, some of them would go on to never get a job in their life. They quite literally had nothing.”
“That’s true, but nearly everyone around me, surrounding me, all of my friends, and everybody I knew were broke and I was broke. We had nothing at all. What punk did at first, what its job was, was to form a community of young kids with nothing. No hope, no future, the ashtray of humanity and the finishing end of the British Empire. Ten years after England Swings, the Beatles and the 60s, London was swinging by a rope. That’s where we came out. Kids like Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Billy Idol, all of these kids, had to reinvented themselves and when they did they reinvented their friends and fans.”
“I admit that is a social thing, Joe. But it is still individuals, it is still a reinvention.”
“Wait a moment, Mike. Yes, but it was a community not a person reinventing themselves, it had a life of its own, where through fashion, politics, music, all these kids were in the art of invention and as far as I was concerned theses kids were me and I was them. We were part of the same thing, and I loved them and I cared for them and after punk, as I grew older, that caring expanded until it included everybody downtrodden, beaten by life, I felt like I was one of them. And as a famous person, as a rock star, I felt like my responsibility wasn’t to take more but to give more.”
“So idealistic, Mr. Strummer.” Michelle said. “But what difference does idealism make? What difference does it make if we reject the Stones and start a band now.” She paused and set her blue eyes steadily on him. “I just don’t believe it matters. We are just being manipulated because Mick Jagger wants to manipulate us.”
“Do you really think this is even slightly up to Mick? This is God’s handiwork. HE works in mysterious was, and always gets his own way.”
“So why are we needed?”
“Why is anybody needed? Back to punk, who needed who? We all needed each other, we all needed to make our way out, through music, through life, and through each other. What we knew, what I know now, is that the call of the Universe is oneness,of each for each other.”
“But if there is life after death, who cares if the world ends.”
“You do, they do, afterlife there is an aftermath, life is such an intense experience that only through infinite time do we can assimilate and share the experience. And the concern, your concern, is not death, it is life. Mike, think of your sister. She still exists, her consciousness still burns. It’s nice but it doesn’t change the heartbreak of her truncated life. You feel better, but how much better? Do you miss her less?”
“I don’t miss her less but I am very very very happy nevertheless.”
“Would you not think that the preciousness of her life, and expand it to everything on earth, and everything elsewhere, everything that lives at all, everything that is finite, that has a lifespan, all of it together, if you can help it for any reason, to any degree, what else could possibly matter. If you don’t help and the Universe ends, so do your children, so does your future love with Michelle, so does your band. Everything you know and believe in is finished. Maybe you can’t save it but surely you have to try. Even if it cost you everything, you must do.” The Joe stopped himself. “No, that’s not true. I must. Not you. You are free but it is a freedom I would never ever choose.”
“There are things more important than I am?”
“Yes, I am sorry but there simply are. The cost of mortality is service to others.”
They sat in silence for just a moment, before Joe shook himself and said to Mike, “Do you have a guitar handy?”
Mike smiled “Yeah, of course… I think you’ll like it. He passed it to Joe, who laughed, “Yeah, you’re right. Pricey, though?” he replied, plugging into an amp that seemed to have appeared in a whiff of smoke. He strummed a few chords. “Nice sound, expensive?”
“Yeah, I have no money but Michelle is very rich and way too good to me. She bought it for me.”
“Ha, that’s a coincidence. Do you know how I bought this.” And Joe’s 1975 Fender was suddenly in his arms.
“Yeah, of course I do. Part of the legend.”
“And all true…”
Phillip, he wanted nothing more than to get some sleep, snapped “Well, do you plan to tell us?” But they didn’t reply, just sat there, strumming their guitars. “But aren’t you a lead guitarist, Mike?”
“I like to attack, you know. I’m very aggressive. It is one of the things I love most about punk is that it is always on the prowl for a rumble, it’s like all this aggression for a definite reason, it matters so much to me that in world that wants to tread on me, this machine let’s me fight back.”
“You’re right and wrong, kid. It lets you fight back for other people, punk is about other people. Life is about other people. That’s something that’s so hard to grasp but whatever else, if it wasn’t then why form a band. Why not just sit in your room and play? To play music is to play for other people. Otherwise, you know, you might as well never share anything. That’s like a secret, you know. “ Joe handed the joint to Mike and switched to an acoustic Fender Sunburst, Mike sang back up and held down the beat for Joe as he stroked “Johnny Appleseed” and then “Coma Girl”, a slow dread locked “Police And Thieves” and a little too witty for its own good “Career Opportunities”. The two had a natural affinity and fell into their roles with grace. “You’re pretty good, kid.” Joe told Mike. “Not everybody knows that you shouldn’t always play the hotshot. It goes back to community. We should meet up once you die… wow, that sounded ghoulish.”
Mare spoke for the first time. “Are we going home, Joe?”
“Sure we are.”
“I mean our home, right?”
“Of course, our home.”
Susan and Fatou had listened in silence but suddenly realized they might not get what they wanted. Susan looked at Phillip with pleading eyes. Phillip said. “So, Joe, aren’t you going to do something?”
“Like what? What should I do Phillip? Beat somebody up?” Michelle and Mike giggled at this and Phil scowled. “really, what do you expect
“Convince him to go tomorrow night”
“Sorry, mate I’m not doing that. “
“Why won’t you do that?”
“Who the fuck are you? Why are you questioning me? I was asked to speak to Mike, I spoke to Mike, I’m not going to tell him what to do, it is none of my business.”
“Then tell him what you’d do…”
Mike interrupted Phillip, “He did tell me what he would do, didn’t you hear?”
Joe smiled a sort of beatific, “Exactly right, and now I am leaving.”
Phillip stood right in Strummer’s face, the long night had worn him out, and he was sick of being disrupted, by Phillips count he was now officially the very last in order of appearance. “You came here to get it started, so get it started,” Mare backed behind Joe, but Joe just smiled at Phillip and shook his head. “Too much anger there, son. No one is disrespecting you.”
Michelle came over and took Phillip’s hand, “Relax, killer, we’ll be there”
“Of course we will,” Mike said.
“There you go, son.” Joe said. And turning to the entire room he added with a flourish: “Happy Trails” and went back to his home with the horses till the arrival of his family.