Today was Joe Strummer’s birthday and it is difficult to imagine him at 68, Joe Strummer is forever this giant smile, this punk rock warlord, this stage energy, and this ‘know your rights’ guy… but it would be interesting to see what he would write in 2020 said a few of his friends during this special streaming, ‘A Song for Joe, Celebrating the life of Joe Strummer,’ presented by Gates of the West and Dark Horse Records, the label founded by George Harrison. The 2-hour event was quite similar to the ones I have attended at the Roxy to honor Strummer’s legacy. Organized by Jesse Malin, they brought on the same stage a long list of guests singing one or two Strummer/Clash song, but of course, since this one was virtual, the number of rock stars went to the roof.
The very special performances alternated with poignant testimonials and even some never-before-seen Joe Strummer live footage, while people were encouraged to give money during the event to benefit Save Our Stages, which is being spearheaded by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to preserve and protect the USA’s independent live music venues and promoters.
Among the most prestigious guests, there was Bruce Springsteen who declared that Strummer had been an inspiration for the past 40years, Matt Dillon who called him his hero, Steve Buscemi who remembered the nickname he had found for Joe (bushbaby). This was a long series of familiar faces, probably because Strummer’s personality and music can only gather my kind of crowd, The Interrupters did a punchy passionate rendition of ‘Get Down Moses,’ Jeff Tweedy played ‘Death and Glory’ with a Wilco-esque sensibility, Tom Morello performed a quiet version of ‘Bankrobber’ with guitar and harmonica in his living room, Jesse Malin played a more electrified ‘Johnny Appleseed’ with this band. Craig Finn & Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady added layered harmonies and fingerpicking to ‘Washington Bullets,’ Jesse Dayton performed a very dynamic ‘Janie Jones,’ Dropkick Murphys did a great job with ‘Tommy Gun,’ while Josh Klinghoffer (of Strummer’s own The 101ers) gave a falling-out-of-his-chair version of ‘Rudy Can’t Fail.’
The Strokes’ Nikolai Fraiture had chosen to play ‘Police and Thieves’ with a ukulele in front of the East Village Joe Strummer mural. Butch Walker did an all-stripped-down acoustic guitar (not-so-easy) rendition of ‘London Calling,’ Frank Turner brought dynamism in ‘White Man,’ and Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme & Troy Van Leeuwen had a sexy leather jacket rock & roll energy during Train in Vain (Stand by Me). Lucinda Williams did an icy dubbed rendition of ‘Straight to Hell’ with her band, Dave Hause (of The Mermaid) played a very loyal ‘Coma Girl,’ Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz played an original song, ‘Raw Grace in your Face (Everything Joe Said),’ with his usual disheveled raucous gypsy punk style, and Bob Weir duetted Jesse Malin on the slowed-down folksy ‘Death or Glory’ which took off after a while. The very young generation was represented by Hinds’ Latino girlies harmonies during ‘Spanish Bombs and even Cherry Glazerr played ‘Charlie Don’t Surf,’ with more or less success … There were a few other ones.
Some of the best moments were the unexpected apparitions and stories between songs, including Bad Brains’ H.R., Beto O’Rourke talking about the Texas roots of ‘I Fought the Law,’ (then performed by Joe Ely), and Shepard Fairey quoting his favorite lyrics, ‘It’s not good for man to work in cages,’ ‘Let fury have the hour, anger can be power,’ Authority has no inherent wisdom,’ and of course ‘The future is unwritten.’ All these lyrics resonate very much today, and these little snapshots of Joe Strummer’s life showed what a humanist he was.
‘He loved listening and talking to people,’ said photographer Bob Gruen, ‘The Sex Pistols looked back with anger, The Clash looked forward with hope.’ ‘He stood up for certain things, he stood against racism, sexism, fascism, ignorance,’ remembers Jim Jarmusch who said he still asks Joe for advice, ‘He had a finely tuned mind, a very compassionate open heart and he kept these two things beautifully connected.’ It is something we need right now.
Watch this celebration of Joe Strummer’s spirit below.
A fast rock & roll song performed with a retro punk vibe
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