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Wednesday 22 December 2021

Without People You're Nothing

Most years since I started this blog I've marked the anniversary of Joe Strummer's death and this year more than ever I think I'll do that. A few weeks ago I began thinking about a post about Sandinista! and how rather than being the outlier in The Clash's back catalogue it is actually the record that contains the absolute essence of The Clash and how it is an album that makes more and more sense as each year passes. That post never got written and I don't have the space to do it right now but we'll do Joe anyway. 

In 1983 The Clash released Combat Rock and one of the songs was Sean Flynn, a seven minute lament (before it got cut down for the final record) for Sean Flynn, the photographer son of the actor Errol who went to Vietnam and was never seen again, murdered in 1971 either by Vietcong or Khmer Rouge. Topper plays south- east Asian drums and percussion, Gary Barnacle adds sax and Mick Jones creates texture and mood with guitar and echo box. Meanwhile Joe sings of the missing photographer, the son of a Hollywood legend, lost in the jungles of a war that consumed the USA for over a decade and that achieved nothing.

Sean Flynn (Extended Marcus Music Version)

A few years later in 1990, his band split and gone and Joe struggling to find his place in the world he recorded a song for the film I Hired A Contract Killer. Burning Lights is in the film and came out on 7", backed on the B-side by The Pogues. On the A- side it's just Joe and that chugging guitar sound and some hard won wisdom/ poetry. 

'And I've been a long haul driver
Moving things but the cops don't know
Now I can see the writing
You are the last of the buffalo
Burning lights in the desert
Such a sign only you would know
Your running tires, they're out of pressure
Such a sign only you would know.
Now I've been to California
And I've been to New South Wales
Sometimes, I pull over
When I realize I've left no trace'

Burning Lights

Joe came back in the late 90s after a decade in the wilderness, rebuilding his life and his music. Moving to Somerset seemed to fix him. He became a regular at Glastonbury, his campfire a home for like minded souls. His famous quote, 'without people you're nothing', came from a radio interview which you can find here


Nick L said...

Burning Lights is great, I always think latter day Joe is better in more stripped down mode.

JTFL said...

He should've written a book.

The Swede said...

I couldn't agree more as regards your thoughts on 'Sandinista'. 'London Calling' is the band's greatest achievement in my opinion, but it's an album I feel that I completely have the measure of. 'Sandinista' on the other hand, continues to reveal aspects itself all these years later.

Swiss Adam said...

JTFL- he really should have written a book.
Swede- spot on.

Conrad said...

For a couple of years my fortnightly visit to HQ resulted in me walking past the “Joe Strummer Subway.” I always felt it was a poor memorial to Mr Strummer and would most often put a Clash track on as I passed it in tribute. I’m one of those who consider “Sandinista” the outlier but despite this my track of choice would often be “The Magnificent Seven”. All these years later, like Joe, my Sandinista LP and the the subway itself are gone but today I think I’ll give the album a virtual spin on Spotify.