This time of year is always bittersweet for fans of The Clash. Ten years ago today, December 22nd, 2002, the band’s great frontman Joe Strummer died of a heart attack after retuning home from walking his dogs. He was just 50.
His premature death was sudden, senseless, and inexplicable. Following The Clash’s tumultuous break-up, Strummer had pieced his life back together. He was a vegetarian and avid runner, and was working on a third album with his acclaimed solo project, The Mescaleros. In November 2002, he performed on stage with former bandmate Mick Jones, and there was a strong probability of The Clash reuniting for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2003.
Unfortunately, all of Strummer’s great plans went unfulfilled thanks to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Like I said — it was sudden, senseless, and inexplicable.
A decade later, Strummer’s legacy still shines bright. He provided a boilerplate for all prospective frontmen in which advocacy and social consciousness are as important as playing one’s heart out every single night. Musically, The Clash’s fusion of punk, reggae, ska, and rockabilly influenced generations of musicians, from Rancid and The Gaslight Anthem to Arcade Fire and Gorillaz.
Strummer was also one of the first superstar musicians to become involved in film scoring, leading to the influx of collaborations seen today. Meanwhile, the Strummerville Foundation, created in the wake of his death, provides young musicians with resources and opportunities for exposure, and even established its own music festival in 2012.
There are many more, but here are six of Strummer’s best quotes:
“The future is unwritten”
“We aren’t particularly talented. We try harder!”
“Everyone has got to realize you can’t hold onto the past if you want any future. Each second should lead to the next one.”
“When you blame yourself, you learn from it. If you blame someone else, you don’t learn nothing, cause hey, it’s not your fault, it’s his fault, over there.”
“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed.”
“I’d like to say that people people can change anything they want to; and that means everything in the world. Show me any country and there’ll be people in it. And it’s the people that make the country. People have got to stop pretending they’re not on the world. People are running about following their little tracks. I am one of them. But we’ve all gotta stop just stop following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything; this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other; it’s because they’ve been dehumanized. It’s time to take that humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed… it ain’t going anywhere! They should have that on a big billboard across Times Square. Think on that. Without people you’re nothing.”
And here are some of his most incredible moments captured on video (there are plenty of more out there — I strongly suggest watching the documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten. Also, read the biography Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer.)
And this remains the best thing ever to happen at the Grammys
Thanks for everything, Joe.