12/21 “punk rock warlord, with ‘warlord’ being one word…”*

While not a Christmas tradition per say, tomorrow will see me performing one more ritual for the holiday season. This one is relatively new, a scant nine years old, and it is a tradition that i would be much happier without. You see, tomorrow, i will place all my Christmas music to the side and spend the day listening solely to decidedly non-seasonal tunes laid down by The Clash, The 101ers and The Mescalero’s instead. Why you ask? Especially this close to the blessed babe’s birth? Well, it’s because all three of the bands noted above were at one time led by a certain Joe Strummer, and tomorrow just happens to mark the ninth anniversary of his death.

“So? Big Whoop – it’s not like you knew the guy or anything, right?” Right. i didn’t know him, but i could swear that he knew me. At least it seemed that way, since he so often spoke almost directly to my concerns, my fears and my outrage. Across space and time he – along with his band mates – helped me to understand at a tender age not only the world around me, but my place in it as well. As i mentioned previously, Joe and the boys defended my right to be me, only after first helping me understand who i was in the first place. Prior to their introduction, i was lost – well, more lost than afterwards – in a sea of confusion, with my floundering about wondering who i was exactly, and why i couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Joe helped me to see that we’re all in the same boat. That no one truly ever “fits in” anywhere, so you just have a find a somewhere to your liking. And if none exist that you’re partial too, then just go out and make your own. Sooner or later others will join you, and in the end, you’ll either find your “fit”, or it will find you.

Musically speaking, years before Darin would solidify the thought, Strummer planted the seed in me that it was OK – cool even – to dig all kinds of music, instead of simply keeping to one narrow tunnel or another. Through him, i was introduced not only to punk of the intelligent variety, but also reggae, dub, garage, rap and the groundwork for what would many years later would be called “revival swing”. I could almost make a case for his dabbling in gothic music as well, but my argument just doesn’t have enough teeth to pull it off. Regardless, as a result of his example, i can now enjoy both my punk and my broadway, my metal and my bossa nova. Heck, i could even like country if it wanted to. i just don’t want to.

Regardless of the musical style used to best get his point across at any given time, Joe also helped me to understand that it’s quite all right to announce your disgust over injustices that you see. It’s fine and/or dandy to stand one up against a hundred, as long as you know that the hundred are wrong, and that the One is right. He helped me to recognize that my voice was important, just by it’s mere existence. However, he also let me know that my voice shouldn’t be heard until it was informed, committed, and capable of having a positive effect over a negative one.

Now, did Joe have the same impact on me as other arms-length luminaries such as Martin Luther King, Jr., C.S. Lewis or Jesus even? No. But he certainly let me know – with a very cool British accent by the way – that inspiration doesn’t only come from history books or the bible. It can come from your shoulder-slung boom box or scrawled across the back of a record sleeve as well. He let me know that intelligence is a right that must be exercised by every citizen regardless of their social standing, and complacency is not an option. In short, he – along with a long string of others – helped me to become the man i am today. And while he may be no more deserving of praise than anyone else in that long string, today just happens to be the anniversary of the day he died unexpectedly of heart failure, leaving the world a little poorer in the process. As such, i feel it’s right and proper to celebrate his life – and his impact on mine – by placing all my Christmas music to the side and spending the day with The Clash, The 101ers and The Mescalero’s instead.

i could go on in even mushier detail about the impact Joe has had on me, all while trying desperately to describe his ideology further (and my kinship towards it as a result), but i think he said it much better than i ever could, and as such, i’ll allow him to wrap up this post in words befitting:

And so now I’d like to say – people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just 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. That’s because they’ve been dehumanized. It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.

― Joe Strummer, 1952 – 2002

* The title of this post is a comment made by Joe Strummer when being asked how he would like his name to appear during the introduction to the documentary about him called “The Future Is Unwritten.

9/19 why i like The Clash

i know, it should have been The Ramones. They seem to be the natural choice for so many others at any rate. But for me, it was The Clash. Always has been and most likely always will be. If you came up to me (after living for more than thirty and some odd years in a bomb shelter or cave of some sort i suppose) and asked, “what is punk?” i would most likely first shake my head slowly in disbelief. Then i would hand you a copy of “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” and tell you to start there.

best punk album ever?

Mind you, The Clash wasn’t my first experience with this thing called “punk rock”. And they weren’t my second either. In fact, had a high school friend not accidentally given me a mixed tape containing both the Sex Pistols and Generation X, instead of whatever heavy metal bands i had actually requested, i might have never “found” The Clash at all. Needless to say, i’m glad my friend screwed up.

The Sex Pistols were offensive, brash and loud, and unlike any heavy metal band i had previously heard in that they quite frankly didn’t give a damn. It came through with every lyric and every poorly played note. Honestly, i loved their bravado far more than their music, and it was only the unsettling twinge coming from deep in my gut – telling me that i might have had just stumbled upon what i would someday end up calling “tribe” – that kept me intrigued. That being said, it did end up taking me years to truly enjoy The Pistols, and other than the fact that they pretty much gave a “face” to punk, i still don’t have much use for them.

Side B of my mix tape had the somewhat more talented Generation X, fronted by a then unknown Billy Idol. While still punk in brashness and snotty attitude, these kids sounded much more put-together musically. Almost like they were trying hard to sound bad. You could also “hear” that they very much dressed the “Rock Star” part because, well, they very much wanted to be Rock Stars. Just in their own way. And of the four, at least one was successful for a spell. Another was just almost with his little project called Sigue Sigue Sputnik (if you’ve never heard of them, skip it – it’s way too late to check them out now since everything they originated has been re-originated by others at later dates, just more successfully). But i digress. In fact, if digression was an invoice-able service, i would be rather wealthy at this point of my blogging career. But again, i find myself digressing even in my digression. So, moving on. All said, Generation X was good – real good. But much like the Pistols, for me they were missing the mark. What the mark i was hoping they would hit was exactly, i had no idea, but miss it they did. As such, the search for “the band” that could really trip my newly found punk rock trigger continued.

Whoever first told me about the Clash, i’m not sure. No, wait, actually i am. It was well before i even received the eye-opening, ear-popping tape noted above. i first heard of them from both my classmates and advertisers when they opened for The Who on their infamous farewell tour. The first one. At the time i was listening to – well, i’m not sure as to what i actually was listening to at the time. Haven’t the faintest idea now. But i did know that The Clash was no band for me – for the obvious reason that they couldn’t be any sort of good if they didn’t play the type of music (and i really do wish i could figure out what that was now…) that i was involved with at the time. The second time i heard of them, i can’t remember who told me or why. But i do remember that the first disc (of the vinyl variety) i bought to test them out was “Combat Rock“. i won’t tell you i had any sort of “instant audio orgasm” upon first hearing it, because i didn’t. It was OK. Strong A side, but a weird B. Gladly, my impression of the first side won out, because my next purchase was to put the first and last nail in my Clash coffin. That’s right, next up i bought “Sandinista!“. No, no, no, my next purchase was “London Calling” of course. And like everyone else on the planet who has ever heard it (with open ears at any rate), my Clash fandom was solidified. So much so, that i eventually did go out and buy even “Sandinista!“, and after many listens grew to finally understand, and later enjoy, its musical depths as well.

And i believe that’s why i love the Clash so much – it’s because they were Solid. Good. Difficult. In short, i believe they respected their craft, their audience – and music in general – enough as to not make it easy to “get” the first time ’round. In addition, they refused to cut corners in their music or lyrics, and they used both to raise awareness instead of just press. They sang about things that mattered, things that needed changing. Just the other day i was explaining to my youngest what it meant when Joe sang “let me tell you ’bout your blood, bamboo kid – it ain’t Coca Cola, it’s rice…”. Genius in effectively comparing two totally different cultures that once, collided just long enough to start an entirely “new breed” to the human race. A breed that is shunned by both sides of its ancestry. A breed that found a champion in a little punk band from London, U.K. known as The Clash.

As i mentioned before, i know that it should have been the Ramones, but their 2 minute tracks of blister and volume simply serve to bore and annoy me after not too long. With The Clash, i can listen again and again. i know it should have been The Ramones in that without them, you wouldn’t even have The Clash. But in all honesty, without The Clash, we might not have punk rock music at all.

For while the Ramones may have given punk the sound and the fury – and The Pistols gave it the look and the attitude – it took The Clash to provide it with it’s intelligence and it’s Soul, and it has survived thirty and some odd years as a result.

And that is why i like The Clash. Now, why do you?

7/28 SKAturday!

The first time i heard Ska music, what i heard wasn’t actually Ska.

Well, i mean it was – just not the type that the traditionalists would have you believe Ska should be thought of as.

Now, i’m Quite sure that every single person on the planet knows full well what Ska music is, but just in case there are a couple of stragglers out there, a brief description follows:

Ska music was invented in Jamaica during the late 1950’s in an effort to provide local fans and musicians with a homegrown version of American R&B. The genre got it’s name supposedly from the sound made to describe the back beat associated with it. And for many, The Skatalites are credited with inventing it, or at least bringing this form of music to national attention, with hits such as “Guns of Navarone”. Though many (including The Beatles and Blondie) have dabbled in it, there are usually three main “waves” considered when discussing its history – “Jamaican” (or First Wave), 2 Tone (part of the 70’s punk movement) and Third Wave (also known as Skacore). Ska was the precursor to Reggae music, and like many other musical genres, the child has grown to be much bigger than the father ever was.

OK? Good, now back to my story.

My first time hearing it was with a little known band called Fishbone. In my mind, these cats pretty much invented Skacore (thought they never received much credit for it), and their brand of Ska was fast, obnoxious, angry, loud and overall – delightful.

i can’t remember what song i heard first (i have narrowed it down to “Wonderful Life” and “Party At Ground Zero” though), but i do remember the impact it had on me. It was the first time i ever heard something of its kind. All the elements that i loved about punk rock – the anger, the cool hair, the bad fashion, the indignation and the pride – but with a beat. An actual, honest-to-Jesus beat!

Piss and vinegar and the ability to dance – cool!

As is with most things, my addictive personality pushed me onward to discovering more about Ska and experiencing more of the music it had to offer. i became quite the aficionado of all three “waves” and now have (2) binders worth of the genre (that’s right, i keep my CD’s in a series of binders. But THAT is a whole other story to be told…).

Ska has helped me to get through some pretty tough times in my life – both because of it’s happy beat and the way in which it can be used to totally bitch about something and get it off your chest without demoralizing you in the process. And based on what i’ve heard from those who enjoy the genre along with me (there’s more of us out there than you’d think) – it has had the same positive impact for many. In fact, a good friend just told me yesterday “Ska is also very good to listen to when painting.” And i can attest – while not to be confused with one of the “tough times” i speak of above – it also helps in making the chore of ironing almost a breeze.

On rare occasion (and by “rare occasion”, i mean once every couple of weeks) i will get it into my head, upon waking up on a Saturday, to open one of my Ska binders and slide 5 choice discs into the carousel.

i hit play, and wait for the first “ska-ska-ska’s” to come gently strolling out from the speakers, knowing that when they do, i will shortly thereafter hear at least four people shout in unison “Oh NO!  Not ANOTHER flippin’ Skaturday!