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.“