Thursday, February 17, 2005

When Hippies and Punks Were One

The item about a locomotive being named for Joe Strummer of the Clash got me thinking about Strummer and the Clash, and listening to the Clash, this week.

I keep the two-disc The Essential Clash in my car. It's great therapy for the ride home after a difficult day at work. Line up London's Burning, English Civil War, and I Fought The Law, for example, and highway driving is blissful. I also found a web site (StrummerSite.Com) with a two-part MP3 of a 2003 BBC Radio profile of Strummer. It was interesting to hear about the process of forming the Clash, their rise, and the break-up. It was also neat to get some details about the music Strummer was starting to make when he passed away, at 50, a few years back.

I was struck by the extent to which Strummer, and the Clash, were influenced by a wide variety of music -- country, ska, reggae, world music. I have the posthumous Strummer album, Streetcore, and it has a very nice reading of a folk tune -- Long Shadow -- and a remarkable version of Bob Marley's Redemption Song.

Of course, I also keep a copy of the great live Dead album The Grateful Dead (Live) -- as opposed to the equally wonderful Live/Dead -- in my car and I've been listening to that a lot lately. I prefer a line-up of Bertha,
Me & My Uncle, and the marvelous Not Fade Away/Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad.

The Dead also had a wide variety of influences, combining rock, jazz, folk, blues and country. And there are similarities between Joe Strummer and Jerry Garcia. Both men were central to the sound of their bands. Both were striking musicians; Strummer in his jagged intensity and Garcia in his fluid, soaring melodic lyricism. Both were at their best as centers of music, providing a base for other players and making possible some of the better moments of Rock music over the years. Both died too soon.

I used to wonder at my equal love for both the Clash an the Dead. There was a time when as a fan of punk rock I would have disdained the hippy-ness of the Dead. As a Deadhead, I should have found the Clash simply noise. But the two bands work well together and they were the music of my youngest adulthood; the Reagan years.

Two forms of musical rebellion. They worked for me. They still do. It's been a good week -- and a loud week - in my car.

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