Written by Fumo Verde
As the ‘70s became the ‘80s one could hear the faint voice of rock n' roll off in the distance, as disco balls and roller boogies were the new scene. That whisper became a rage breaking through the underground of the London streets: the punks were taking over. Of all the bands to be hatched out of the Punk scene in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, The Clash had something to say, or to put it better, Joe Strummer had many things to say.
Chris Salewicz was a close friend of Strummer and was asked to write his obituary when he died in December of 2002. Salewicz felt just a couple of paragraphs in a column wouldn’t do, not for a man like his friend Joe, so he presents Joe from the inside, giving you the perspective of a rock icon like no other, because being there counts. Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer defines the man many called the front man of the Punk sound, and Salewicz recounts not only what happened but gives you the history of why it happened.
I like how Salewicz starts the book off with the death of Strummer. As he explaines the feelings and emotions that ran through Strummer, he opens up little doors into Strummer's life, such as how his folks met in a hospital during World War II. Anna McKenzie was a nurse and Ron Mellor happened to be a wounded solider. After the war, they married and Ron took a civil job and became a foreign diplomat.
Strummer was the second son, born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey on August 21, 1952. As a young boy the family never settled down, moving wherever the British Government wanted Ron to go next. They went to places like Egypt and Germany before John was sent off to boarding school in London. Strummer never forgave his parents for leaving him and his older brother David. He also would never forget the day he learned of his brother’s suicide. Salewicz states he tried a few times to have Strummer talk about the death of David, but the conversation never got too far. Some feelings people take to the grave.
Salewicz speaks with some of John Mellor’s old roommates and friends back when he was at the University for Art. Mellor wanted to be a cartoonist before he heard the sound of Woody Guthrie, but then John Mellor became Woody Mellor. He along with Tymon Dogg would roam the London Underground and Woody would strum his ukulele. Salewicz explains how this bright and tough young man became the names he had so chosen, why John became Woody, then from Woody to Joe Strummer. Salewicz describes how Strummer evolved and how he honed his musical forte and writing skills, how The Clash formed, and how the Sex Pistols, along with the whole punk scene, ignited Strummer. The Clash were different. While all the other punk bands from the first wave of British Punk sang about anarchy, Strummer and The Clash sang about left-wing ideas and desires.