I was helping run the sound at a small club outside of Houston when I first heard. In between sets, I spun one of my favorite Clash records, and some young punk kid shot me a stupid thumbs up. "Cool tribute," he said after coming over. I gave him a look that said, "What the hell are you talking about?" I guess he figured it out, because then he said, "Didn't you hear? Joe Strummer died last night."
For guys my age, Joe Strummer was more than a rock star. He was our icon. We grew up listening to our older brothers' rock 'n' roll records in the 1950s. When bands like the Clash first hit the scene, we found the rockin' spirit of cats like Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins alive and well in this new generation. They were just picking up were those first rockers had left off, and it was true for Joe Strummer more than anybody else. When we saw him onstage with that bandana and the greased back hair, it plucked the rock guitar strings in our souls.
So you'd think that I'd go nuts for Let's Rock Again, the new DVD that follows Strummer and his back-up band, The Mescaleros on their 2002 world tour, huh? Well, the fact of the matter is, for a true fan, this is a movie that could break your heart. Throughout the film, Strummer talks in detail about returning to the world of music in 1999 after over a decade without cutting a single record. As he talks about that first album with the Mescaleros, and how it never broke even for the record company, you can see the sadness in our hero's eyes. Here is a man who once defined the genre of punk rock, now struggling to completely rebuild his career from the ground up. Given a second chance by his label, he travels across Asia, Europe, and North America promoting the second album and the tour by any means necessary. We get to watch it all in horror as Strummer struggles to get a simple radio interview for an Atlantic city gig, and then has to chat awkwardly for several minutes with a very uncomfortable New Jersey disc jockey.
Let's Rock Again is the story of a fall from rock and roll glory, but at the same time you can't help but believe in Joe Strummer that much more after you see it. At first glance, it may seem kind of sad that this man is making handcrafted flyers for his show and passing them out on a coastal board walk, but think about it for a second. That is rock and roll. Strummer isn't up in some posh hotel while the label takes care of everything for him — he's out on the streets, he's talking to the people, and he's bringing rock and roll to them. At one point he's just sitting on the pavement with a bunch of young American punk kids, probably no older than fifteen. He jokes with them, talks about rock and his influences, and says defiantly, "I hate classical music. I always have." So sure, he may be starting from scratch again, but he's doing it the way it should be done. He's just reliving the rock and roll dream all those years later.
If you want to judge the movie itself, there's not a whole lot of positive things you could really say. The filmmakers have done a pretty poor job of assembling this footage together, and as a documentary, it isn't worth much. The words of Strummer are lost when the interviews become too distracting, with ridiculous sideways camera angles and poor attempts at fancy techniques. At various points, we get to just watch as the Mescaleros – minus Strummer – sit around joking and drinking for minutes on end. I'm sure they're great guys, but when I sit down to watch a movie, I don't want to see something I could see at any bar around the corner.
So why even bother? Well, the movie might not be the greatest, but what saves it is the man himself. Sure, it might be hard to watch this once iconic figure talk about rebuilding his career, but even so, you can still see the rebellious energy in his eyes as he does it. More importantly, nearly every other scene provides great concert footage, with full-length songs from the last tour of a man who will never perform again. A few months after this movie was shot, Strummer died of a heart attack. He just wanted to rock again, and you know what? I think he pulled it off. I'm grateful for what he's given us. You will be too.
Reviewed by Geech McDanielsPowered by Sidelines