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.
Salewicz doesn't candy-coat Strummer's story. He tells you about the booze and the parties, the pain felt when he fired Mick Jones, the co-founder of The Clash. There, and through interviews with Jones and Paul Simonon, Salewicz brings you into the moments that made up this history. Salewicz also opens the windows into Strummer’s personal life. The love he felt for his kids, their mother Gabby, and his wife Lucinda, the woman he loved the most, are key elements that made Joe Strummer the man he was. Plain, simple and opened up for the whole world to see, Salewicz puts Strummer's story on display, showing us that he wasn't just the bad boy lawbreaker he wanted us to believe he was. He had thoughts, ideas, dreams, desires, and most of all fears. Fears picked up from childhood and onward, just like the rest of us, that's who Joe Strummer was. He was many things but average wasn't one of them. He managed to relate the problems, the fears, and the anger felt by the youth of his time against the establishment. Poetically mixing politically charged lyrics with intense well-played music. The Clash became what Punk Rock was meant to be.
The real story of Strummer is in the details and Salewicz hits the nail on the head. If you're the type of person who loves to get into the dark lonely places of other people’s minds, Redemption Song will fill that hunger, especially if you are a big fan of The Clash or the history of music itself. Thank you Chris Salewicz for shedding some light on a tough guy, a loud-mouth, a rebel, and letting us know that he too was one of us, yet he used his talent well and tried to do his part in changing the world for the better.