With exclusive access to Strummer's friends, relatives, and fellow musicians, music journalist Chris Salewicz penetrates the soul of an rock 'n roll icon.
The Clash was--and still is--one of the most important groups of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Indebted to rockabilly, reggae, Memphis soul, cowboy justice, and '60s protest, the overtly political band railed against war, racism, and a dead-end economy, and in the process imparted a conscience to punk. Their eponymous first record and London Calling still rank in Rolling Stone's top-ten best albums of all time, and in 2003 they were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Joe Strummer was the Clash's front man, a rock-and-roll hero seen by many as the personification of outlaw integrity and street cool. The political heart of the Clash, Strummer synthesized gritty toughness and poetic sensitivity in a manner that still resonates with listeners, and his untimely death in December 2002 shook the world, further solidifying his iconic status.
Salewicz was a friend to Strummer for close to three decades and has covered the Clash's career and the entire punk movement from its inception. He uses his vantage point to write Redemption Song, the definitive biography of Strummer, charting his enormous worldwide success, his bleak years in the wilderness after the Clash's bitter breakup, and his triumphant return to stardom at the end of his life.
Salewicz argues for Strummer's place in a long line of protest singers that includes Woody Guthrie, John Lennon, and Bob Marley, and examines by turns Strummer's and punk's ongoing cultural influence.
In this biography of punk icon Joe Strummer, music writer Salewicz focuses on the heady days of the punk explosion and Strummer's long hiatus after leaving the Clash. Born John Graham Mellor in 1952 in Ankara, Turkey, to diplomat parents, Strummer enjoyed a peripatetic childhood before being parked at a British boarding school. An art school dropout, Strummer (who was known then as "Woody") lived a hand-to-mouth existence in London squats before rock impresario Bernie Rhodes selected him to head a new punk band, and Woody became Joe Strummer, the sardonic, gravelly voiced rabble rouser. For a long moment, the Clash channeled the most progressive elements in pop culture, blending punk anger, rasta vibes, bank robbers, cowboys and revolutionary traditions into music that remains compelling today. After the band's breakup in 1985, Strummer fell into a long depression that Salewicz attributes to heavy pot smoking and a family legacy that included his brother's suicide. Yet Strummer had revitalized his career and was making excellent music before his sudden death of heart failure in 2002. As a young writer in the punk years, Salewicz had plenty of access to Strummer, and does a good job of providing a blow-by-blow account of the tours and albums. However, Salewicz provides little historical context, thereby diminishing the importance of the Clash. Despite nearly 600 pages of analysis, Strummer remains an opaque figure.