Monday, September 19, 2011

Music Parable # 7: Joe Strummer 'Runs Out' on The Clash


It is April and The Clash have just finished recording what was to become their biggest selling album “Combat Rock.” The band are gearing up for a tour in support of the album, but are mired by internal strife. Drummer Topper Headon has a crippling addiction to heroin and is being told to either clean up or leave by the rest of the group. Meanwhile guitarist Mick Jones and front man Joe Strummer are locked in a battle for power for the ideological and existential future of the band. Manager Bernard Rhodes decides that what is needed is a publicity stunt to help sell the new album, and hopes the success of the new album may help bring internal cohesion to the band. It is decided that Joe Strummer would “disappear” for a few days, while checking in with Bernie throughout this period.

Strummer took this to heart, and really did disappear. He went to Paris for three weeks, without once contacting the rest of the band or Rhodes. When asked what he had been doing upon his return Strummer notes, “I grew a beard and ran the Paris marathon.” It was not Strummer’s first marathon - he had run the London marathon in 1981 and would run it again in 1983. His training regimen apparently consisted of simply drinking 10 pints of beer the night before the race.

The Clash would eventually collapse after the firing of Mick Jones by Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon. Headon had already been given the sack and the band had toured with their original drummer Terry Chimes throughout 1983. Strummer and Simonon tried to resuscitate the Clash with two replacement guitarists and a back to basics approach, but this failed miserably. Strummer would spend years in the Wilderness, doing soundtrack work here and there, before reemerging in the late 90s to some success with his new group, the Mescaleros. Jones would front Big Audio Dynamite. Strummer would die of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect at the age of 50 in December of 2002. It could have killed him at any point during his life. Strummer and Jones reunited at an impromptu gig only a week before Strummer’s death in support of higher wages for British firefighters. Both said that the old magic was still there.

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