Culture

Takin' the Freight Elevator to the Incinerator: Joe Strummer and 9/11

Photo: Bob Gruen (1981)

Photo: Bob Gruen (1981)

I think you have to grow up and realise that we’re facing religious fanatics who would kill everyone in the world who doesn’t do what they say. The more time you give them the more bombs they’ll get. Bin Laden is going to try and kill more people.

When we’re all supposed to be working, a tiny cabal of my fellow Gen-Xers amuse (and depress) ourselves with daily emails about the awful music kids these days are listening to, and which sacred movies are being pointlessly remade, and which famous person we “grew up with” just had the nerve to die.

Last week, one of the “gang,” Rick McGinnis, sent me a link to the quote above.

“PROOF!” Rick added. “I thought I just imagined this, but I didn’t, it seems. I feel vindicated.”

He’d tracked down Clash frontman Joe Strummer’s immediate reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

When Strummer died in 2002, not a few conservative writers cited Strummer’s comments in their obits.

I’m not sure he would have approved.

The son of a British diplomat, Strummer may not have been an authentic Charing Cross Road working class lad (any more than Bob Dylan was a real live Dust Bowl goy), but he was a lifelong Man of the Left, often to the point of colossal stupidity:

new-york-city-east-village-joe-strummer-mural
If my grasp of Clash lore is still strong, I seem to recall a woman coming up to Strummer when he was wearing that Red Brigade shirt and telling him, “Those people killed my father,” after which, he got rid of it.

I hope that’s true.

I do know that Strummer later distanced himself from those post-9/11 remarks.

I wish that wasn’t true.

Written later and released posthumously, his song “Ramshackle Day Parade” stands as what I suppose he’d prefer to be seen as his “official” thoughts — or more accurately, emotions — on the topic.

In his trademark infuriatingly impressionistic fashion, Strummer evokes the free-floating, literally abysmal confusion and grief that must have lingered in the air of New York City as weeks and months passed.

Then, putting this post together, I found another interview Strummer granted that week in September 2001:

The evil brilliance is just too much. (…) I can’t get away from those images when I go to bed at night.

There’s got to be some good that comes out of it. Maybe people are just going to be nicer to each other. Because it’s just too horrible. The world just can’t be that bad. It just can’t be.

I must send that to Rick.