Death or Glory

Not just another story: Joe Strummer's dead

I don't know. Musicians are pretty dumb, y'know? We don't really have too much self-analytical apparatus going on for us. Perhaps we should.

I don't believe that.

It's true. But we're pretty good at intuition. We're not very good at the intellectualization of things. But mainly I'm pretty glad to have another crack, actually. You can't say more than that.

In May 2001, the Clash received the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters Ivor Novello Award for "making an outstanding contribution to British music." Congratulations.

That was nice.

What was that like? You've become an elder statesman.

With the Clash, there's always an element of comedy. Topper turns up with a pair of crutches, so that lent it a much-needed touch of comedy. When they went, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Clash! And will someone help them up onstage?" I loved that bit.

It must be weird getting this kind of award. When you're making music, you're not doing it to make a contribution. You're doing it for yourself.

Good point. We were a bit like fish out of water. There were no awards back then. In fact, Jerry Dammers of the Specials made a very interesting comment. I was at another awards lunch for Qmagazine a few months before, and I got one and Jerry got one, and we'd never gotten any before. Jerry got up and said, "If there had been awards back when we did our stuff, we wouldn't have been able to do our stuff." I knew what he meant, because you were only thinking about your record and what it meant and what it said. No one was thinking about, "Ooh, wonder if this will win an award." Nowadays, there are so many of them: the Mercury Prize, the QAwards, the Brit Awards, the Ivor Novello Awards. New groups sit around thinking, "Ooh, hope we win the Mercury," and completely miss the point somewhere.

Was it weird for you to stand on a stage together? It was the first time in a long time you've done it.

Yeah. Well, it was weird sitting around the table together, never mind being on the stage together. I was a bit apprehensive: "What's it gonna be like?" Finally we clicked back into it just the way you would if you hadn't seen a high-school friend for ten years or something. You can always tell who you were really friends with, because you click back into it just as if you'd only stopped speaking the moment before. You pick it up without any apparent gaps, and it was very much like that for the four of us.

A lot of musicians make a very definite attempt to separate themselves from their past, as though they want to hide from their legacies. It strikes me that your albums with the Mescaleros embrace your legacy and extend it. You're building on the past.

This is very difficult, because the last thing I would have liked to have done is remake the '78 record or do a carbon copy of something else, something that was expected of me. Then again, you don't want to run away completely into a landscape of lunar squelching and blipping. It's quite a fine line to tread, because you're so aware that you have an audience and that you're playing to people who've been with you since you began, so it has to be coherent and understandable, and yet you can't make the same record over and over. I'm just so glad I've got these players so we can make music like this, that isn't the same old damned thing. That's really the main thing. You get up in the morning, and you don't wanna make the same record.

If you had the choice, when you tour, would you do it without any Clash songs on the set list?

Good question. No, I don't think so, because the songs are so good to play or so well-constructed. There's something about them that makes them a joy to play. We get off on playing them. That's a very good question, but we'd still play them. I love playing "Rock the Casbah," which might be my favorite song we did. There was something good about that record.

How hard is it to be on the one hand a still-working, still-viable musician and also be the old man considered an influence?

It is weird. I don't know whether you can have too much influence. It's hard to tell whether you're having an influence or not. Sometimes your album can influence people when it's been in the bargain bins for eighteen years. Mainly you can only tell you're an influence when other musicians come up to you. That's a good thing. We had to worship at the altars of the masters, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, in order to learn our part of the craft.

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