Monday, January 19, 2009

Redemption Song

'Redemption Song - The Ballad of Joe Strummer' is Chris Salewicz' excellent definitive biography of Joe Strummer. Salewicz was a close friend of Strummer and seemed to spend much of his time, particularly on US tours hanging out with Joe. The personal recollections blend seemlessly into stories and recollections told by all the major players in Strummer's life. Salewicz has rare insight into the character of Strummer, who evolved from John Mellor into Joe Strummer and permently seemed to be fighting to maintain a balance between his private life and his (ahem) public image as the leader of the greatest punk band. The suicide of Strummer's brother (Joe was 16) was a defining factor in his upbringing and something he never forgave his parents for (they sent the boys off to boarding school and his brother became depressed and withdrawn...)

The book moves expertly through Strummer's music career, from the 'pub-rock' 101'ers through the birth and death of punk and Joe's position as it's elder statesman as singer in The Clash, through his wilderness years after The Clash and his comeback with The Mescaleros. There are also some interesting insight's into the legend of punk such as Clash manager Bernie Rhodes hijacking their signing to Polydor for $25,000 and instead driving the group to CBS where they signed for $100,000 into what became an ultimately restrictive 10 year deal... Of course, signing for such as large amount was considered a sellout to other punk bands! Rhodes, in his second stint as manager is also blamed for the sacking of Mick Jones, who eventually reconciled with Strummer and joined him on stage for the first time in 19 years at what turned out to be Strummer's last London show just two weeks before his death. Joe Strummer died in 2002 from a congenital heart defect - amazing that he reached 50 as he could have dropped dead at any time...

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