Say It Ain't So, Joe

Reading something into Strummer's death

Ironically, I was almost halfway through the paperback The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town by Marcus Gray when I decided to check the old Bandwidth e-mail shortly after sunset on Christmas Day. "Joe Strummer Dies of Heart Attack" sat glowering at the bottom of the in box, and on such a holiday, it seemed an unlikely prank. It wasn't, either: The message contained a link to a front-page story in a Scottish online newspaper confirming that the man was indeed gone.

Return of the Last Gang in Town's more than 400 pages scrutinize Strummer's pub-rock past, reopen the wounds he and co-Clasher Mick Jones inflicted upon each other, and take to task the band's final, inglorious unraveling. As exhaustive and addicted to minutiae as the text is, it's a tremendous read. It makes you want to discover the band all over again. Strummer's recent work with the Mescaleros, though interesting, couldn't hold a candle to the furor of the Clash. And while "This is England" was good for a goosebump or two upon first hearing, not even the post-Jones fiasco that was the Clash's last record (Cut the Crap, which should have been called Pull the Plug) could dent the band's lasting legacy. Unlike every other band from the era, the Clash turned down lots of money -- lots of times -- to re-form the band. Fool and tyrant though he may have been at times, Strummer fully understood why the Clash was so powerful an entity, and he protected it until his last day.

Ahead of its time? London Calling remains a classic capable of inducing shivers to this day. Sandinista, a leaning tower of ideas stacked sky-high, catapulted dub reggae into the consciousness of a generation, more than 15 years before classist clowns like Sublime would take the same inspiration and suck it dry.

Where the Sex Pistols' initial salvo leveled the playing field and taught everyone that anyone could create potent music, the Clash demonstrated that it could also be accomplished with conviction and the transformative power of a political rally. In fact, for many, the Clash proved that punk rock -- disdained though it was at the time -- could be a vehicle for social change, and this realization wasn't lost on folks like Billy Bragg. It was lost, of course, by the time the band's seminal Who/Stooges synthesis trickled down to the likes of Rancid and the Offspring.

The only band that mattered. No shit.


It was in the midst of a haze of college basketball, deep-fried turkey, and Southern Comfort-laced Cajun eggnog that the bad news reached me in New Orleans. While not knowing if any Broward radio station paid any sort of on-air homage to the Clash, it's pretty sad that, judging from my weeklong listening, the small college station in Hammond, Louisiana, is better than anything that passes for intelligent radio in these parts. Sure, ZETA may have resurrected "Rock the Casbah" or "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (which is actually a Jones composition) once, but the lack of coverage in the mainstream press speaks to the cluelessness of the Clear Channel establishment and shouldn't be taken as an indicator of Strummer's importance.

In fact, New Orleans has long been our favorite Southern city not only for its health-conscious lifestyle and heart-smart restaurants but for its abundance of music venues of every stripe. On each visit, jazz pours from every crevice, nook, and cranny waiting to be discovered -- but the Big Easy never lacks for rootsy rock, experimental mayhem, or plenty of sardonic punk. A weekend visit to Checkpoint Charlie, just outside the French Quarter, on Esplanade, was highlighted by slam-dancing fun when Bonaparte LeGarde and the Conquerors and the Pallbearers delighted us with a slew of bug-eyed aggression -- and a mess of G.G. Allin covers to boot.

One complaint about New Orleans: The city's annual springtime love affair with its successful Jazz and Heritage Festival reached a squealing climax recently when fest organizers announced that another date would be tacked onto the event, stretching it to a full 11 days. While that's great news for folks bent on searching for late-night club action, the addition's not going to do much for the festival proper, held at the city's fairgrounds and racetrack. In fact, the presence of the Dave Matthews Band, Lenny Kravitz, and Sting make me want to boycott the whole shebang strictly on principle. Though there's fun stuff to hear, see, and eat everywhere, it's always easier to locate the latter. Foraging for that elusive white-chocolate bread pudding (mmm-MMM!)beats wading through muck and mud to see James Taylor or Keb' Mo'. Trust Bandwidth on this. Atkins Diet be damned.


We named it "best counterculture experience" last year, but Soundsplash, West Palm Beach's little underground record store that could, just can't anymore. Doubling as performance space for up-and-coming local acts (and a fucking cool one to boot -- just two weeks ago, Soundsplash hosted its final show, a raucous frenzy from twitchy favorites Billy Boloby), the store itself is shutting its doors. Merchandise will still be for sale online (www.soundsplash.net), and hardcore collectors can still browse through the warehouse by making an appointment (matt@soundsplash.net, or call 561-585-7680). Call 'em, and take one last Splash.

 
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