Oddly, Joe Strummer has only become an important influence on me in about the last nine or ten years. Being 29 I doubt that that is very unusual for someone my age. But the influence that I've taken from him in that time has not been of the musical sort. The Clash first touched me at age 14 - also not so unusual- and that was my introduction to him. Their music reached me far before I really had any grasp of what the man behind the voice represented. Of course what I thought I knew turned out to be right. That he was a truly righteous man with a genuine care for the world and the people in it. Especially those directly within earshot of his music. But what I didn't know, turned out to shape this man, in my eyes, into something of a personal hero.
Julien Temple's documentary is a bit confusing -albeit offbeat and original- but with the subject matter at hand and accessibility to those who knew Strummer best, it's kind of hard to make bad. Some of the heads interviewed are instantly recognizable and obvious (Bono, Johnny Depp) where as others go un-named and unknown (if you don't know, that is). The story is split into three parts, pre-Clash, Clash, and post Clash. A lot of information came up that I had not previously know which left me a bit shocked. One example being that he had a brother who had committed suicide after having turned into a sort of Nazi. And Strummer's having to ID the body leaving a profound effect on him. It was also news to me that an opening band for his group the 101'ers, The Sex Pistols, completely flipped his mind and what his musical and personal path would ultimately be from then on.
From busking hippie to to righteous troubadour, one thing is apparent in this whole story: That while I admire his personal beliefs (ok, ok, aside from that brief stint of techno championing) and his impenetrable integrity, he was no saint. Like anybody he made a few adversaries and had some regrets. But unlike everybody he persisted through depression, breakups, alcoholism, exhaustion and what must have been truly the most baffling of all revelations: That he was no longer a star. But of course that didn't phase him in the end. He remained a positive and humble man and played the music he loved right up to his untimely death in December of 2002. This film is a celebration of a man who has seen it all from dingy clubs to massive stadiums. From musical and creative exile, to back behind the mic and touring the world on his own. The feel of the movie is literally that of campfire stories about a good buddy who no longer can sing along and who those he touched will continue to miss. He was a persons person and never acted above his audience or fans which in itself is a rare thing in the filthy depths of the music industry.
Also of interest might be Dick Rude's documentary "let's Rock Again" from 2004 which chronicles the twilight years of his life with his last band The Mescaleros. A scene where he's handing out handwritten fliers to unassuming passer's is both heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once