As scores of musicians prepare to celebrate the holidays, many are heading toward the New Year with heavier hearts following the death of Clash guitarist and vocalist Joe Strummer.
“The Clash was the greatest rock band,” U2 frontman Bono wrote on his band’s Web site. “They wrote the rule book for U2. Though I was always too much of a fan to get to know him well, we were due to meet in January to finish our [Nelson] Mandela song with Dave Stewart. It’s such a shock.”
Strummer died Sunday at age 50 (see “Joe Strummer Of The Clash Dead At 50″ ).
Clash bandmate Mick Jones posted a new song, “Sound of the Joe,” on the Web site for his band Big Audio Dynamite, along with the brief message, “Our friend and compadre is gone. God bless you, Joe.”
There’s no question that Strummer was an explosive live performer and a strong songwriter, but he is equally remembered for inspiring a generation to try to make a difference through music.
“He was a brilliant lyricist and the electric focal point of the greatest live band of all time,” Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello said. “He played as if the world could be changed by a three-minute song, and when I saw the Clash play, my world was changed forever. His idealism and conviction instilled in me the courage to pick up a guitar and the courage to try to make a difference. Joe Strummer was my greatest inspiration, my favorite singer of all time and my hero. I already miss him so much.”
“It’s worth remembering that Joe and the Clash made music that was emotional and political and challenging and experimental and exciting and wonderful,” Moby wrote on his Web site. (Read fans’ reactions and share your remembrances of Strummer in You Tell Us.)
One reason Strummer was so admired is because he and his bandmates stood behind their principles. After they broke up in 1986, they refused to reunite even though they were repeatedly offered buckets of cash to get back together.
“They were unique because, here they are, breaking up at the peak of their popularity and having plenty of offers to come back, and not doing it,” said Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone. “While other bands always come back for the money, they had a belief in what they were doing, and even though they could have used it, they never really cared about the money.”
“He wasn’t some phony,” added Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. “He was a big part of the whole punk movement.”
As a member of that movement, Strummer ingrained his music with palpable rage and tension without relying on screaming or overblown volume.
“For another generation, Bob Dylan awoke some sense that you can sing songs that weren’t just about crying in your beer,” Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins said. “For us, it was Sandinista! A song like ‘Straight to Hell’ remains totally ingrained of how you can create a whole other world, but another world that wasn’t necessarily escapist. For me, he brought ferocity and relevance to music.”
Ramone first met Strummer when the Ramones toured Europe in 1976. Although the Clash had just formed, Ramone bonded instantly with the passionate rocker. “We were friends right away,” he said. “As soon as I heard ‘White Riot’ I knew they were a great band. It was the best band I’ve seen since 1979 and to this day. Of all the punk bands, I felt closest to him than anyone else from that era.”
Even those who didn’t know Strummer well spoke of his good nature.
“The last time that I saw Joe was in Los Angeles,” Moby wrote. “We were dancing together in a nightclub, and I kept rambling on about how important his music was to me. He had such a big heart and was without question one of the most important musicians of the last 50 years.”
The Who guitarist Pete Townshend wrote on his Web site, “That heart of his always worked too hard. He’s been making great music lately. I will really miss him.”
Although Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Strummer didn’t always see eye-to-eye musically or politically, the organizer of Live Aid said he admired Strummer’s determination.
“He was a clear contemporary, and we were rivals,” he told BBC News. “I believed we had to get inside the pop culture. He believed you should always stay outside and hurl things at it. We had endless arguments about it. As we all got older I realized what a nice person he was. He was a very important musician. The Clash will be endlessly influential.”
Misfits bassist Jerry Only also praised Strummer’s tireless work ethic. “Back when we first started playing punk music, the Clash had one of the most powerful sounds out there,” he said. “Joe was the hardest working man in the business. He would be comparable today to James Hetfield of Metallica or Billy Joe from Green Day. He sang, he played and he didn’t stop. He’s someone to be admired. We all took a little bit of Joe. God bless him.”
— Jon Wiederhorn, with additional reporting by Joe D’Angelo and Gil Kaufman