By Pat Carmody
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Not turning rebellion into money

This article is over 14 years, 6 months old
My first thought on reading Paul Sillett's excellent review of Julien Temple's Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (Film, Socialist Review, May 2007) was: "You jammy bastard - how come you got a freebie to see the film before me?"
Issue 316

Paul is right when he says that Strummer rebelled against his comfortable upbringing as a son of a diplomat.

I have lost count of the times from the late 1970s until Strummer’s death, I have railed against those who accused Strummer and the Clash of being sell outs. Such views are nonsense and do not stand up to any cursory examination.

Someone once said, “It ain’t where you come from, it’s where you are going that counts” – this applies to Tony Benn, Paul Foot and, of course, Strummer himself. He made crystal clear what he thought of capitalism and imperialism, whether by wearing an H-Block T-shirt, headlining the first Rock Against Racism gig or releasing an album called Sandinista in tune with Nicaraguan revolutionaries.

I would like to take issue however with Paul’s assertion that the Clash’s “songs became divorced from the context they were written in. ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’ became ‘I’m In Love With the USA’.”

I’m not entirely sure if there is any evidence for this. When does this rot start? With Spanish Bombs? Or the lines that should be sung to every soldier drafted to Iraq or Afghanistan or possibly Iran – “It’s up to you not to heed the call up” – or the marvellous attack on corporations and imperialism, Straight To Hell?

OK, so Strummer always loved the best traditions of the US, from his early moniker Woody (after socialist folk singer Woody Guthrie) to his punked up Elvis quiff. But all punks had to have a reference. It so happened that the Clash worked because it consisted of Simonon who was steeped in West London dancehall reggae, Topper with his “soul chops”, Jones with his ability to arrange and fuse anything and Strummer who was the driving force and the glue that held the Clash together.

I think myself and Paul will agree on the fundamental point though-the only time that Strummer and the Clash sold out was when we couldn’t get tickets.

Pat Carmody
South East London

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