Tomorrow is December 22, an insignificant date to most people. But to punk lifers, it’s a day forever shadowed in melancholy.
On December 22, 2002, Joe Strummer left us far too soon. He was only 50, and in the midst of a creative resurgence. The life-changing songs of the Clash in his rear-view mirror, he had formed a new band, the Mescaleros. Their excellent third and final album, Streetcore, had yet to be released; “Coma Girl,” the song below, is maybe Strummer’s best post-Clash song and a perfect example of how he hadn’t lost his talent with age.
The legacy Joe and the Clash left behind is immeasurable; in fact, it continues to grow every day some down-and-out kid discovers London Calling. Punk rock did, and still does, have a lot of different flavors: The Sex Pistols were nihilistic and anti-establishment; the Ramones were goofy and endearing, and desperately wanted to be rock stars; Minor Threat were pissed off and politically charged. But no punk band stewed their politics, their influences and their gravitas into anything as palpably triumphant as the Clash did. They were simply on a higher level than their contemporaries, which is why their music will live on forever.
The Hold Steady put it nicely in their song “Constructive Summer”: “Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer. I think he might have been our only decent teacher.” RIP, Joe. Gone but never forgotten.