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The Daily Inquisition / September 18, 2008

Joe “Strummer”: the hippie behind the mohawk.

Today’s Defendant: Joe Strummer

Statement of the Grand Inquisitor: The damnation of this walking forgery is a matter of choice: for which of his many unpunished crimes should he be damned? For the fact that his entire life was a lie? This busking pauper was Christened (by his country’s venal garrison church) John Graham Mellor. He was the son of a diplomat and the grandson of imperial vampires who raised their social status on the backs of the Indians they robbed. It was these striver’s skills which allowed little John to become Joe Strummer when he saw that the smartest move available was downmarket, to sell a harmless version of the truly dangerous, crypto-Catholic nihilism pioneered by the Pistols.

This is the greater crime: the Clash’s unforgivable neutralization of Punk nihilism into hippie/academic leftist orthodoxy. As frontman for this safe, castrated version of punk, “Strummer” provided the future commuters of the Home Counties with a rebellion they could wear with ignorant pride before their disapproving long-haired elder siblings. The Clash were a profoundly reactionary, English-nationalist band. Thanks to their stealth TUC/redbrick uni orthodoxy, Punk lost its anti-British edge while waxing “militant” over faraway injustices. It is no accident that the Skinhead fascists loved the Clash and hated the Pistols. Strummer sang standard Oi, with a single molecular tweak in the lyrics. Instead of outright National Front fascism, he offered critiques of all that was not dear to England: Nicaragua, cowboys, Cadillacs; in short, the same envious America-sniping he absorbed at his imperial parents’ cocktail parties—not the product of true, Catholic morality but simple bitterness at being replaced as the world’s leading vampire-nation. And not once, ever, did he mention certain other matters. A is for Amritsar, B is for Belfast…but neither of those letters surfaced in the Clash alphabet.

Compare this coward with the voice he plagiarized. In the first song of their first LP, the Pistols managed to mention the IRA, MPLA, and UDA—every acronym that could give middle Britain a salutary thrombosis.  Not once, in all their ever dwindling albums, did the Clash mention Ireland, touchstone of the embryonic English conscience. The Pistols had begun the great task of creating that so-far unforged conscience. The Clash were the perfect countermeasure. They made sure that project was sidelined for good. Strummer spent a few last futile years attempting to rectify the great sin he vaguely sensed he had committed, making gestures that accomplished nothing: humming a depoliticized verse from “The Minstrel Boy,” singing along with the Pogues, once they had removed their only courageous member. In this he showed his helpless drift to damnation: by replacing MacGowan onstage, he blurred the one hope of rebellion those cravens ever offered. He was drawn to all that is wrong, and lacked the wit to see where his ancestors’ malign whisperings were taking his weak, deluded soul.

Statement of the Defense: Do we damn him for sabotaging a project he never truly understood? Could so conventional a mind ever grasp the way it was being used? You grant that he tried to rectify his sins late in life. If this man is damned, what of those who never even tried? If Strummer is bound for Hell, where will Rod Stewart be landed?

Verdict: Only a few are worthy of judgment. Stewart’s fan base is mulch, compost, unworthy of Hell. Strummer, if we call him that, was an imperial inoculation, killing what could have been a promising virus. His Peace Punk oxymoron short-circuited the only hope of salvation the suburbs ever came close to realizing. He shall spend eternity as Mountbatten’s second footman, wiping superheated feces from his master’s boots.

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