Monday, December 17, 2007

The Future Is Unwritten

Because Fort Worth still doesn't have its shit together enough to offer a true art house movie theater, PeteG and I trucked it over to Dallas to see Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, the story of The Clash lead singer who died five years ago.

Joe Strummer and The Clash represented an important part of my youth. It may seem a bit much to point to a band as a consciousness-raising tool, but The Clash were just that. They were proof that you didn't have to accept things the way they were -- whether you were talking about your frustration with hearing the same five songs on the radio or your frustration with your own angst-ridden teen-age existence. Someone once said that The Clash were the only band that ever mattered, and I always took it as the God's-honest-truth.

But teen-agers just love loud, frustration-venting rock and roll and if you watch the clip above, you can see it open with Strummer belting out White Riot with face-melting intensity. What teen wouldn't love that? But what surprises about The Clash isn't that I found them essential at 15, it's that I still find the music to be meaningful when I'm staring down the barrel of 40. Circumstances have changed, but the music is still relevant. Like all great music, whether you are talking about Beethoven or the Beatles, there is a universal truth at the core of it that hasn't diminished.

While some hear The Clash and find only punk rock nihilism, I always heard optimism. The theme that ran through Strummer's music and his life always came back to one message -- you are not a victim of circumstances, you have choices. Life is what you make of it. The future is unwritten.

You can't tell the story of Joe Strummer without telling the story of the Clash, but whether talking about the man or his band, the message was the same. In the clip below, the spotlight may be on Mick Jones, but the words and the sensibility are pure Joe Strummer -- Stay Free.

"Cos years have passed and things have changed
And I move anyway I wanna go.
I'll never forget the feeling I got
When I heard that you'd got home.
And I'll never forget the smile on my face
cos I knew where you would be.
And if you're in the crowd tonight
Have a drink on me.
But go easy... step lightly...
Stay free."


Steve said...

I'm going to netflix to get it in my queue. I couldn't agree more about how some music just stares down time...15 or 40...just as meaningful. While I wasn't awake enough to music when I was fifteen to grasp Townes Van Zandt, I feel his music has the same cache (as I blogged about recently here)

Steve said...

As a second thought, The Clash really grabbed hold of the Zeitgeist in the 70's British depression. While the Pistols were pure nihilism, The Clash seriously addressed the issues of the day within the punk idiom. Guns of Brixton comes to mind as well as these lyrics from Career Opportunities:

"The offered me the office, offered me the
They said I'd better take anything they'd got
Do you wanna make tea at the BBC?
Do you wanna be, do you really wanna be a cop?"

This has always reminded me of the Sears Catalog people of our age looked at for Halloween Costumes. Girls were limited to being a princess, a ballerina, or a nurse, while men could be a fireman, policeman, or a cowboy.