On Joe Strummer and Christmas

Joe Strummer has left us, gone up to join what can only be described as the most amazing rock band ever in the sky. Enough cannot be said about his place in our more recent cultural history.

One thing you might not know is that he had worked quite a bit with Michael Knott, one of my favorite “underground” guys. I was thinking during the Misfits show, and this probably applied to Strummer, and most definitely to Knott, that these guys do not have it made in any sense of the phrase; they have worked their asses off for years for little to no financial rewards. They continue to live like artists in the truest sense of the word, day in, day out. No real brass ring. Hell, probably no health insurance. Living loan (aka recording contract) to loan, year to year. Not to mention the isolation of living on the road, moving town to town, day after day.

Tonight I was walking these city streets, they were mostly empty, it is the 23rd of December and all. It felt like the day after summer camp…the spots that just yesterday were hopping with life, combined auras feeding your own…now the difference makes for quite the void. That is what road life is. That is why the parties and the drugs for those that cannot handle the fact that the minute you get off that stage, things are pretty much the opposite…no throngs screaming, not even–the more common scenario for most guys and girls on the road–a handful of clubgoers.

Christmas is also just such a time for a lot of people. The normal ups and downs of every day become intensified. What were manageable emotions before are now devastating. What was hunger before is now starvation, in light of all those inside gorging. What was cold before is now hyperthermia, in comparison to all those warming by their fires. And what was need before is now life-or-death, weighed against the mass consumption going on all over this nation Wednesday morning.

Ok, sorry, enough. Just remember Christ our Lord was born this day (maybe sometime in the late summer or fall, too, but humor the centuries of Western bastardization). Think of what that person of Jesus might think and do, were he to live now and walk among our cities, a man as real as any of us, born into this crap and destined to leave it in a dramatic and painful fashion.

And think about what you do have, what does bring joy into your life, that it is always in the little things, that the moment on stage, with the adoring fans and the money and all the things TV has told you your whole life you need and want, that moment ends, and you walk off that stage and go sit by yourself on the bus or in the van, and you drive in the dark to the next city. And if you can’t enjoy that amazing meal the chef cooks up for you every time your no-name band plays at his venue, or that warm embrace at the end of a jetway, or that moment of peace with yellow stripes disappearing under your tires in the middle of nowhere, or that moment alone in your living room when something other takes your hands and guides them over new chords and takes your voice and makes it bounce onto new notes…then you’ve missed it, you’ve missed the greatest gift that is ever going to be given to you.

Merry Christmas. May you give and receive the gifts of love, kindness, and authenticity this season, and every season. Take a moment this year away from your new gadget/media/toy/outfit and hug someone. Then ask them how they are doing. And mean it.

Merry Christmas Joe Strummer. I’d love your input on some of my material then, later, when you get a chance. And I’d love to hear your stories too. Hopefully we’ll get a sliver of eternity to chat sometime.

Elsewhere: Moby blogs about Strummer (dead link).

Billy Bragg writes about him:

...no-one struggled more manfully with the gap between the myth and the reality of being a spokesman for your generation than Joe Strummer...All musicians start out with ideals but hanging on to them in the face of media scrutiny takes real integrity.