I have never been someone to wear my influences on my sleeve. No fashion statements, no radical hairstyles, no tattoos. Apart from wearing my football shirt outside my shorts for twenty-five years (like the sainted Glenn), you probably couldn’t guess very much about my tastes or opinions. I probably didn’t acknowledge these influences to myself, or I might have tried harder to resemble the people I admired.

However, as you get older, the impact of certain individuals on your life becomes clearer. And more than anyone else in my youth, one man shaped my worldview, my taste in music and my politics. His name? Joe Strummer.

I remember travelling by coach to a school football match when I was 11, listening to my Walkman. At the time, I owned about five cassettes, and one of them was the first album by the Clash. If you were looking to choose something to motivate you for the match ahead, Janie Jones and White Riot were hard to beat. A couple of my teammates asked if they could listen, and, after doing so, they looked at me differently. I was a long way from being the coolest kid in class, but there was no doubt that having a taste for punk rock mitigated my lack of fashion sense and general style.

For a long time, London Calling was the soundtrack to my life; I have probably listened more to that album than any other – partly because it’s now a favourite with my kids so it’s perfect in-car listening. That record’s astonishing assimilation of American rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, soul and British punk sentiment contains many of my favourite songs, but even in my early teens, it wasn’t simply the music that inspired me. Joe Strummer’s lyrics provided my education, away from the strictures of the school classroom and the pages of my parents’ Daily Mail. Thanks to Spanish Bombs I sought to understand the Spanish Civil War, while Death or Glory and Hateful remain thrillingly visceral thirty-one years after their release. It wasn’t necessarily the subject matter that inspired me, but the power of language: I admire and enjoy some poetry but I can quote fifty Clash songs word for word while I would struggle to recount a single poem.

Before the internet, discovery was more difficult. But Joe Strummer’s influence encouraged me to find out more about other subjects, writers and musical genres. The Clash famously incorporated reggae and hip hop into their own songs; as an inquisitive teenager who spent most evening listening to another hero – John Peel – on the radio, this led to the rapid expansion of both my horizons and my record collection.

After the Clash, Strummer floundered for a while; the only way is down when you’ve spent six years as the leader of the coolest band on the planet. But eventually he found his voice again, and when he died, nine years ago today, he was firmly ensconced as an icon of his generation: a man of incredible lyrical gifts, keen intelligence, and, more importantly, impeccable honour.

I owe him an awful lot; even if it isn’t immediately apparent.

RIP Joe.

Categories: blogging for Britain
  1. Anonymous
    March 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I thought you were refering to Peter Skellern at first.

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