cover image Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

Chris Salewicz, Author . FSG/Faber and Faber $27 (629p) ISBN 9

In this biography of punk icon Joe Strummer, music writer Salewicz focuses on the heady days of the punk explosion and Strummer's long hiatus after leaving the Clash. Born John Graham Mellor in 1952 in Ankara, Turkey, to diplomat parents, Strummer enjoyed a peripatetic childhood before being parked at a British boarding school. An art school dropout, Strummer (who was known then as "Woody") lived a hand-to-mouth existence in London squats before rock impresario Bernie Rhodes selected him to head a new punk band, and Woody became Joe Strummer, the sardonic, gravelly voiced rabble rouser. For a long moment, the Clash channeled the most progressive elements in pop culture, blending punk anger, rasta vibes, bank robbers, cowboys and revolutionary traditions into music that remains compelling today. After the band's breakup in 1985, Strummer fell into a long depression that Salewicz attributes to heavy pot smoking and a family legacy that included his brother's suicide. Yet Strummer had revitalized his career and was making excellent music before his sudden death of heart failure in 2002. As a young writer in the punk years, Salewicz had plenty of access to Strummer, and does a good job of providing a blow-by-blow account of the tours and albums. However, Salewicz provides little historical context, thereby diminishing the importance of the Clash. Despite nearly 600 pages of analysis, Strummer remains an opaque figure. (May)