Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

By Chris Salewicz. <i>Faber and Faber</i>. $27.<br /> Both scholars of punk history and casual fans should enjoy this surprisingly frank and entertaining biography of legendary Clash frontman Joe Strummer.

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Both scholars of punk history and casual fans should enjoy this surprisingly frank and entertaining biography of legendary Clash frontman Joe Strummer. Salewicz, a music journalist, was there for most of the musician’s early career, and the two remained close until Strummer died from a heart defect in 2002. He traces the roots of Strummer’s progressive politics and multicultural influences to his childhood as the son (born John Mellor) of a well-traveled British diplomat. Strummer’s story—and Salewicz’s prose—come alive in early 1970s London, a world of filthy squats, underground reggae clubs, and race riots. Utterly destitute and often aimless, Strummer renamed himself (a nod to his rudimentary guitar skills and his desire to project an “ordinary Joe” image) and threw himself into the creative whirlwind of the nascent punk scene. Self-
promoting yet egalitarian, strident yet naive—he famously wore a Red Brigades T-shirt at an antiracism concert—Strummer seemed made for the role of punk’s spokesman. Salewicz’s meticulous description of the Clash’s rise from a pub band griping about punks “turning rebellion into money” into a Top 40 chart-topper is engrossing, though even London Calling die-hards may find themselves skimming after the band breaks up three-quarters of the way through this 600-page tome.

It took Strummer’s untimely death at age 50 to reaffirm his towering influence over contemporary music, particularly the now-unquestioned marriage of punk rock and lefty politics. It’s tempting to bestow on him oxymoronic titles like “King of Punk,” but Salewicz doesn’t lobby for sainthood. Strummer, with all his flaws and missteps, was “far too interesting for that.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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