Monday, June 02, 2014

London Calling

Joe strummer is dead. He passed in 2002. His musical resume is without peer: he was the guitarist for the Clash, the Pogues, and the Mescaleros among others. The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame wasted no time and inducted him with the Clash in 2003.  Born John Graham Mellor, Strummer, was also a free-form radio DJ on the BBC. Who knew? The British knew. It only seems to have been a secret in the USA.

Strummer spun whatever he wanteda mish-mosh of the classic punk and rare punk tracks you'd expect, but also jazz, hip-hop, reggae, folk, ethnic obscurities and classic rock. The show began with static, and the sounds of an old radio dial then the narration "This is Joe Strummer's London Calling." Sometimes he was a bit animated but typically he had as much inflection as the traffic guy on NPR. His delivery was flat, sometimes even disinterested especially when playing his own material. It reminds me that he was once quoted as saying
"If I had five million pounds I'd start a radio station because something needs to be done. It would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something that didn't make you feel like smashing up the kitchen and strangling the cat."

But some music just seemed to pluck at his strings. Reggae artist Johnny Clarke, Lee Hazelwood, and Jimi Hendrix, but also totally obscure African music. It's hard to imagine a 50-year old man rocking out to censored  versions of white label rap 12-inches but he did. I can say that the program never had a feeling of being pretentious. This wasn't High Fidelity. Strummer was sharing his favorite sides. Josh Jones at Open Culture described the variety thus:
"But aside from the expected punk and reggae, there was no telling what he might cue up next; from the Balkan Folk of Emir Kusturica and The No Smoking Orchestra to the new wave rhumba of Zaire’s Thu-Zahina, Strummer had one hell of an eclectic collection..."
Joe Strummers' London Calling ran for a short stretch on the BBC World Service in August of 199 as an 8-part series. Then he came back to in 2000-2001.  The BBC re-ran some of the programs in 2002 and 2007, 2012. Starting in 2009 the re-broadcasts were editing to include an introduction by Jon Langford of the Mekons. Strummers popularity has been so enduring it's clear he could have continued broadcasting had he lived.  More here.