“A lot of modern music is hippie music, and I don’t mind it, as long as they admit it,” Joe Strummer once said in an interview in Norway in 1984. This comment wasn’t even the most outrageous thing he would that day.
The Clash have been lauded time and time again as “the only band that matters”, a phrase allegedly coined by musician Gary Lucas who worked for CBS in the Creative Department at the time. Strummer’s attitude can certainly attest to that. It may very well be because of his relentless and assertive attitude that Strummer and his gang of rebels earned the reputation.
Strummer, along with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and a slew of various drummers, most notably, Topper Headon, took on the world with a unique brand of fiery and political music; among the many controversial things that Strummer has said in and out of interviews, was that he wanted to increase people’s vocabulary with his lyrics. While Mick Jones provided the guitar hooks with a discerning pop sensibility, it was Joe Strummer who provided the real gumption and brains behind The Clash’s crusade to conquer the world. Even Paul Simonon would later comment on the importance of Strummer joining the band: “Once we had Joe on board, it all started to come together.”
By the time 1984 rolled around, The Clash was almost entirely a new band; the only two original members were Strummer and bass player Paul Simonon. In fact, most people would consider the official story of The Clash ending in 1983 when Mick Jones was fired. This year would prove to be highly chaotic for the band, as mounting tensions began to boil up to the point of no return between Strummer and Jones. The band would then subsequently bolster its ranks with two new guitar players: Nick Shephard and Vince White, making The Clash a brand new proposition.
This phase of the band would culminate in the aptly named, mediocre album, Cut the Crap. On this particular album, Rolling Stone would opine, “It doesn’t count, and the whole thing has basically been erased from history. The Clash as we know them ended at the 1983 US Festival.”
Despite this, Joe Strummer still contained a spark within himself that had originally lit the fuse for their earlier and best material. In the aforementioned interview form the band’s time in Norway, the singer made some of his most controversial statements, most notably when he spoke out against the very medium that he has previously poured his entire soul and mind into.
The interviewer asked Strummer, “What’s most important to you? To be rebels or to be rock musicians?” To which the leader of The Clash responded, “No, I don’t like music, at all. Music isn’t the point.” It was a bold statement that Strummer must have known would stir the pot, but his opinion feels valid, despite its apparent hypocrisies.
The interviewer continued the conversation by then asking Strummer, “You once said that you are not musicians?” Strummer replied: “Yeah, I can play all six strings or none.” It’s the kind of confusing rhetoric that the Clash man revelled in.
For Joe Strummer, intelligence, meaning, and soul were more important to him than the actual means of communication. If it wasn’t for music, Joe Strummer would have still found a way to communicate his message through poetry, prose or even chatting down the pub. Rock n’ roll just happened to be the dominant form of communication at the time.
Watch the full interview, below.