Remembering The Clash’s Frontman Joe Strummer on His 60th Birthday

It’s hard to imag­ine him as an old man, but Joe Strum­mer would have turned 60 today. Strum­mer was the heart and soul of the leg­endary punk group The Clash, the rea­son many peo­ple called it “The only band that mat­ters.”

He was a man with a Bob Dylan-like instinct for self-inven­tion. Born John Gra­ham Mel­lor on August 21, 1952 in Ankara, Turkey (his father was in the British diplo­mat­ic ser­vice), he changed his name to Joe Strum­mer in the ear­ly 1970s while play­ing in a rhythm and blues band called the 101’ers. When the Sex Pis­tols opened for the 101’ers, Strum­mer was so impressed with the band’s take-no-pris­on­ers atti­tude that he threw him­self into the punk move­ment, accept­ing an offer from gui­tarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon and man­ag­er Bernie Rhodes to join what would even­tu­al­ly become The Clash.

With the Clash, Strum­mer helped move punk beyond the self-absorbed nihilism of its ear­ly days to embrace polit­i­cal and social aware­ness. After the band dis­in­te­grat­ed in the mid 1980s, Strum­mer spent over a decade in semi-retire­ment before return­ing in the late 1990s for what he called his “Indi­an sum­mer,” with a pop­u­lar BBC radio show and a new band, The Mescaleros. But just as he was regain­ing his old momen­tum, Strum­mer died unex­pect­ed­ly of heart fail­ure on Decem­ber 22, 2002, at the age of 50.

In the video above, Strum­mer sings the title song to the The Clash’s 1980 album Lon­don Call­ing, which Rolling Stone ranked  Num­ber 8 on its list of the 500 Great­est Albums of All Time. “Record­ed in 1979 in Lon­don,” writes the mag­a­zine, “which was then wrenched by surg­ing unem­ploy­ment and drug addic­tion, and released in Amer­i­ca in Jan­u­ary 1980, the dawn of an uncer­tain decade, Lon­don Call­ing is 19 songs of apoc­a­lypse, fueled by an unbend­ing faith in rock & roll to beat back the dark­ness.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Clash: West­way to the World

The Clash Star in 1980’s Gang­ster Par­o­dy: Hell W10

Mick Jones, The Clash Gui­tarist, Sings ‘Train in Vain’ at the Library

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