ARTS

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January 14, 2003

Dear Diary

1/13/02

The University of Chicago only gets something like eight more editions of this bitch. So let's make it special!

I did not fail to notice that Ohio State won the NCAA D-IA Men's Football title. I can't help but feel somehow largely responsible for this. Letters and personal checks characterizing me as prescient and otherwise just a special guy should be directed to:

Pete's Magic Rainbow Factory

10 Downing Street

London, England

I also noticed that CBS accepted $114 trillion (which was stolen from the Make A Wish Foundation, incidentally) from the mayor of Pittsburgh, who is actually Satan, and showed a tape labeled "Computer-Generated Fake Fourth Quarter of Browns-Steelers Game" instead of the Browns' record setting 42-point fourth quarter. First off, shame on the people of Pittsburgh for throwing their votes away to a fictional and clearly evil mayoral candidate. Second, it's too bad about the holograms.

Joe Strummer

Funny thing about my thoughts on the passing of Joe Strummer: They're not important. I'm 21. As a result of my relative inexperience and lack of international exposure, I remain a minor light on the global political map of rock criticism. I did not know Joe Strummer, except through something like seven compact discs sitting on my bookshelf. I was not even alive when the first three Clash records were recorded and released. Like Lester Bangs before me, I don't give a shit as goes the English class system. Unlike Lester, I didn't like the Clash because they cared. All I ever cared for the Clash was the sounds and words they committed to vinyl, and the intelligence those sounds and words corroborated. Joe Strummer, without our getting wonky about it, was obviously responsible for a sizable percentage of these things.

I was confused by the lack of attention paid to Strummer's death, considering that it came from underneath the left field bleachers (Strummer was only 50 and in decent health) and prevented what looked like an imminent reunion for the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By now, close to a month later, I've seen enough decent tributes to shut down my plans for some sort of letter-writing campaign. Then again, judging from today's headlines, Joe Strummer dying was slightly less important than Pete Townshend getting sent up for kiddie porn. I'm going out on a very short branch on a shitty tree here but: The fact that Rolling Stone's cover this month is a shirtless Justin Timberlake, with a small teaser saying "RIP Joe Strummer" will turn out to be the specific moment in history at which Rolling Stone ceased to matter at all to anyone with an IQ above 95. I don't mind "Cry Me a River" and all, but you cannot be serious. Salon.com's recent, puzzling attempt at a never-ending arts & entertainment Karaoke Journalism Hour resulted in their fumbling a Strummer tribute badly. Something that most of the many autopiloted Joe Strummer obits/tributes/encomiums overlooked was the fact that he was an actual human being. I'm sure he was a vital artist for writers just like he was a vital artist for bartenders and paralegals; I don't understand why everybody went so meta on what should have been a gimme: Joe Strummer was awesome at singing and playing guitar. Cash this out for the nice people. The Clash didn't die; Joe Strummer did. Some folks don't see the difference, apparently. I doubt I'm doing any better than anyone else who eulogized Strummer. But let me say for the record that I mean well.

It's unlikely the Clash will ever find more popularity than they held at their peak. They won't find some Wyld Stalyns brand of cultural primacy over the hearts and minds of the future's children. The Clash will probably drop off the cultural radar in a few years, and will remain canonical only with the vanity-bearded rock dork set. In 20 years, I look forward to being in the car, driving my asshole kids to see Infinite Jest: The Movie. I will insist that we listen to the classic rock station in the car, because sometimes they play music I liked when I was a kid. If they ever play the Clash, it's probably "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" or "Train in Vain" or worse, "Rock the Casbah." When that happens, I'll start rambling about how great the Clash were, but you can't tell from this song, because Topper Headon couldn't see past the track marks on his eyelids to realize the reason he never wrote a song before was because he wasn't especially good at it. My kids will probably stop listening to me at "track marks on his eyelids." They'll just assume they can file the Clash under "Things Dad Said That We Will Ignore" But once, just once, they might play "Career Opportunities."* Then my shithead kids might actually notice the music, and ask me what's wrong with the guy singing, why he is so upset? What language is he speaking? Is he OK? After this happens, I might drive into a tree. I might sigh and wish my kids weren't such dimwitted pricks. But the next day, those little fuckers will wake up with a copy of The Clash taped to their face. Here's hoping the little fuckers like it.

*"Career Opportunities" serving as proxy for the subset of the Clash's recorded output that is infallible, which is almost all of it, including the first three albums, half of Sandinista!, portions of Combat Rock, and most all non-LP material.