06 September 2008
The Future is Unwritten
I heard a little snippet of the new Joe Strummer documentary on Radio 1190 a couple weeks ago and upon hearing the sound of Joe Strummer’s confident and sharply honest voice I set the movie near the top of my Netflix queue. To tell the truth, lately I haven't wanted to listen to anything. The deadening of music has been creeping up on me little by little for months and it is a truly terrible loss. Always, at my lowest times, I’ve been able to turn my ear to music and feel alive again. Not so lately. I haven’t felt alive at all. And music has been no help. Even music I love and have turned to before sounds drowned by the imitations that followed them. When I listen, it sounds wrung out and tired and I have to turn it off. Nothing new fires up my senses either. It’s all deadening. With no input that can make me feel confident I am really alive, I've had no fuel for output. Writing has been out of the question.
So, last night, with only half the heart I would’ve had in the past, I sat down to watch The Future is Unwritten. And I almost remembered how it felt when I first discovered the Clash. For me it’s a very fuzzy deal pulling memory from over twenty years ago. I forget things. But I should remember this. The Clash, and especially Joe Strummer made my life feel livable at a time when I didn’t think that could ever happen. Better than that, listening to The Clash, following along lyrics written on album sleeves, I felt that some things mattered, and mattered a whole lot. I knew I existed because I could feel it and was unshakably confident in that. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever held that sort of confidence. That confidence may have been a bit borrowed from how I perceived Joe Strummer, and how I tried to imitate him at that time, (wish I still had a picture from those days) but somehow it felt more real than mere copying. It felt like recognition of something I knew was true, and how I wanted to be. I wasn’t looking up to Strummer because he was cool (he was but that was not the common sentiment at Christ the King or Tates Creek, places where I went to school at that time—I assure you quite the contrary.) Joe Strummer was cool to me because he was the real deal. Things he said resonated with a vital-ness and truthfulness that registered in every sense I had.
Now I know, obviously, I was hardly the only kid being inspired by the Clash. Books and reissued discs with copious essays in the liner notes abound. The people they've inspired could populate a large metropolis. Even people who don't care too much one way or the other about the Clash recognize "the only band that matters." But back when London Calling came out and I was playing it over and over, I was unaware of so many other listeners and was astounded when I met someone who had even heard of the Clash (this is what it was like growing up in Kentucky.) The few times I did meet a fellow Clash fan it was an instant recognition of a like-minded friend. I guess Combat Rock changed that. Not that it was the band's fault but after that record The Clash, the band began to be lost to The Clash, the product. I guess both exist, but the documentary I can't help but at least partially see as just another way to profit off a bit of history that's bound to sell. Watching it didn’t change and recharge my life, but it did stir a memory and remind me that, yes, those things can happen. Life can be shaken and you can really feel alive. Especially if you weather the downs and keep listening, and reading, and paying attention. Don’t shut off the input, and eventually something will fire.