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Clash City Rocker

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NT: Did you plan on making an album that filled up a CD?

Strummer: No. But as we began to reel off the final mixes and build up the album, I began to think, these CDs are 731/2 minutes capacity, so whatever we've done, we'll stack the tunes up. We recorded "Minstrel Boy," which at the time I was thinking it could come in useful as a B-side, and I may have specified doing it for about 31/2 minutes. The guys started playing -- and stopped 21 minutes and 22 seconds later! [laughs] I decided that whatever time was left on the album we'd dedicate it to "Minstrel Boy."

NT: You've said that you didn't read the unauthorized Last Gang in Town Clash bio [recently updated as Return of the Last Gang in Town], but what did you think about the '99 memoir A Riot of Our Own by your old Clash roadie Johnny Green?

Strummer: I LIKE Johnny Green's book! It seems to convey the feeling in the air like it was at the time. You're reading the story as it happened. That book somehow captures something. It's entertaining for starters. And it's short! [laughs]

NT: The '99 Westway to the World Clash documentary comes off as very honest, too.

Strummer: Yeah, that's Don Letts directing there, who was part of the scene anyway at the time. He was perfectly placed to do that and I think he did great.

NT: What's your opinion on Clash and Mescaleros bootlegs? You should take charge and market your archives over the Internet like Pete Townshend does.

Strummer: Yeah, that's a good point. Thank you! If you heard some of them and you liked what you heard, you could recommend it: "This is pretty good . . ." I'm in touch with this guy in Italy who's sort of the king of collectors, if you like, and I'm quite pleased he has all these recordings when it comes down to it, you know what I mean?

NT: Your live show includes Clash material, too -- how far back are you dipping for the setlist?

Strummer: Well, pretty much as far back as I can remember! [laughs] Yeah, the 101ers' "Keys to Your Heart." If you've got a large number of tunes to draw from, you might as well make use of it and maybe pull some stuff that didn't get much of an airing.

NT: What kinds of people are coming to your shows? Punks with graying Mohawks?

Strummer: Mostly they're truck drivers, a-hah-heh-heh! Any people, really. Quite a cross section are digging the music. Quite a wide age group.

Global a Go-Go to date has generated such enthusiastic reviews that even Strummer has been pleasantly surprised. Speaking recently to Rolling Stone about his relatively slow-starting solo career, he summarized, "I realized what I've done is save the best for last, which is a brilliant maneuver. I did it by accident, though. Rather than burn out earlier, taking [time] off has turned out to be a not bad idea at all. When the Clash broke up, it sort of all fell apart and perhaps that was quite good for my artistic ability, which was a good thing for me at least."

So, yeah, Joe Strummer is having a good day. In the broader sense, too. It's impossible to resist bringing up current events with the former punk firebrand, yet Strummer, despite remaining justifiably cynical toward corporations and business-as-usual politics, is loath to be straitjacketed, reluctant to be too reactionary with his opinions. He's even willing to cast a charitable, reflective mood in the direction of international crises, acknowledging that maybe, in the long run, the way the global community has abruptly gotten a lot smaller, while tragic, will one day yield positive results.

"Everybody's freaking out all over the world," Strummer says. "I'm trying not to get too freaked out meself -- keep it in hand. I reckon as time goes by we'll be able to get it into more perspective, take a more steady view of things, maybe. So you gotta try and find a sort of bright side to the cloud. So now, for example, just talking about airplanes, they'll do some good things for the safety of everyone. And maybe you can say that it's really going to bring out a lot of nations out that weren't previously into or down with the international community, like Iran and even Pakistan. Which, if you think about it, is really a big leap forward."

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Fred Mills