One year gone already, "Streetcore" is Joe Strummer's de facto last musical will and testament, the dots joined posthumously by his long-term band The Mescaleros. Happily, it vibrates with the same pan-global enthusiasm of The Clash's underrated "Combat Rock", the single "Coma Girl" opening proceedings with a gently skanking bounce. Heck, even Strummer's habit of repeatedly rhyming 'gang' with 'gang' can be overlooked under the influence of the goodtimey atmosphere. "Get Down Moses" is a righteous, white reggae strut that can be traced back as far as side two of "The Clash" (and, on reflection, was anybody doing it before they were?), albeit presented here with a shade more panache, not to mention an exotic orchestral barrage of instruments that are not 2 guitar, bass, drum. "Long Shadow" plays sparse, Guthrie-esque folk that travels the trailways, a far more successful piece than the Danny Saber collaboration "Arms Aloft", during which Strummer struggles to outfox its metronomic constraints. "Ramshackle Day Parade" is altogether better, perhaps unintentionally a widescreen epic that plays like "Joshua Tree"-era U2 without the God complex.
Recorded with Rick Rubin and Heartbreaker Benmont Tench a cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" was perhaps intended as a dry run for the version Strummer cut with Johnny Cash, also recently released on the "Unearthed" box set; this celebratory anthem of the oppressed is as appropriate here as you would expect. Maybe "All In A Day" and "Burnin' Streets" (London's burning, still) are kinda hackneyed, but "Midnight Jam" compensates, being in a different stratosphere to that suggested by its scrappy title: a spacey instrument overlaid with samples of Strummer's best DJ patter, the listener might wonder whether Strummer actually heard it during his lifetime. If not, it's a fine, funky tribute by the band. The album closes on a countryfried, fiddle-fed cover of Bobby Charles' "Silver And Gold", containing the eerily prescient line "I got to hurry up before I get too old". Joe was tragically denied the opportunity to get too old, but "Streetcore" captures him rushing gloriously ahead at full pelt, a sweet, spicy epitaph.
JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN
If this film had nothing else in its favour, at least it would offer the opportunity to hear The Clashs music pumped through a cinema sound system, and on that count The Cornerhouses presentation scored magnificently. This had to be the loudest film screening Ive ever attended, and not just loud in a Dolby THX trailer Its behind you! pantomime kinda way. Fortunately, there are myriad other reasons to enjoy, nay revel in, this cradle-to-grave chronicle of the voice of punks conscience.
Directed by Julien Temple, who has already covered the Sex Pistols story from both sides now in The Great Rock N Roll Swindle and The Filth And The Fury (as well as helming, um, UK Subs: Punk Can Take It), Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten gently sidesteps just about every rockumentary cliché. In place of a Classics Albums-style segment of a nimble-fingered producer riding the faders to zero in on an individual performance, the film opens with Strummer hollering through his White Riot vocal in the studio, the rest of the track extinguished bar some bleedthrough from his headphones. Album covers are glimpsed only in passing archive material.
Temple was fortunate in having a wealth of that archive material to draw on, including childhood home movies of the young John Mellor and family, papering over the visual gaps in the narrative with footage from Animal Farm, 1984 and If . The film tills well-worn ground in considering the dichotomies inherent in a public school-educated squat-dwelling punk with a diplomat father, but is perhaps more revealing when considering Strummers almost Stalinist shedding of friends and band members who had outlived their usefulness. Rock history hasnt yet pegged Joe as a Bowie-like chameleon, but the way he sheds successive skins from John Mellor the self-confessed schoolboy bully through Woody the hippy art student to the role that finally found him his infamy, Clash (co-?)frontman Joe Strummer suggests a reappraisal is in order. Theres real warmth, though, to his discovery of rave culture, and the Criminal Justice Bill-era realisation that punks and hippies were now on the same anti-establishment side, and perhaps always had been.
The warp and the weft of the film are campfire reminiscences of the famous including Bono, Steve Buscemi, John Cusack, Flea and Martin Scorsese - and the ordinary, in celebration of the similar gatherings Strummer used to stage, and excerpts from his World Service radio show, London Calling. Both work brilliantly in filling out a multi-dimensioned portrait of a complex character, loaded with as much passion and commitment as its subject.