The punk that died as a hippie

{mosimage}Five years ago, Joe Strummer, the leader of The Clash, died unexpectedly aged 50, victim of an undiagnosed congenital heart disease. He descended to the hell of punk after the break-up of The Clash, but a few years before his death, Strummer had revamped his musical career embracing global sounds with his backing band The Mescaleros. The recently released documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten accounts this fascinating journey.

In a bit less than two hours, the documentary narrates Strummer’s traveling childhood (after his father, a British foreign-service, was located in places such as Cairo, Mexico City and Bonn), his teenage years (marked by the suicide of his brother), his stardom with The Clash, the turbulent post-Clash years and his comeback to music with The Mescaleros. Starting with impressive footage of the singer laying the vocals of the classic White Riot, director (and old friend) Julien Temple portraits the life of Joe Strummer through archival footage and personal interviews. Temple planned those interviews around a campfire (one of Strummer’s favorites activities). Former Clash members (like Mick Jones and Topper Headon), close friends and celebrities such as Johnny Depp, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi and Bono share memories and celebrate the life of Joe Strummer.

The editing is innovative and makes the storytelling quick. All the material comes together thanks to the voice of Joe Strummer himself that appears to underline the facts or just to set the mood of the journey spinning some records and introducing songs on the BBC World Service’s radio show London Calling.
Obviously much is told about The Clash. The story of the band becomes the centerpiece of the film: the origins, the success, the fame, the break up. Those were years of youth for Strummer. Wild and outspoken, but at the same time avoiding confrontation while his band mates were fired in the latter days of the group.

{sidebar id=39}In 1986, after the failure of the album Cut the Crap, the singer disbanded The Clash. There Strummer started long rambling years of different projects of mild success, soundtracks, a tour with The Pogues, legal disputes with Sony Records and even appearances in several films, including Aki Kaurismäki’s I Hired a Contract Killer (1990) and Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train (1989).

Those were difficult years for Strummer, but they are also the time when one would have wanted Temple to spend more footage of his documentary. It’s the “lost decade”. The images of Joe, alone in the studio, trying to find the right vocals and trying to find himself are some of the most valuable in the two-hour film.

But like happy end of a movie, Joe Strummer found content and peace of mind. He did it in an expected manner, in campfires around hippies. The punk made peace with his enemies. New sounds, a world folk, seemed to revitalize the singer, who put together a new band of young and talented multi-instrumentalist. The Mescaleros recorded three albums in three years and took successfully Strummer back to the road.

Even a reunion of The Clash seemed possible when Mick Jones joined Strummer on stage and the Mescaleros played a benefit concert for striking fire fighters. It was the first time both played together since 1983.

However that was also the last time. Just one month later, three days before Christmas Joe Strummer passed away. The world lost its hippiest punk.

The Future is Unwritten is a moving testimony of genuine rocker that remained true to himself, true to the idea that music has the power to change the world. It’s just too bad the film is only two hours long.