The Rebel's Waltz

For 10 years, Joe Strummer made little noise. Finally, the Clash front man returns with a record he can call his own.

"The last thing I would have liked to have done is remake the '77 record or do a carbon copy of something else--something that was expected of me," he says. "Then again, you don't want to run away completely into a landscape of lunar squelching and blipping. It's quite a fine line to tread, because you're so aware that you have an audience and that you're playing to people who've been with you since you began, so it has to be coherent and understandable, and yet you can't make the same record over and over. I'm just so glad I've got these players so we can make music like this, that isn't the same old damned thing. That's really the main thing. You get up in the morning, and you don't wanna make the same record."

The longer Strummer talks about the new record, the more one gets a sense that the reason he didn't make an album for a decade was because trepidation kept getting in the way. He talks a lot about "unlocking the human mind," about trying to keep the musician out of the music's way. He bandies about words like "courage" and "fear," as though the act of making a record is no different from the act of picking up a rifle and heading off to war. So, then, how does one banish the fear?

"First of all, you have to smoke a lot of weed," Strummer says, laughing up a lung. "This seems to help, just to turn life out for a minute. Also, you have to be brave enough to let yourself go, so to speak. Say you're approaching a part in the song--say you're overdubbing or singing on top of something--I find as soon as fear sets in, you've lost it. You've got to trust something's going to come out of your mouth or your guitar worth having when you approach a difficult section or just don't know what to do. This is one of the big moments. When you don't know what to do, you gotta fling yourself at it with blind trust, I would say, that something's gonna happen. Even though you might not have anything prepared, you gotta get rid of the fear. You better go and have a cup of tea if you've got the fear up, because you're not gonna do it, I reckon.

Joe Strummer—in the studio, in the moment—banishing the fear: “You’ve got to trust something’s going to come out of your mouth or your guitar worth having when you approach a difficult section or just don’t know what to do.”
Josh Cheuse
Joe Strummer—in the studio, in the moment—banishing the fear: “You’ve got to trust something’s going to come out of your mouth or your guitar worth having when you approach a difficult section or just don’t know what to do.”
The Old Band: from left, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon and Mick Jones
Paul Slattery/Retna
The Old Band: from left, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon and Mick Jones

"Let's face it. Musicians are pretty dumb, ya know? We don't really have too much self-analytical apparatus going on for us. Perhaps we should. But we're pretty good at intuition. We're not very good at the intellectualization of things. But mainly, I'm pretty glad to have another crack at it, actually. You can't say more than that."

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