Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Joe Strummer vs. David Lee Roth

I like the Clash, and I like The Future is Unwritten, the documentary about Joe Strummer. However, this segment with Strummer and David Lee Roth did not work for me.



The idea here is that idiot rockers like Roth didn't get culturally important bands like the Clash that stood for something. That may be true, but what exactly did the Clash stand for? And how did they go about it?

What I'm hearing from Strummer here is a bunch of empty slogans, spewed out by a charismatic guy with a strong voice. "You make, you buy, you die?" "Sex, style, subversion?" Give me a break.

I'm not saying that Strummer was being a clod. On the contrary, he looks like a fantastic performer who knows how to rile up a crowd, on top of being a top-notch songwriter. But where can anyone get the idea that any of these messages are more enlightened than Roth's? ("The thing that the Clash don't understand...is that you can't take life so goddamn seriously.") The film's argument isn't helped by the fact that Strummer looks like he spends as much time on his hair as Roth does, or that he's about to play "Should I Stay or Should I Go."

For better and worse, I like hearing artists express themselves on political and social issues. I like to hear their stances, and even when I disagree I'm glad that they care enough to say something. But nobody should look to the Clash, Public Enemy or Bono for any sort of political intellect. They may be smart, brilliant even, and it's refreshing to see musicians getting involved with important causes. But these are artists, not pundits. If you really care about socialism, unemployment, militarism or Sandinistas, there are plenty of historians, commentators and politicians with more profound ideas than Joe Strummer.

The Clash, like other great artists, can serve as a Guernica to the world's problems--depicting them in an aesthetically compelling way without offering any particular insight. There will always be a place for that, and it's admirable of Strummer to have done so on four and a half of the greatest rock albums of all time. But it doesn't make his art or ideas any purer, smarter or better than Roth's. Both Roth and Strummer carved out their own niches in the music world, and we all should be glad that they can co-exist.

4 comments:

Jenny said...

Well said!

Ben Apatoff said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is 2 years too late. I've just watched this film and the simple difference is that DLR is a fucking twat and Joe Strummer isn't.

Anthony Martinez said...

Sure there are plenty of other mediums to get better ideas about socialism than the Clash, but how much of it can be summed up in a 3 min. song that people can sing? Apple meet orange.