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Joe Strummer

CFF (continued)

The lead singer of The Clash at a folk festival? Surely some mistake? But no, look at the setlist from when he played Cambridge. From his new songs, "Bhindi Bhagee," a song that celebrates the multi-cultural country that Britain is, or "Yalla Yalla," about the erosion of personal freedoms.

Then there's the extensive Clash back-catalogue, from "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" to "Bankrobber"--themes of racism and working-class alienation. Songs about people and the world they have to live in. If that's not "folk" music, I genuinely have no idea what is.

Joe was playing with The Mescaleros, a band that matched his energy and enthusiasm. This was no "backing band"--the communication across the stage was palpable--this was one whole producing a sound and emotion-level damn near to perfect.

I'd seen Joe perform before, but never photographed him. To see his body tensed and the pain etched on his face as he sang, I got even more of a feeling that he lived his music. From the jerky movements, chopping at his battered guitar, and the flecks of foam escaping his mouth as he sang, the impression gained was that there was no way he wanted to be anywhere else or doing anything else than playing--right here, right now. The set was glorious. After taking photos for the regulation first three songs, I got rid of my camera bag and disappeared into the middle of the crowd, becoming part of this body of people both lost in and united by our appreciation of the music.

It was only four months later that Joe died, which wasn't marked by the mawkish universal hand-wringing and flower-laying seen at the death of some "celebrities" but by heartfelt tributes to his work.  continue

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