A Riot Of My Own!
Joe Strummer is awesome. I have a great esteem for his work, be it as part of the Clash, or backed by the Mescaleros. Until recently, however, I didn't really know much about the man himself; so when I saw a review of a documentary called Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten a few days ago in the Citizen (and it was a very positive review), I decided I ought to go see the bigger picture, appropriately enough by seeing a big (motion) picture. I talked to a couple of people, all of whose names began with “J” (I realized this about halfway through the process)...but only the one who is known as Gold (way to wreck the symmetry with that big' ol “G”, man) was able to come. So off we rolled to the Bytown cinema to see what this Strummer dude was all about.
In short, the film rocked, in a way that all doc, mock, and most of all rockumentaries should. You have a sort of standard setup, with interviews with a who's who of music celebrities and old friends and acquaintances backing up the chronological account of [subject name here], but this is an above-average treatment. The interviews are uncluttered, with nothing so obtrusive as studio backdrops/lighting and post-processed name-tag displays. Only a fire in the foreground, and a night sky in the background. Campfires are in a way the backbone of the film, which has many scenes of people sitting around a scrap-metal hearth somewhere in or near a city. People gather around the fires to sing, give interviews, and listen to the radio, over which can be heard London Calling, Strummer's half-hour BBC show. You wonder if the campfires are about urban poverty, and how Strummer's message still resonates with outcasts (the fires do look kinda like hobo fires, it must be said), but that's not the end of it. The campfires have a universal resonance, and it's not about wealth or lack thereof or race or creed or anything like that. It's human to human connection, catalyzed by fire and good company. The campfires are linked to Strummer maybe three-quarters of the way through the film, and when they are these scenes really fall into place. It's a fantastic feeling, and I know I left the theatre wanting friends and a fire to sit around.
The film's soundtrack is also superb. It's not all Clash and Mescaleros, other artists' songs - from “Blitzkrieg Bop” to “Day-O” (“Daylight come and we want to go home”, etc) - pop up from time to time, and at the beginning or end the gravelly tones of Strummer's voice are heard, giving the name, title, and often a little commentary on the track. These play over shots of a radio recording booth interior, where an unseen Strummer is presumed to be recording his show. The songs of the Clash and the Mescaleros are brilliant as always, and it's a kick to hear everything from London Calling to Rock the Casbah to Johnny Appleseed and Techno D-Day blasted over the big theatre speakers. Truly awesome is the opening sequence, in which Strummer is seen belting out the lyrics to White Riot in an otherwise empty soundscape. Seconds pass, and then a wall of sound crashes into the scene like a tidal wave onto a club med full of idiot tourists and their cameras, and it feels as if the Clash are in the room (specifically, playing inside your head). It's a perfect contrast to the lead-out of the movie, in which a much older Strummer intones (again in a grainy radio voice second only to Johnny Cash's) his belief that people can change anything they want. The anger seems to have evaporated with time, but none of the conviction has budged a millimetre.
In an AWESOME coincidence, Rock the Casbah played on 88.5 in the car just (and I mean JUST) as we drove away from the Bytown. It was epic!
I have come under fire from some suburban readers for my probably now notorious anti-suburb views. I feel a little bad, as I know I a) don't even have a particularly bad commute from my ugly corner of Bank Street, and b) because I don't mean to tell my friends that they are bad people because they don't feel like paying far too much money to live closer to downtown. That being said, I've come across a most magnificent vindication of my views in the book Ecocities, which I found in the public library while I was supposed to be researching other stuff (generally when my best finds are made). I'm reading it here and there, so progress is slow, but I'm enjoying what I've read so far. The book details what the author (and I, but he's better at explaining it than I am) think cities should look like, and MUST function like if life on this planet is to be saved from humans. It's a condemnation of our subservience to the automobile, and a celebration of the social, cultural, and ecological city as it could be, and I love it!
The number one rule of an ecologically friendly city is: use all three dimensions! This is generally known as “building an arcology” and less formally known as “awesome!”. This reduces the overall footprint of your city, and it means that more stuff will share walls and ceilings with other stuff, and THAT means you save on heating and insulation, and those are just fringe benefits! You don't have to use cars when a city is small enough to walk comfortably from end to end! Going downstairs is going to work, going out on the town means going to the roof next door, where there will be a rooftop bar. And terrarium. And Jacuzzi. And Waterfall, oh yes. Arcologies aren't just for after the collapse of the biosphere, and you don't need to put a dome over it or build it underground (you can do those things for extra credit, though!). No cars mean no accident fatalities, that means more money in your pockets, more bicycles, more cool paths, no parking lots of ugly asphalt...it means paradise, ladies and gentlemen.
The more I think about this, the more I realize how disgusting the future according to GM was, when they were promising giant freeways connecting the globe, and spreading cities out for more comfortable living. It's a disgusting practice, and it would have meant the end of nature, it would have been the ultimate expression of Western civilizations campaign to destroy nature out of our fear of it. We need to get ourselves compressed, because one day the oil is going to run out, and if we haven't done anything to prepare ourselves WE ARE GOING TO DIE. I mean it: we are going to have no cheap energy to build a new economy if the present one collapses and we're not ready for it. We are not going to be able to move people, food, or anything. We are going to get sick, and we are going to starve, and we are going to make war on our neighbors over canned food and dog biscuits...we're going to suffer if we don't get our act together and start living in sustainable cities. You hear me, suburbanites? Defend your rampant appropriation of our best arable land at your peril!
Seriously, this isn't snobbery, this is life and death. The upside is that I think I know what I might want to do with myself, once I get an education.
Utopia or bust!