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Let's Rock Again

Image // Unrated // June 27, 2006
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted June 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
As the frontman and main songwriter of the enormously popular punk band The Clash, Joe Strummer created some of the most vital punk rock the rock and roll world has ever known. Branching out and incorporating other elements of music in accordance with his personal tastes, his fiery voice gave a sense of urgency to their best songs, political and topical of the times. The Clash disbanded in 1986 due to infighting and confusion as to which direction the band would take musically. Strummer stayed somewhat active, penning two songs for the soundtrack of the Alex Cox directed biographical film on Sex Pistols icon Sid Vicious, "Sid and Nancy" ; afterwards he stayed busy with the film soundtrack "Permanent Record" as well as acting in Cox's films "Walker" and "Straight To Hell". He released his first solo album in 1989, "Earthquake Weather", which made wide use of world music flavor with rock n' roll roots. After doing a stint as a temporary member of The Pogues Strummer fell mostly silent for the first half on the 90's, reappearing to score the John Cusack film Grosse Point Blank in 1996 then releasing his second solo album in 1999, Rock Art And The X-Ray Style, another world-music type piece. His third solo album was 2001's Global-Go-Go. Strummer was working on his fourth solo album when he died of a sudden heart attack in December 2002.

Directed by filmmaker and friend Dick Rude, this insiders' look into the last 18 months of Strummer's life mainly covers his life on tour, personal insights and musings and on stage performances. This is Joe's first foray back into the life of touring in what he says is 11 years, and he's working hard to get the word out that he is still around, Clash or no Clash. He visits record stores, goes to local raido stations doing whatever he can to get promotional plugs for his gigs and latest recording, and can even be seen on the New Jersey Boardwalk handing out flyers to passersby, a few who recognize him, most who have no idea who he is. None of this preturbs him; he speaks of his prior album not breaking even in sales, and using that as his goal this time around in order to be able to continue in the business. By no means does it seem that Stummer has sold out to the industry; he speaks about making vital music, prodding listeners to get out there and buy something weird, listen to material off the beaten path. Joe just wants to work, and from all indications here is as deserving of that right as anyone- he still has the chops to entertain and when the show is over is more than willing to sign autographs and politely listen to every fan that approaches him. Strummer waxes philosophical on where he is in present day life in a contented manner that seems genuine. The fame doesn't seem nearly as important to him as the work he wants to continue doing.

Rude's direction here is splendid, obviously the work of someone who was a friend and a legitimate fan of Strummer, both as a performer and a man. An intimate portrait of the man is presented here, giving the viewer the impression that Rude also saw Strummer as a working class hero, someone who has markedly matured since his brash days fronting The Clash. He speaks of having some difficulty in deciding what length to make the film, and I would have enjoyed seeing it play out to at least 90 minutes rather than its too short 67 minute length. In part he makes up for this with the DVD audience by adding quite a bit of extra material totaling over an hour.

As I had not heard any of his later efforts I had no clue what kind of music Joe had been bringing to the new millenium before his passing, only that he had gone to a sound more world-music in nature. The songs performed here on his tour are melodic, vibrant, quite pleasing to the ear and seem for the most part non-punk in nature; this is a man who has slowed his step a bit and come to terms with making music easily accessible to fans young and old. The Mescaleros are talented, a tight unit which Strummer fronts admirably; his voice is in fine form and it seems every song performed here is done so by a man willing to give his all on stage.

Having grown up in the era in which punk was born and The Clash became a part of its legacy, what I expected to see when watching this film was an overview of a man still raging against the troubles he sees in the world around him, and there is certainly enough material these days to fuel someone of Stummer's caliber with which to do so. This documentary is anything but that; its a fine look at a man pushing 50 years of age, in many ways an everyman, average Joe on the street who is thoughful, humble, respectful of anyone and everyone he comes in contact with from a stranger on the street to his musical peers. He seems far more at ease with life than he did in the days of fame; at times he pokes fun at his advancing years, at others he's making it a point to let you know he has lots of vital music yet to do. He isn't adept at grabbing the viewer with quotes that stay with you; instead he seems to endear you to his cause, exuding warmth, goodwill and an obvious desire to get back out there and play. The ample interview footage shows his charisma comes from being personable, yet a man with something to say musically. If he sees himself as an icon or even a musician of notable importance, you certainly can't tell it listening to the man here, nor see it; he treats his new band as complete equals and in one of the extras is quick to give them high praise. What I got from viewing this is the fact that Joe Strummer the man was a class act. The isn't a way in the world I would have equated the lead singer of The Clash- the voice of "London Calling"- with the man Strummer turns out to be.



Video-

The aspect ratio for this documentary is 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colors are rich, clean and accurate. Sharpness is very good, as has been the case with several recent Image Entertainment releases I have reviewed.

Audio-

The audio track presented here is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. While not earthshaking, spoken voice portions of the disc are clear and easy to understand, and the musical footage sounds crisp and accurate.

Extras-

Q&A with director Dick Rude- Clocking in at 15 minutes, a fun session at the Tribeca Film Festival with Rude talking about Joe's tour and Strummer's personality, his humble, warm, hard working persona. "I had so much footage of Joe being a humble, nice guy he looked pathetic!"
More Mescaleros- Various footage of Joe and the new band hanging out, singing and just having a good time behind the scenes. About 8 minutes.
Joe's Suitcase- Pictures, buttons, album covers, memorabilia and newspaper clippings of Joe with the Clash.
Writing Songs- 2 minutes. One on one with Joe talking about how he forms his songs, where he finds inspiration to write.
Touring- Joe talking about his love for touring with fresh material and his new band. 5 minutes.
Politics- Mainly dealing with the G8 and his cynicism towards it.
Plugs- 2 minutes. The band doing various regional promos.
On the Mescaleros- 3 minutes. Talking about his enjoyment being in a new band with such versatility and musicianship.
Life in General- Joe talking about this and that; his name, signing autographs, in general just expounding on the music business and where he is at the time. 4 minutes.
The History of Joe- Strummer talks about his beginning, playing Europe and his early bands. 4 minutes.
About Music- A 10 minute piece in which Joe talks about looking for new music, seeking out sounds that will be viable as opposed to playing it safe for the sake of corporate music compaines.


Bonus Songs-

Bigger They Come Harder They Fall
Quarter Pound of Ishens
Armagideon Time
Pressure Drop 72
Rudie Can't Fail


Theatrical Trailer


Final Thoughts-

There are several reasons to speak highly of this disc. This is a short film about a man regarded in legendary terms in punk rock- a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee- who reveals himself to be a very likeable, approachable man in what should have been his mid-life years. As he sadly died not long after this filming, it is as close as we are likely to get to an inside look at Joe Strummer's solo period. Dick Rude has done a fine job of bringing Strummer's quiet, passionate persona to life for the viewer. Recommended.
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