“Don’t Forget You’re Alive”: Joe Strummer and The Making of Chloe Thorpe

Posted on December 22, 2010


A couple weeks ago, the Internet dazzled me yet again with its connecting powers. Sitting there on my Author Page was a comment from one Chloe Thorpe of England:

Heya, I just found your blog and I am completely blown away. I’m in my second year of university with aspirations of writing anything musical related (currently just finishing one essay on British Punk and one on Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash for my English degree). I have a massive obsession with High Fidelity, and Blur and The Clash are my favourite bands so I felt incredibly compelled to write.

I’m damn glad she did. The Brighton native is currently studying history and English “and loving every second of it, with a fantastic group of friends helping [her] along the way. Imagine a female Rob Gordon, with Debbie Harry hair (at least in my mind) and ready to listen to whatever!”

For the eighth anniversary of Strummer’s death—today, Dec. 22, 2010—I wanted to post a tribute of some sort, but not by me. Chloe’s narrative of how Joe changed her outlook encapsulates perfectly the transcendent powers of his music and philosophy (in essence, “Don’t forget you’re alive,” to quote him). She takes me wayyy back *and* delivers me squarely to the present moment. We have a lot in common despite an ocean and 15 years separating us, and Joe would be pleased to see his own community growing without him. Thank you, Chloe. Thank you, Joe. Let’s keep writing the future.—H-Dude

Money shot, so to speak. Uncle Bill and Dr. Joe, eight years gone today but not soon forgotten

It being the end of the semester and the end of the year, my friends and I have been reminiscing about last Christmas. Imagine my surprise when, sharing that I nearly quit university a year ago around this time, a lot of my friends felt the same. Last Christmas, my mum was rushed into hospital for an emergency operation, and I had a practical meltdown. Mum got better, and I went back to university in January, looking for a fresh start.

Since then, I can certainly say that I have made some friends for life, lived more in a few months than I have in years, and have two bits of metal in my face which I didn’t think I’d ever get done!

John Cusack as Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, the movie

In my obsessively musical mind (Rob Gordon from High Fidelity, eat your heart out!), music has made up a great part of my year. I’ve been introduced to rockabilly as well as reintroduced to punk and Top 40 for the first time in many years (I can safely say that I know what I prefer!). My niche will always be 1970s singer songwriters like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, but after several months of listening to nothing but this in an attempt to combat the homesickness and general depression I was feeling, I was eager to add some more music to my repertoire.

1980s ska, new wave, and punk were not completely unknown to me. Madness, Kate Bush, and The Specials were always particular favourites, but I hadn’t been into those genres in as much detail as other things. The Clash in particular really hit me square between the eyes when I needed them the most. Rebellious, exciting, and thought-provoking stuff—it had been a while since I wanted to throw myself around the dance floor in excitement. I watched the documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten one Sunday after a night out with my friend, in my bedroom, tired but happy and not really knowing what to expect.

I knew nothing at all about Strummer when I saw it. His life story was so rich and fascinating to someone who still went home at the weekends and who had only moved an hour away. He’d hitchhiked around the country, lived in a squat, learnt the guitar, and become a “punk rock warlord” before he was 30 years old.

I was even more shocked and saddened when I found out about his death at 52. Joe’s attitude to life—of seizing the day and just living it—is something that I wish I had embraced months ago. The Clash will always remind me now of my university years, of coming out of the shell that I built for myself after a terrible time in my life and the fun times that I have had with my friends, whether that be playing cards in my bedroom, with the music turned up loud to annoy my housemates, or dancing in the student bar.

Music has also shaped what I plan to do in the future. Rather than just listening to it, I want to write about it, see as many bands as I can, and open a record store if everything goes wrong and spend all day lazing around, playing bass and listening to all the music I want to.

But on the anniversary of Joe’s death, I’d love to say to him thanks for kicking me in the tush; I have a lot of catching up to do.

[Here, Heather cannot resist dropping in her favorite bit of Clash TV footage: the boys do “The Magnificent Seven” on Tom Snyder. Sonic caffeine, really.]