Friday, November 23, 2007

Guest post - The Future is Unwritten

I spotted on Facebook that Eddie Truman, pictured on the left (where else :-) ) in his heyday, had written a review of The Future is Unwritten. I asked nicely and he said I could reproduce it here on Stroppyblog. Its also going to be in the next issue of Scottish Socialist Voice.

So here it is :

“White youth, black youth Better find another solution Why not phone up robin hood And ask him for some wealth distribution ”
White Man In Hammersmith Palais

30 years ago a social revolution was in full swing that had burst onto the scene a year earlier in 1976.
In ‘The Future Is Unwritten’ Julien Temple has made a film that documents the life of the unofficial leader of that social revolution, John Graham Mellor, otherwise known as Joe Strummer.
Using film footage of Strummer’s youth and from the pre-Clash day’s of the101’ers, the squatters movement in London in the mid 1970’s, through the early years of the Clash, the heyday of punk and onto the break up of the Clash and Strummer’s tragically short renaissance, The Future Is Unwritten is a highly emotional film, leaving this viewer in tears towards the end.
Politically the 1970’s had been a decade of enormous upheaval; the miners had been in battle repeatedly and the 3 day week during the Heath government of 1970-74 gave a sense of a country in crisis.
Generally speaking though, this had not been reflected in pop and rock music.
The ‘heavy rock’ of bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream had evolved into pompous and over elaborate ‘progressive rock’ of Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer with American bands like Rush and Blue Oyster Cult also hugely popular in the UK.
My abiding memory from the mid 70’s is my school friends with denim jackets that their mums had carefully embroidered with the logo of their favourite heavy metal band or even the artwork of an album cover.
The music and ethos of the heavy metal fans was incredibly conservative and hostile to new ideas, this was the era of the spectacular guitar solo and,incredible though it now seems, the drum solo.
When The Clash, Sex Pistols and Damned arrived it was a blessed relief.
Fast and furious, songs stripped back down to 3 minutes 30 seconds and, in the case of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones’ songs, a musical reflection of the turmoil and anger of the late 1970’s.
The Future Is Unwritten documents the explosion of punk rock and the social context that it took place in; the advent of mass unemployment, industrial disputes, the rise of the National Front and the opposition in the form of the Anti Nazi League.
Joe Strummer became the spokesperson for a new generation of left wing and militant youth and through his lyrics and interviews we were educated in the politics of protest and more diverse forms of music.
It was The Clash who inspired us to start attending the Edinburgh reggae club with their cover of the Junior Murvin song ‘Police and Thieves’ and the off beat chops of what is surely one of the great records of all time ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’.
“If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway” bawled Strummer, an observation that appeared frighteningly real at the time.
The contract that The Clash had with CBS records was little more than bonded labour and throughout their existence Strummer and Jones battled with the company on behalf of the fans.
The group insisted that CBS sell the double and triple albums London Calling and Sandinista for the price of a single album each, at the time £5.
In the case of Sandinista the band compromised on £5.99 and had to forfeit all royalties on the first 200,000 sales.
The band was constantly in debt to CBS and only began to break even around 1982.
The contradiction of being in a rock and roll band with principles and the commercial realities of success in the huge US market finally destroyed The Clash.
For anyone with an emotional investment in the band, the look on Joe Strummer’s face as he explains how he felt when the US military adopted‘Rock the Casbah’ as an anthem during the first Gulf War is absolutely heartbreaking.
“ha you think its funny, Turning rebellion into money” Strummer had sung in White Man In Hammersmith Palais’.
With the Clash no more Strummer entered a period of loss and uncertainty,haunted by the past.
Gradually he emerged from the dark and started to make music again, along with some involvement in films.
In 1999 his new band The Mescaleros issued their first album and in 2002 they played a benefit gig for striking fire fighters in London. Mick Jones was in the audience and joined Strummer on stage for an encore, the first time they had played on stage together since 1983.
On December 22nd 2002 Joe Strummer died at home of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, he was 50 years old.
The Future Is Unwritten documents the life of a rock and roll singer, an inspirational figure and the spokesman for a rebel generation. Watch it if you possibly can.

Montage by Eddie.

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