June 3, 2007

Joe Strummer's Dad and the Third Man

A new biography, Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz about the lead singer and lyricist for my all time favorite rock band, the Clash, has lots of fun fact on the leftwing icon. Joe stopped brushing his teeth at around age 16, causing them to eventually fall out, which helped him sound more proletarian, more like Andy Capp's dad, and less like the public school boy he actually was.

The Clash song "Bankrobber" explained:


My daddy was a bankrobber
But he never hurt nobody
He just loved to live that way
And he loved to steal your money


Actually, Joe's father Ronald Mellor had been born in India and was a major in Britain's Indian Army during WWII. During the Cold War, he served in the Foreign Office. The future Joe Strummer (born John Mellor) grew up in Turkey, Mexico, and Malawi before being sent to boarding school in the Home Counties. Exactly what his diplomat father did at the embassies is a little vague, presumably because it was hush-hush, having to do with coded communications. Joe and his father had similar far left politics and and had similar personalities in some ways -- great talkers, angry and funny. The two weren't all that close, but Joe respected his father and Ronald was very proud of his son's success in the Clash.

One memorable detail of this endlessly detailed biography is that when Strummer's dad was stationed at the British embassy in Cairo, he lunched frequently with Graham Greene's old friend, master spy and arch-traitor Kim Philby.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Every time I read a book about England, I'm more convinced that everbody there knows everybody else. That is everyone you've ever heard of, or the 5000 as Paul Theroux puts it in _Half Moon Street_.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, Philby shows up in an enormous number of memoirs, novels, and films. For example, he's played by Billy Crudup in The Good Shepherd. His father was the famous India-born Arabist who converted to Islam.

Ian Lewis said...

I didn't realize that Mick Jones was the main song writer in the group. I had assumed that it was more of a Lennon/McCartney deal: whoever wrote the song would sing lead on that song.

jiminykrikit said...

my all time favorite rock band, the Clash...

Max Beerbohm: I have known no man of genius who had not to pay, in some affliction or defect, either physical or spiritual, for what the gods had given him.

Mangan said...

Strummer's mouthful of rotten teeth probably explains his death by heart attack at a relatively early age, since gum disease and heart disease are highly correlated. By wanting to sound lower class, he also got lower class mortality.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Mick Jagger also 'fake' working class? I guess its part of the genre, like having a twang for country music signers

Anonymous said...

Joe Strummer's political beliefs put me in mind of another song:

"Heaven is a place/a place where nothing ever happens./We'll not be any different./We'll be exactly the same (or something like that).

I'm off to brush my teeth an extra time, ew!

-fifi

Ross F said...

I was about to say what Mangan said about Strummer's teeth and his heart attack. Yesterday I was reading the wiki entry about Cyril Kornbluth, author of 'the Marching Morons' who died at 34 from a heart attack, and it mentioned that he was noted for never brushing his teeth either.

If I were Shane MacGowan I would refuse to leave home without a defibrillation machine.

Anonymous said...

Shane Macgowan's dental health is probably a lost cause at this point.

Alex(ei) said...

The country where everybody knows everybody else, and anyone who travels on business abroad is an informal intelligence agent, for he shares what he has learnt with everyone he knows at home -- that country has got to be Sweden. Which makes perfect sense for their small community.

Anonymous said...

The internet might be less stupid if people did a little research before commenting. Strummer died of a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect, not heart disease.

Anonymous said...

anonymous is correct ...... he died of a heart defect that other members of his extended family also had/have.