A MAN THAT MATTERED: Joe Strummer, remembered (and interviewed) by Kristine McKenna (Arthur, 2003)

Joe Strummer was a spectacular, inspirational human being

Text: Kristine McKenna
Photography: Ann Summa
Design: W.T. Nelson

Originally published in Arthur No. 3 (cover dated March 2003), shortly after Joe’s untimely death on December 22, 2002.

When the Clash first burst on the scene in 1977 I dismissed them for the same reason I’ve always hated U2. Their music struck me as humorless, self-important political blather that wasn’t remotely sexy or fun. Definitely not for me. Nonetheless, being a dedicated punk I had to check them out when they made their Los Angeles debut at the Santa Monica Civic on February 9th, 1979, and what I saw that night changed my mind—just a little, though. As expected, Mick Jones came off as a typical rock fop who clearly spent far too much time thinking about neckerchiefs and trousers. Joe Strummer, however, was something else. With the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis, I’d never seen anyone that furiously alive on stage. Legs pumping, racing back and forth across the stage, singing with a frantic desperation that was simultaneously fascinating and puzzling, he was an incredibly electric presence.

At the press conference following the show that night, L.A.’s ranking punk scribe, Claude Bessy, jumped up and snarled, “This isn’t a press conference—this is a depressing conference!” (Jeez, tempers always ran so high during that first incarnation of the punk scene—who knows why the hell our panties were in such a twist!) I remember that Strummer looked genuinely hurt by the comment. Mind you, he was a working class Brit so he wasn’t about to start sniffling in his sleeve, but he didn’t cop an attitude either. I was touched by how unguarded and open he was—and I was certainly impressed by the mans vigor. I wasn’t surprised when I subsequently learned that Strummer ran three marathons without having trained at all. His preparation? “Drink ten pints of beer the night before the race and don’t run a single step for at least four weeks before the race.”

That first show at the Santa Monica Civic didn’t transform me into a Clash fan, but Strummer interested me, so when the band showed up in 1981 in Manhattan, where I was living at the time, I decided to see what he was up to. The Clash had booked a nine-show engagement at Bond’s, an old department store on Times Square in Manhattan, and this turned out to be not a good idea. The place wasn’t designed to handle the crowds the band drew, and the engagement turned into a nine-day stand-off between the band and the fire marshals. I attended three nights in a row and can’t recall them ever actually making it to the stage and performing. But then, that was business as usual during the glory days of punk, when gigs were forever being shut down, aborted, abruptly canceled. This was political theater, not just music, and nobody embodied that idea more dramatically than the Clash.

Cut to June 14 of the following year and I finally saw the Clash succeed in a completing a full set at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. By then, I’d finally begun to appreciate the breadth and fearlessly experimental nature of the Clash’s music, and Strummer was at the peak of his powers as a showman at that point. The huge hall was packed, and it was as if Strummer was a maestro conducting this undulating mass of sweaty people, with the mysterious power to raise or lower the pitch at will. Boots, beer bottles and articles of clothing flew through the air, people leapt on stage, leapt back into the arms of their friends, Strummer stood at the microphone stoking the fire, and somehow managed to keep the proceedings just a hair’s breadth short of total chaos for two hours. It was a commanding display from a man who clearly knew his job and knew his audience.

Following the break-up of the Clash in 1985, Strummer charged head-on into a busy schedule of disparate projects. He acted in several independent films and composed six film soundtracks, including one—for Alex Cox’s lousy 1988 film, Walker—that was remarkably beautiful. I wrote an admiring review of the score for Musician Magazine, and a few months after it was published Strummer was passing through L.A. and he invited me to lunch in appreciation for the supportive words. We were to meet at a Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and though I was nervous on the way there, he put me at ease the minute we met. Strummer was such a genuine person that it was impossible to feel uncomfortable around him—I know it sounds corny, but he truly was a man of the people. He was funny and generous in his assessments of people, but he didn’t sugar coat things either–he had no trouble calling an asshole an asshole when it was called for. The thing that ultimately made Strummer such a spectacular human being, however, is so simple that it barely seems worth mentioning: he was interested in people. He wanted to hear your story and know what was going on in your neighborhood, he asked how you felt about things and was an empathetic listener—he paid attention! The other thing I immediately loved about him was that he was an enthusiast and a fan.

Just how big a fan he was became clear to me a few months later when he guest hosted a radio show I had at the time on KCRW. My show was at midnight on Saturday, and KCRW’s office is hard to find, so our plan was to meet behind the Foster’s Freeze at Pico and 14th at 11:00 P.M. He roared into the parking lot exactly on time in a car with four pals, and the lot of them tore into the record library at the station looking for the records on Strummer’s play list. His plan was play all the records that shaped his musical taste as a teenager in the order that he discovered them, and the show he put together was equal parts history lesson and autobiography. Included in the far-flung set were tracks by Sonny Boy Williamson, Lee Dorsey, Captain Beefheart, Bo Diddley, Hank Williams, and loads of fabulous, rare reggae and dub. His loving introduction to the Beach Boys’ “Do It Again” brought tears to my eyes. Several fans crashed the studio when they heard him on the air and realized he was in town, and he welcomed them all. It was a wonderful night. He had fun too, and as he thanked me and said goodnight, he kissed me on the cheek and I blushed.

Strummer spent the next ten years struggling to re-start his career post-Clash and stumbling repeatedly. “The only thing that got me through was sheer bloody-mindedness—I just won’t quit!,” he told me when I interviewed him in October of 2001. We were talking on the occasion of the release of his second album with his five man line-up, the Mescaleros, Global A Go-Go, which was rightfully hailed as the best work Strummer had done in years. He was happy with the record, and when I saw him perform at the Troubadour a few weeks after we spoke, he seemed happy in general.

Above: Joe Strummer leads an impromptu dancing-on-the-tables moment at a restaurant in New York City, sometime in the late ’90s. (Photo courtesy Chris from Hellcat/Epitaph.)

“I’ve enjoyed my life because I’ve had to deal with all kinds of things, from failure to success to failure again,” Strummer told a journalist from Penthouse Magazine in 2000. “I don’t think there’s any point in being famous if you lose that thing of being a human being.”

That’s something that was never a danger for Strummer. During that last interview (printed below), I asked him what the great achievement of punk rock had been, and he replied, “it gave a lot of people something to do.” I loved the complete lack of self-importance in that answer, however, this isn’t to suggest that Strummer ever broke faith with punk. “Punk rock isn’t something you grow out of,” he told Penthouse. “Punk rock is like the Mafia, and once you’re made, you’re made. Punk rock is an attitude, and the essence of the attitude is ‘give us some truth.’

“And, whatever happens next is going to be bland unless you and I nause everything up,” he added. “This is our mission, to nause everything up! Get in there and nause it out, upset the apple cart, destroy the best laid plans—we have to do this! Back on the street, I say. Turn everything off in the pad and get back on the street. As long as people are still here, rock’n’roll can be great again.”

Thank you Joe for bringing us the good news.

* * * * *

The following conversation with Strummer took place in October 2001, on the eve of his final U.S. tour during the winter of 2001-2002.

Arthur: You say the great achievement of punk rock was that ‘it gave a lot of people something to do.’ What was its great failure?

Joe Strummer: That we didn’t mobilize our forces when we had them and focus our energies in a way that could’ve brought about concrete social change—trying to get a repressive law repealed, for instance. We’re stuck in a kind of horrible holding pattern now, and it seems to me that the only way to change it is if we get hipsters to stay in one place long enough to get elected. The problem is that no hipster wants to get elected.

Arthur: I saw the Clash several times during their U.S. tours of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and I remember the sense that something profoundly important was at stake at those shows, that they were about something much larger than pop trends. What was at stake?

Joe Strummer: In the rush of youth you assume too much—and so it should be—but we felt that the whole machine was teetering on the brink of collapse. Some amazing things went down in Britain during the ‘70s—the government decided they could disempower the unions by having a three day week, for instance. Can you imagine that? Monday morning you wake up, and suddenly there’s only a three day week, from Monday to Wednesday. There were garbage strikes, train strikes, power strikes, the lights were going out—everything seemed on the brink, and looking through youthful, excitable eyes it seemed the very future of England was at stake. Obviously, that’s very far from the feeling these days, when everything’s pretty much smugly buttoned down.

Arthur: Has England recovered from the Thatcherism that dominated the country during the years you were with the Clash?

Joe Strummer: It will never recover—and now we’ve got Blairism. We are so completely confused. If you think of England as a patient laying on the couch in a shrink’s office I’d say it’s time for the strait jacket. Imagine the party we had in England when Blair got into office after all those years of Thatcher. Everyone was cheering, ‘this is the dawn of a new day,’ but since then we’ve had no vision or justice. The Blair administration juts wants to get into bed with the richest corporations, and the very notion of labor has vanished into the mist. Obviously, the worse it gets, the better it gets for artists, so culturally, England is doing okay. But politically, it’s total mixed-up confusion.

Arthur: What’s the proper course of action when everything around you is falling apart?

Joe Strummer: It’s not a good idea to run away. You gotta smile, whistle, look self-assured, and try and fix things up a bit.

Arthur: Given that the Clash’s music grew out of a situation specific to England, did it strike you as odd that it was embraced in America?

Joe Strummer: No, because everybody feels the same on a certain level. The Zeitgeist is a real force of nature, and although we don’t know how it’s transmitted, it’s like an invisible tidal wave.

Arthur: How would you characterize the Zeitgeist now?

Joe Strummer: I think people are feeling a bit cheated and frustrated. They’ve come to realize that voting is basically useless because either side you vote for has no more than a shade of difference from the other side, and ultimately politics is about nothing but the mighty dollar. So okay, say the people, let’s forget politics and get into drugs or skateboarding—anything that passes the time and gives you some sense of freedom. People want to feel free, and it’s a hard feeling to come by in this world. People have a right to change their consciousness, too, and in the back of their minds they know they have that right. So people are gonna flout the laws established to prevent them from smoking marijuana or experimenting with Ecstasy, because they know that nobody—especially a politician half-pissed on gin—has the right to tell you what goes on in your mind.

Arthur: You say it’s hard to experience the feeling of freedom: do you feel free?

Joe Strummer: No, I do not. If I invited nine friends over to my house right now and put on an acid house record, and we stood in the garden listening to it, we’d all be arrested and fined a thousand pounds each, because in the United Kingdom it’s illegal for ten or more people to listen to repetitive beats—this is in the statute books, ‘repetitive beats!’ People in Britain are much less free than people in many other countries because we’ve got really repressive laws. All bars here must close at 11:00 P.M., for instance. As to why I continue to live here, I really think all British people have a streak of sado-masochism. I live in the middle of nowhere, so you’d think I could get away with playing a record, but such is not the case.

Arthur: Why do you live in the middle of nowhere?

Joe Strummer: I’ve got no idea! If you wanted to be harsh you could describe the area where I live as nothing but an agri-business abattoir—all you see is people wearing masks, riding tractors and spraying god knows what onto the ground. I’m a townie, and I don’t know what I’m doing out here, although it is nice being able to see all the stars in the heavens at night.

Arthur: As a rule, people tend to resist change; why is this so?

Joe Strummer: Because they’re afraid of the new and the unknown, and familiarity is comforting. For instance, when you live out in the middle of nowhere as I do, you really appreciate small things, and one of the things I’d come to appreciate was this small bar not far from where I live. The guy who ran it was cool, he kept the lights low, and there would always be interesting jazz playing when you popped in there. In the middle of nowhere, that’s like a gold mine. I popped in the other day and the music was gone, it was brightly lit, and a smiling woman chirped, ‘can I help you?’ The bar had been sold, so the place I knew no longer exists. Arthur Rimbaud said ‘some destructions are necessary,’ and that’s a lesson I’m really trying to learn.

Arthur: An overriding theme in all of your music is personal and political conflict. Why can’t people get along?

Joe Strummer: I think fear is the corrupting agent, and I don’t know how we can eliminate that. Of course, there’s no way to eliminate the most terrifying reality—that we all have to die—but at least the sun shines, and we’ve got a bit of time, so it’s not all sniveling. Maybe if every child in the world was shown a really good time, a new breed of human beings would appear. On the other hand, I believe some people are just born bad—I’ve met a few of them, too. Whether they were born bad, or what happened to them was bad, or it was a combination of the two, by the time they’re teenagers you can see they’re gonna flip. No matter who loves them or what happens to them, they’re gonna smash up the room.

Arthur: Do you believe in karma, or do some people get away with smashing up the room?

Joe Strummer: Surely karma must be one of the few things we can believe in. Even if it were proved to me that it wasn’t in play here on earth, I’d still hope that in another dimension, in the spirit world, it does exist. I do think it operates in this world.

Arthur: What forces played a role in shaping your sense of morality?

Joe Strummer: My mother was Scottish, and a no-nonsense kind of woman, and maybe I got some vibes from her.

Arthur: What’s been the most difficult year of your life?

Joe Strummer: I took a long breather after the Clash broke up, and I had a really hard time about half way through that. I needed a rest, so I was kind of grateful for the break, but at a certain point I became overwhelmed by a sense of self-doubt. In the music business, an eleven-year lay-off is like a hundred and eleven years, and felt like I’d blown it and would never get up there again. The only thing that got me through was sheer bloody-mindedness—I just won’t quit! Every time I think ‘you’ve had your lot, now just shut up,’ a larger part of me says, ‘no, there are things you can say better than anyone, and you must say them.’ The other thing that carried me through that period was the fact that I had a lot of responsibilities—I’d managed to have children, and both my parents died during those years, as well.

Arthur: How were you affected by the death of your parents?

Joe Strummer: I wasn’t close to them, because when I was eight years old I was sent to a boarding school, where I spent nine years. I saw my father once a year between the ages of nine and twelve, then twice a year from then on. As to whether I felt cheated by his absence, I didn’t bother with that, because I was in a hard place. You know ‘Tom Browne’s Schooldays?’ Imagine being in a second-rate boarding school in South London in 1961. You had to punch or be punched, so I became hard and ceased being a mama’s boy pretty quickly.

Arthur: You’ve been referred to in the press on several occasions as ‘the son of a diplomat who dropped out of art school to be a bohemian.’ Is that an accurate description?

Joe Strummer: No. In my first-ever interview in The Melody Maker, when I was suddenly regarded as ‘somebody,’ I said that my father was a diplomat simply because I wanted to give him his due for one time in his life. My father was an excellent eccentric who liked nothing better than dressing up for a party, and he was great fun, but he was basically a low-level worker in the hierarchy of the British embassy, and we actually had fuck-all. A four-room bungalow in Croyton was all he managed to accrue during his life, and Croyton is not much of a salubrious suburb.

Arthur: When you were 20 years old, your older brother, David, committed suicide. How did that mark you?

Joe Strummer: I was deeply affected by it, and I don’t know if I’ve come to terms with it yet, because it’s a mysterious thing to try and understand. We were only separated by 18 months, but we were opposites: whereas I was the loudmouth ringleader who was always getting everybody into trouble, he was quiet and never said much. When we were teenagers in the ‘60s, there was a load of shouting about Rhodesia, and that led to his becoming a member of the National Front in 1968. At the time, I was too busy listening to Jimi Hendrix to really understand what he was going on with him, but I don’t think his politics had anything to do with his suicide. I think it had more to do with his shyness.

Arthur: What’s the most valuable thing you could teach your children?

Joe Strummer: I don’t think I’ve taught them anything, and don’t feel like I’ve been a very good father. My first marriage split up after fourteen years when my two daughters were still relatively young, and you feel guilty about that forever. They get born, and suddenly the thing they were born into is pulled apart. It eats away at my mind, particularly since my parents stayed together.

Arthur: You married again in 1995; what’s the secret of a successful marriage?

Joe Strummer: You have to love your partner more than you love yourself–and I do.

Arthur: What’s the most widely-held misconception about you?

Joe Strummer: That I’m some kind of political thinker. I definitely am not. I think about politics all the time, but it’s become increasingly difficult to know what’s going on in the world. I grew up hearing my parents go on about World War II, which was an episode of history that seemed very clear: Hitler=bad, everyone else=good. People are basically lazy and we want to see a good guy and a bad guy. Obviously, nothing is black or white, yet we yearn for that beautiful clarity, but I’m finding it more and more difficult to come to those kinds of conclusions—possibly because we’re getting more information and we have to sift through it. I used to believe it was possible to learn what was going on in the world by reading the newspaper, but that began to change around the time that the Balkans thing kicked off. Either the newspapers aren’t up to snuff or I’m losing my mind, but I found it very difficult to get a grasp on what was going on there.

Arthur: Do you believe music has a responsibility to address social and political issues?

Joe Strummer: I do, but I would add that the climate of the times dictates the way people write.

Arthur: How are you evolving as a songwriter?

Joe Strummer: Oh god, backwards man! I’m trying to be less idiotic. Every writer likes to feel that when he sits down to write he’s gonna zoom off into a new field he didn’t even know existed, but the truth is that writing is basically a process of blundering in the dark, and there’s a lot of luck that comes into play.

Arthur: Are there specific issues that are particularly well suited to being addressed in music?

Joe Strummer: Love—because with music, you have the extra dimension of melody to communicate things that are beyond language.

Arthur: Name a song that never fails to make you cry.

Joe Strummer: Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Georgia.’ It has a quality of yearning and reminiscence that are incredibly moving to me.

Arthur: What was the last record you bought?

Joe Strummer: ‘The Call,’ by Alan Skidmore, who was a be-bop saxophone player who could probably be described as washed-up, not to be too rude. He went to South Africa and hooked up with a group called Amapondo, and they made this record together that’s basically a bunch of crazed drumming with a be-bop guy free-falling all over it. It’s not bad, but when I put it on everyone else leaves.

Arthur: What’s your favorite Clash song?

Joe Strummer: I really like the song, ‘If Music Could Talk,’ which is on side 21 of ‘Sandinista!’ [laughs] I like it because it’s quite weird, and it shows we were willing to try stupid things all the time.

Arthur: What do you miss about being in the Clash?

Joe Strummer: That was so long ago that it’s all faded, and I’m never on the nostalgia tit, but we did have a very good camaraderie and an extremely acute sense of humor. It was fun being in the Clash.

Arthur: Was there ever a time when you believed the myth of the Clash?

Joe Strummer: No, and that’s why I managed to survive. They say you should never read your press, and that comes in handy when they’re saying you suck.

Arthur: Does the adversarial nature of the music press help keep musicians honest, or does it simply undermine them?

Joe Strummer: On several occasions it’s definitely knocked me for six, but then I’d grudgingly get up and dust my clothes off, and say better that than the other way. The press is harsher in England than it is other places, but I think it’s a good thing because it keeps you on your toes and prevents you from getting too pretentious. Yes-men tend to collect around famous people, so the conditions are really conducive to becoming pretentious. So you might as well get the mean guys in to flay you alive.

Arthur: How has fame been of use to you?

Joe Strummer: It obviously has its uses, but it’s really more of a liability than an asset to anyone interested in writing. If you want to write, the first thing is, you’ve got to experience life like everyone else experiences it. Secondly, you need room to think. If you’re incredibly famous, all you can think about is, ‘Oh my god, has that person over there recognized me, and did I bring enough bodyguards to the supermarket with me.’ By accident I managed this quite well, because the Clash never went on television in Britain. If you wanted to see the Clash you had to actually get up and go out to one of the shows. Consequently, I’m able to move about Britain without being recognized, for the most part.

Arthur: Are fame and money invariably corrupting?

Joe Strummer: Definitely. The Clash never had to struggle with the latter of those two things, however, because we never got any money. The music business is a bad racket, and the people on the first crest of a wave never get paid. I don’t like to moan on about money, but you have to realize that although you might’ve heard of the Clash, we didn’t sell any records. Nobody sends me five pounds every time somebody’s heard of the group. We never had any real power, either, other than in an abstract, poetic way. What I wrote on a piece of paper might influence someone somewhere down the line, and that’s something I still take great care with. Not writing things that are stupid, or easily misconstrued is something I keep onboard at all times. But it would’ve been nice to have the power to say, ‘fifty thousand people down to the Houses of Parliament now!’ We might’ve been able to get 1,500 people at the height of our power, but ultimately, it’s the big money men who have the power. Then again, I suppose somebody must’ve seen us as some kind of threat back in the day, because we were constantly being arrested for petty shit. We’d go to play small towns in the North of England and you could almost hear them thinking, ‘Here they come, those punk rockers from London—we’re not having any of that!’ So they’d pull over our cars, search us, shake down our motel rooms—it was all very petty.

Arthur: Does the legacy of the Clash continue to get in your way?

Joe Strummer: Not anymore, because enough time has passed, but certainly, for ten years after the group broke up, I found it difficult to deal with. But I managed to chill long enough that it’s allowable for me to come back and knock in a few good albums. It’s not pissing anybody off.

Arthur: You’ve traveled quite a bit as a touring musician; what’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?

Joe Strummer: Mozambique. There was a war going on there, and I was only there for a day, but the entire time I was there I was nervous about who might be lurking in the bushes along the roadside. It was also a little unnerving playing Ireland with the Clash, but you have to laugh. You fly in there, you check into the EuropaHotel in Belfast, and the clerk cheerfully informs you that this is the most bombed hotel in Europe. 28 bombings so far! Then you go up to your room where you ask yourself; should I crawl under the bed? Do I dare stand at the window? We were quite pragmatic and decided to just get on with things, because we couldn’t see how either side could gain anything politically by blowing up a rock’n’roll show. It wasn’t as if the whole world was saying, ‘oh wow, the Clash are in Belfast.’ The only people who cared that we were there were the other scrawny punk rockers walking around Belfast.

Arthur: In ‘A Riot of Our Own,’ the 1999 book about the Clash written by Johnny Green and Garry Barker, everyone in the band comes off well, with the exception of Mick Jones, who’s depicted as being ridiculously obsessed with his wardrobe. Is the book accurate?

Joe Strummer: Yes it is, but you need some of that in a rock’n’roll band! If Paul Simonon hadn’t been in the Clash I doubt that we would’ve been as successful as we were, because you need to look stylish. People don’t think of Bob Dylan as a glamorous guy, but he was actually pretty good looking. When you think of his Cuban heel phase, with the curly head, the Carnaby Street clothes, the polka-dot tab collars, the tight jeans, the boots—he was pretty styling.

Arthur: Rumor has it that Bob’s had a face-lift.

Joe Strummer: That’s probably a good idea. You have to remember, this is show biz, and it’s not as if Bob’s a merchant banker or a film critic or something. If he wants to go out on the road for another 20 or 30 years, he’s gonna want to tuck it up a bit. It’s not as if we’re novelists who can hide in our studies like J.D. Salinger and never have our photos taken. It’s easy for those people to say what the heck. You don’t know what it’s like having photos taken of yourself all the time. It’s appalling to regularly see the destruction of age marked out sharply on your face in photos, videos, and on television. This is a visual thing we do. Johnny Cash dyes his hair, and I think it’s only right that we try and scruff up a shambling face.

Arthur: At what point did you become an adult?

Joe Strummer: Are you kidding?! I’m nowhere near becoming an adult.

Arthur: What do you think you represent to the people who admire you?

Joe Strummer: Maybe they see a good soul.

Arthur: Tell me about someone who inspires you.

Joe Strummer: Bo Diddley is inspiring. When he was a young musician starting out he needed some marachas, so he went to the local scrap yard, got some of those floating balls that sit in the tank of a toilet, filled them with black-eyed peas, then used them to invent a whole new kind of music. That’s heroic and inspiring.

Arthur: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your life?

Joe Strummer: I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome it yet, but it’s my sheer laziness. I’d rather sit and watch ‘Popeye’ cartoons than do anything. Nowadays I’m into ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Southpark,’ and ‘Sponge-Bob Square-Pants.’

Arthur: The second album by your current band, the Mescaleros, is dedicated to the late Joey Ramone. What was the nature of his genius?

Joe Strummer: A sharp intelligence. People think of spirit when they think of the Ramones, but the more I listen to those records the more I’m struck by how smart they are.

Arthur: Where do you think Joey is now?

Joe Strummer: He’s in heaven.

Arthur: Do you believe in heaven?

Joe Strummer: Maybe not for me, but certainly for Joey Ramone.

Arthur: What’s the most one can hope for in life?

Joe Strummer: The sense of having accomplished something–and I don’t have that feeling yet. Being in the line of work I’m in, you hold yourself up against the real greats like Dylan, Ray Davies, Jagger & Richards, Paul Simon, Lennon & McCartney, and John Fogerty. I’m not in that pantheon yet, but I’m gonna get there.

Kristine McKenna is a widely published critic and journalist. Her profiles and criticism have appeared in Artforum, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Artnews, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone Magazine, LAWeekly and Arthur Magazine. She was the recipient of a National Endowment Arts Administration grant in 1976. In 1991 she received a Critics Fellowship from the National Gallery of Art, and she co-curated the 1998 exhibition Forming: the Early Days of L.A. Punk, for Track 16 Gallery. In 2001, a collection of her interviews, Book of Changes, was published by Fantagraphics, who published a second volume of her interviews, Talk To Her, in 2004. She was co-curator of Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & his Circle, a group exhibition that opened at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2005, traveled to five U.S. museums, and was accompanied by a catalog published by D.A.P. She is producer and co-writer of The Cool School, a documentary about L.A.’s first avant garde gallery, and her book, The Ferus Gallery: A Place to Begin, will be published this spring by Steidl. Her 2007 monograph on the photography of Wallace Berman, Wallace Berman Photographs, co-written with Lorraine Wild, was selected as one of the 50 best art books of the year by the A.I.G.A.. She recently organized Celestial Ash, an exhibition of West Coast assemblage that opened at The Craft and Folk Art Museum in April, 2009. In early 2009 she organized an exhibition for the Michael Kohn Gallery titled She: Work by Wallace Berman & Richard Prince, which was accompanied by a catalogue published by D.A.P. She is presently working on Feelin Groovy: The Visual Aesthetics of the Los Angeles Counterculture, 1964-1968, which will be published in fall of 2010, and a monograph on David Lynch, to be published by Abrams in 2011.

Categories: Arthur No. 3 (March 2003), Kristine McKenna | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

7 thoughts on “A MAN THAT MATTERED: Joe Strummer, remembered (and interviewed) by Kristine McKenna (Arthur, 2003)

  1. Fuck, reading this now, 7 or so years after his death, brought tears to my eyes. We sure miss you, Joe Strummer.

  2. When this piece came out I took about 10 copies to keep for posterity, I saw Arthur for the first time and flipped for it. Great mag and the photos I cut out for a giant Strummer collage. I still have 5 copies left, got them in Silverlake at Eat Well

  3. Pingback: Chambo’s Top Five Friday Internet Activities | ARTHUR MAGAZINE - WE FOUND THE OTHERS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s