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on April 17, 2017
This book is a must for anyone who's a fan of Joe Strummer. It details his life, his projects, his personal struggles. It shows him as he truly was, with all the flaws he had. An amazing read, written by someone who closely knew Joe.
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on February 26, 2008
I have just finished reading this book and it took around 4 nights and a weekend. It is around 650 pages, the same length as Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness but I don't know whether anything can be inferred from that. I cried some tears at the last page, being a huge Strumnmer and Clash fan. It was great that he reconciled with Mick Jones at the end and also with Gaby. Mick joined Joe on stage in November 2002 in a benefit concert for the striking workers of the fire brigade union.

The book does a great job in filling us in on Strummer's "wilderness years" which lasted from around 1985 to 1998. Also it fills us in on much of his romantic escapdes and his battles with depression. I almost came away wishing that I had not known some of this. If Strummer was still alive, I doubt that the biography would have exposed him so fully. He really has nowhere left to hide after this book. Salewicz clearly is confused when he recounts Joe's romantic associations during the Gaby years. He is unsure whether to moralise against Joe or to brush it to one side as just a great man's excesses of love for humanity. Although Salewicz comes off as somewhat confused and a fence-sitter, he does a fair job in tackling some difficult issues connected with his subject.

The book presents many examples and stories of Strummer's genuine kindness and fraternal ethics. Many of the stories are new. I like the story of Joe buying Simonon an extra pair of sunglasses when both were broke in 1976 and of how he later paid 30,000 pounds to one of Topper's drug dealers to save Topper's legs. Overall, I feel the perspective we gain of Strummer in the book is probably a fair and balanced one although it leaves him hopelessly exposed and more vulnerable in death than he was even in life.

The discussions of the boarding school years and Strummer's pre-Clash adulthood covers much ground already covered in Pat Gilbert's excellent Passion is a Fashion (see my review for that book on this site) and Savage's England's Dreaming. Salewicz adds little here. What is new is some revealing interview responses from two of Joe's multi-cultural rock chicks, Jeanette Lee and Paloma. Also new is some insight and information about John Mellor and the Croydon home. Don Letts plays a less significant role in the book than I feel he did in real life. The Sex Pistols too are largely ignored by Salewicz suggesting that he has not placed the Clash within their true historical context. John Lydon shared many views with Strummer and should have featured more prominently in the book. Was he even interviewed?

I preferred Gilbert's book over this one because the Clash was a cohesive whole and focussing on one member in particular takes away some of this. I feel that we gain a better picture of the unique association between the Clash's members and their favourite Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove haunts from Gilbert's book (which oddly is not mentioned at all although Gilbert's name appears in the lengthy Acknowledgements at the back of the book). Probably no other band in history except for perhaps the Jamaican reggae artists have been so tied to a time and place as the Clash (although much of their message remains timeless).

I feel that this book presents Mick Jones in a somewhat more favourable light than Gilbert's book. Somewhat oddly we gain a deeper knowledge of Jones (but not of Simonon, Headon, Chimes or the three Mark II guys)from Salewicz's book than from Gilbert's which is supposedly only a Strummer biography. Gilbert does a far better job than Salewicz regarding the Clash Mark II. The Mark II years are not covered well by Salewicz. Possibly he felt he did not need to re-invent the wheel here given Gilbert's brilliant look into this era.

The book tends to be overly detailed and I don't rate it as a five-star book. Nonetheless, it is very good. Strummer should be remembered as one of the most important social commentators of the twentieth century.
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on March 22, 2011
This book is really good but only if you're into the Clash. I think if you are not a fan of the band, you probably won't like this biography. Even as a Strummer fan I found some slow and confusing pages, but all in all,this is a good read.
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on August 12, 2014
mos xclnt
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on June 25, 2007
A touching and heartfelt, as well as nicely researched, bio of one of rock's most worthwhile characters. If a bit overlong, it certainly doesn't lack for either detail or focus. This is a fittingly fine bio of a man whose work touched those who cared quite deeply and profoundly.
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on June 30, 2007
Wow, it seemed like I had this book on pre-order FOREVER. It was well worth the wait. After reading the book I'm glad it wasn't rushed out and can see why it took a long time to compile. This bio is a monumental project and certainly wasn't thrown together in haste.

If I were hypercritical I might complain that there were times I found it hard to follow just who was being quoted, or if the author was simply relating his own experience, but I won't dwell on that. The subject matter is simply too precious and the anecdotes told just too special to quibble over the small stuff. Though Joe barely made it past 50, the book relates the experiences of many folks in Stummer's life and certainly has a huge amount of ground to cover. I just couldn't put it down. When I reached the end I felt almost as sad as the day...well, you know.

If you are a fan of Joe Strummer, The Clash, punk rock or grew up through the late 70's-early 80's, you cannot and should not avoid this book!
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on October 17, 2007
This book has depicted Anna Mackenzie, Joe's mother, as an alcoholic and a depressive. Those of us who knew her as a sister or an aunt want to challenge this portrayal. She was a quiet, dignified and private person who was also to us unfailingly warm, welcoming, kind and tolerant.

She was the second child of nine, born on a croft and used to hard work from an early age. She became a nurse which in the 1930s was a job even more physically demanding than it is today. We are mystified by the references to her house as "shabby" and "run down". Neither she nor Joe's father Ron was interested in acquiring or flaunting household possessions. Nor did they sit about as if "they had been used to servants": Anna cooked and looked after the house while Ron was in charge of the garden and the DIY repairs and maintenance.

When we visited her in Warlingham or when she was at home in Bonar Bridge, there was no sign of her drinking excessively. She was a social drinker who had one or two gins in an evening - a habit which she probably picked up in India. She recalled with astonishment and disapproval the large amounts of drinking by others that she had observed in the diplomatic communities. At home, she'd usually go to bed early, leaving her nephews and nieces talking with Ron. He wasn't an alcoholic either though he drank more than she did. Nobody in Anna's family that we've spoken to can understand why she's been portrayed in this way. There's no drinking culture among the Mackenzie women.

Like most people, Anna had to cope with deaths in her family. Her older brother Donald died when she had just turned 17 and her older son David killed himself. She rarely referred to David and did not discuss how his death had affected her. That was not the Mackenzie way. She never struck us as depressed however; she was always reserved, content to lead a quiet life.

She loved and supported Joe; she approved of his principles; she worried about him. She admired Gaby and adored her granddaughters. Joe inherited many of her good qualities.

She was loved by us and greatly liked and respected by all those who really knew her. She deserves this to be known.

On behalf of Jessie Mackinnon, Iain Gillies, Anna Gillies, Mairi Macleod, Jan Macleod, Rona McIntosh, Alasdair Gillies, George Macleod, Jane Mackinnon.
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on December 22, 2011
Salewicz had a long friendship with Joe Strummer, and had access to just about everyone who crossed paths with Strummer, so there's an abundance of stories, anecdotes, and one-liners in "Redemption Song". I don't know if it's because I'm an illiterate Yank, but I sometimes got lost in Salewicz' narrative style, as he didn't seem too adept at pointing out exactly who was speaking the endless stream of quotes that fill every page. But that's a minor detail. There's a lot here that even die-hard fans (like me) never knew about the man. It definitely shines a light on the methods of the man, if not the motivations. In fact, a lot of the book is speculation on what drove the man to be the sort of Jekyll & Hyde person that he seemed to be to everyone around him. People who idolise the man may find their image of him a little tarnished after reading this book, but they may also come away with some sympathy for a guy who would have probably hated to be idolised in the first place. At any rate, the authors dedication and exhaustive research deserve commendation, not only for the portrait of a man at odds with his own identity and legacy, but for a fascinating look at how close-knit and tiny the scene in London Town actually was in the mid-70s, and how it spewed out a diverse and oddly sad future for nearly everyone involved in the last great rock revolution. A fitting tribute to a man far more deserving of a biography than most in the music pantheon. R.I.P...
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on June 26, 2014
As a one hundred per cent Clash fan who has everything they ever recorded and has read every book available on the subject I must say this is the best book I have ever read on Joe Strummer. I found out things I never knew. The highlights for me were on Joe's life before and after The Clash. Chris Salewicz was a personal friend of Strummer and has managed to make him into a real three dimensional person, like no book on him I have ever seen. Joe Strummer is not always seen that way, but more as an icon.
Great read and I felt a little bereaved when I finished it.
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on September 8, 2010
I just finished this excellent biography, and highly recommend it to anyone who was a fan of Joe and the Clash. The author, as a close personal friend of Joe's, was well positioned to gather up the vast biographical material presented, covering Joe's early life and artistic development, through his time with the Clash, his time "in the wilderness" after they dissolved, and his return to music and touring with the Mescalero's, just before his passing. Upon hearing of Joe's death, I realized we had lost someone truly great, and I wanted to touch the flame of his brilliance once again. This book will bring you closer to the soul of Joe Strummer, to feel his warmth again, through the accounts of those closest to him.
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