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on 10 September 2010
I've not long finished this biography and generally, I'm very impressed.

I find it sad that a few on here have dismissed the book because they feel Salewicz is a hanger-on or a name-dropper. Chris actually knew Joe very well and they were good friends. In that respect, he has every right to recount a few personal encounters with the man within this book. In any repsect, there are very long sections of this book where the author does not mention his own involvement whatsoever, so I really do feel that those reviews are overplaying that aspect completely.

To view objectively, then, you have to take your hat off to the author. To piece together in painstaking fashion someone else's life from such a wide variety of sources is no mean feat.

What we end up with is an extremely candid, thorough and very enjoyable biography. The good and bad of Joe is painted by all those that knew him in here. It is strikingly honest and very warts-and-all. There is also content drawn from a huge collection of print and audio interviews and live shows, both well-known and obscure. Any fan of Joe or the Clash will be engrossed.

If I had to make any criticism at all it would be that perhaps there is too much coverage of very small or insiginifcant occurrences. I did begin to tire of receiving glimpses into Damian Hirst's self-absorbed life. But I'm nit-picking now.

This book is the result of a labour of love and it shows. With unique access to so many players in Joe's life, as well as original interviews with many of these people that readers wouldn't have read before, this stands head and shoulders above so many other biographies you come across these days.
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on 30 December 2006
One of the sentiments which appears throughout the book is that Joe changed people's lives but was unaware of just how much. I would count myself as one of those he made an impact on as a 14 year old hero worshipping him and the group, right up to the present day when the music and lyrics, especially the lyrics, mean as much as they always did.

The Clash opened me up to all manner of things through their songs including politics, history, literature and the wider world. Joe would mention Jack Kerouac or Neal Cassidy in an interview or name check Federico Lorca in the lyrics and I'd go and find out more about them.

We need heroes in our lives and the group were mine, Joe in particular but where this books succeeds so well is in humanising Joe Strummer as a real life, flesh and blood man saving him from the myth. Now in some ways that's quite a hard thing to take. Here's me in my 40s and still naive enough to subscribe to the myth almost as wholeheartedly as in the past and then I find out that not only is he full of the contradictions which I was aware of but he fell into the traps of sex and drugs to go with his rock and roll to a degree which almost took my breath away compared to what I thought The Clash subscribed to. Without the benefit of the book I might well have simply accused him of hypocrisy, of failing to live up to what I expected of him but what actually emerges is a man haunted by pain and self doubt, a man who took a world view but could not see the truth in front of him and destroyed the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.

How do you come back from that?

The story makes it clear, it took a long time and involved a lot of pain when Joe was haunted by his black dog of depression but throughout there was also joy, more music, reconciliation and a return to his roots. Thus a man, not a myth emerges and that is so much more real and makes it even more astonishing that, alongside the rest of the group and their influences, Joe had such an enormous impact on so many.

The writer is scrupulously fair in dealing with the other members of the group and for the first time I had a real feel for what Mick brought to his band. To me he'd always been the singer of the 'wimpy' ballads who looked like he wanted to be Keef Richards, very much in the shadow of Joe, the spokesman for the group. I know differently now and can see what a generous and talented guy he is. The same spirit is displayed to Paul and Topper also.

With its insights into Joe's family, his ancestry, his friends, music and other influences, this book presents the real man who managed to escape the restraints of the past and came to realise how much he was loved and respected for himself and not just as part of The Clash.

To take a hero and avoid a hagiography, pointing out faults without judgement and to leave the reader as much in awe of the subject as before but with eyes now open, that's a fine achievement in anyone's book.
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on 23 May 2014
Arguably the best rock bio I’ve ever read – a truly great read.

Initially it seems that there might be too much detail…going back through several generations of Joe’s family, exploring their histories and personalities. But as the book, and Joe’s life, unfolds, you begin to understand how that background informs Joe’s story.

It adds to the sadness of his passing that the McKenzie family feel the author has incorrectly portrayed Joe’s mother, and you have to respect their right (and courage) to challenge the author. If anything, their comments serve to emphasise the difficulty the biographer has of portraying an individual as complex as Joe Strummer.

If the author was incorrect about this in any way so, it’s probably the only errant point. The book is without doubt superb. The detail is incredible, but never tedious. It’s exactly the kind of detail you’re looking for…the very reason you’re reading the book. From the moment the music starts with the 101’ers it is utterly absorbing. Even throughout the more fallow periods of Joe’s career it still makes great reading, and even gains momentum throughout the Mescaleros and the inevitably sad conclusion.

You come away feeling even greater compassion for Joe than before, because he comes across as so human. Undoubtedly a genius, but also flawed like the rest of us. He was a mass of contradictions – confused and conflicted at the icon he became, his politics and polemic not always cohesive, capable of great compassion but also of indifference. Joe the Rebel. Joe the Believer. Always willing to challenge the status quo and with an unshakable belief not only in the right of the individual to challenge authority but also in the ability of the individual to change things.

So, yes, this book really is as good a rock bio as you will find. Detailed, anecdotal, informative, insightful, balanced. It’s heartfelt, but stops short of being a eulogy or hagiography. Very highly recommended.
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on 9 June 2007
Joe Strummer's mother - a statement from her family

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 for all 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 8 January 2014
Just finished this and I'm immensely impressed.
You get the good and the bad of Joe - and the vast majority is good.
Chris Salewicz obviously knew Joe well - and his and other people's love of the man, his generosity, warmth, humanity and passion shines through.
Despite being a Clash obsessive, many facts were new to me.
A must read for anyone who was ever inspired and uplifted by Joe Strummer and his music.
The world is a poorer place without him.
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on 17 February 2015
whilst slightly and immediately surprised at the size of the book, it was an excellent read. The detail is chronological to the extreme in parts but an excellent biography of a flawed human being, but very talented musician whose legacy lives on. The book doesn't hide his character or behaviour which makes it all the more a very worthwhile read.
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on 16 June 2010
This is a fine and very revealing biography, it doesn't deify Joe Strummer. He was a man of incredible generosity but human with faults like all of us. Due to his access to the man himself and brilliant research Chris Salewicz paints a full portrait of one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. A great read for all fans no matter how casual their interest
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VINE VOICEon 15 November 2006
Can't believe nobody has written a review yet!!

After many years of waiting..well it seemed like it..The Strummer biog hits the shelves...I was in two minds about this...yeah...I wanted to buy it because I'm a total clash head...but did I want to read it... a friend of mine said to me ...why do you want to read about bands and takes away all the mystery and "legend". Well..I've read all the I guess I had to read this too. It kind of fills in a lot of the gaps...a more personal angle than the Marcus Gray Clash's written in a very "I was there" way..with contributions from people who were close ..which makes this different from the others.

I have to say there was a darker side to Joe than I imagined..he the man who faxed and then posted a personalised Birthday greeting to me ..a complete stranger after a mate of mine hassled Tricia to get this.

If you were the only other person in a tube carriage with Joe Strummer..what would you have said ? ...I couldn't speak...I was dumbstruck at the sight of seeing him there.

From a personal angle..there were parts of Joe that mirrored my own father..(Not drugs or booze !!) But the incredible work ethic ...and the heart problem. I remember when I heard Joe had died saying that I hoped it was nothing drowned in a bath after a deadly cocktail of blah blah blah...I was relieved that it was I sick..I don't know...but the book reveals that Joe was certainly caning it and burning the candle at boths ends most of the time.

Mr "Sandwich" has produced a really well written,well researched book which I don't think anyone will top.

Respect to The Clash, families and his friends and band mates for their honesty.

Top of your Christmas list..if you can wait that long
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The definitive bio of one of rock's most iconic and charismatic figureheads.
If you want to learn what drove the driving force behind one of the most influential bands ever, read this.
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on 23 September 2007
Like many others I expect, I have read many of the recently published books on The Clash. Also, like many others, Joe Strummer was someone I always admired and respected for what I thought was his consistent approach to life. In many ways, his approachability, whilst remaining endlessly creative, was inspiring and contrasted admirably with the clichéd back-of-a-limo rock star.

Turning to the book, I cannot see that it will never be surpassed. I thought it was very well written and although inevitably the personal relationship with the author sometimes interfered, it cannot be denied that without that relationship, some of the information and insight in the book would never have been possible. It is written with love for its subject.

However, I found the descriptions of Joe's womanising both surprising and depressing - I had not read about these before. Some of the characters in the book suggest that he was an undiagnosed alcoholic and it is difficult to argue with that - the previous notice from his mother's family makes for uncomfortable reading. Similarly at least one source states that he was crying out for therapy and again this seems fair - the suppression - if not denial - of his feelings towards the death of his brother were obviously very influential throughout his entire life.

The interesting point regarding the "Cherokee decision" - i.e. always take the most reckless option - seems to have been followed ruthlessly throughout his life, yet it cannot be denied that the two crucial musical decisions he made - i.e. the sackings of Topper and Mick - were in retrospect mistakes. The respect with which he held Bernie was incomprehensible at times, as was Bernie's frankly ludicrous statement that Joe wanted to be him.

I finished the book with a sense of sadness, but fully reminded that Joe's talent was special. I suggest you buy this book and read it with an open mind, listening to The Clash and The Mescaleros whilst doing so - it will remind you how exceptional his talent was.
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