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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 7 June 2017
He loves The Clash and he is a thorough and serious writer. Definitely worth buying. A very enjoyable and rewarding read.
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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 27 November 2017
Great book, really enjoying it.
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on 17 May 2016
Well Joe you were definitely a complex character but utterly flawed like the rest of us. This is the story of a man, no more and no less. RiP.
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on 16 November 2015
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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 30 August 2016
Fantastic insight into this legend of a man. You keep turning the pages and cannot put this book down as it tells so many unknown stories.
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on 15 July 2016
Before buying this book a review caught my eye which claimed 'Last Gang In Town' gives a better insight to Strummer's early life. I found that rather hard to believe, given that 'Redemption Song' is devoted entirely to the life of Joe Strummer whilst 'Last Gang In Town' is devoted to The Clash as whole.

However. Halfway through 'Redemption Song' I found myself agreeing with the aforementioned review. I felt I hadn't learnt that much more about Strummer's pre-Clash days, and what new information I did learn is not of any great depth. And when the book approaches Strummer's time with The Clash it becomes an abridged version of the now often-told story, at times reduced to almost bullet-pointing well worn tales.

So after making it approximately 60% of the way through 'Redemption Song', I would reccommend 'Last Gang In Town' as being the more engaging work for an overview of Joe Strummer and his career pre-Clash and with The Clash.

But for those seeking information about Strummer's post-Clash work, the final third of 'Redemption Song' is essential. It details his film appearances, solo recordings and circumstances surrounding each. So if solo Strummer is your thing, this section is certainly the best available written resource for you.

Although it must said, Strummer's various solo forays onto film sets and into recording studios are buttressed by one tale or another of heavy drinking or dope smoking. These fast become a bore rather than an enlightenment, and soon caused me to begin skipping pages when their mention arose. But that's no fault of the author, who is simply recounting the truth of Strummer's life.

Speaking of which I do feel it only fair to take a minute to speak in defence of the author, as several reviewers have made a point of bitching about him positioning himself into the story.

Now, the author had personal interactions with Joe Strummer at various points during his life, and was present when certain events tooks place. So within that context, how is it unreasonable for him to say that he saw this, or he said that, or this was said to him? To those complainers I ask, would you have preferred the author to invent an imaginary character to anonymously represent himself? Or maybe leave those conversations or events out of the book altogether? Because those are the only alternatives.

So, how do I sum up Redemption Song?

Well, If your interest in Joe Strummer tails off with the decline of The Clash, you'll probably find other works more enagaging and informative. If however you're a fan of the man's post-Clash years, this is without question the best written source, definitive as advertised.

One final point. For me the book throws up a huge irony. For a man who's work inspired so many people across the world in such a variety of ways, Joe Strummer's life story taken as a written whole is largely depressive and at times even demotivational. You don't come away from this book punching the sky and wanting to become rock star or begin a journey to change the world. Sadly, the shadows of Joe's personal demons hang far to heavy over the story for that flame to easily ignite.

I've been a Clash fan since the 1980's, the band soundtracked a lot of pivotal moments in my life. So I hate to say it, and it probably sounds strange, but the revelations in this book about the mentality of Strummer have served to considerably dull my interest in continuing to listen to their music.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 March 2015
Joe Strummer was, in many ways, just your average rock'n'roll hero, doing drugs, sleeping with myriad girls, lurching between gigs. His pronouncements and actions are a litany of contradiction and often nonsense but sprinkled with the occasional profundity that hinted that a greater intellect dwelled within. He was a creative and prolific songwriter and, the bit that elevated him from the average to the extraordinary, half of one of rock'n'roll's greatest songwriting duos, Strummer-Jones. Both blessed and cursed, the ultimate blessing for the rest of us came in the six or seven years the Clash proper existed, the curse with his hand in the destruction of the Clash, although there is an element also of blessing within that act: it saved them from becoming a parody of themselves in later life.

Chris Salewicz has captured the life of Strummer, warts and all, in this intensely detailed but somewhat, therefore, overlong biography. We see the transformation of John Mellor into Woody and finally into Joe. We see him at his private school, in his squats, at art school, rioting in Notting Hill, defending his home from rioters in Notting Hill, hunkering down in his spliff bunkers in recording studios, and sharing his love between, amongst others, Paloma, Gaby and Lucinda. There's Joe the schoolboy, Joe the claimant, Joe the father, Joe the leader of campfire soirees at Glastonbury, and Joe the friend of Damien Hurst, Keith Allen, John Cusack and Jakob Dylan, Bob's lad. The Joe we see is sometimes charming, sometimes idealistic, sometimes cruel and sometimes duplicitous. He occasionally surprises, as when he adopts a take-no-prisoners stance over al-Qaeda and 9/11. He is constantly haunted by his brother's suicide.

There are plenty of musical tales. Salewicz retells the story of an incident involving Vivien Westwood at a so-so Pistols gig which livelied it up and created the legend of punk violence, and there are accounts of concerts from various phases of Strummer's career, although as with Pat Gilbert's Passion Is A Fashion it feels like there is more detail from and interest in the US gigs than those played in the UK. Some seemingly important events, such as the 1980 gigs at the Electric Ballroom, are skated over with a mere assertion that they were momentous, with no indication of what made them so, with one notable exception being a July 1982 show at Brixton Fair Deal which I attended myself, and therefore already know why it was momentous.

Other items are of lesser import and are at the level of reporting what was in his laundry (actually not quite, although there is a hint that at one time Joe wasn't aware of the existence of such an institution). Towards the end in particular Salewicz indulges in disclosing paragraph-long inconsequential trivia which appear to be there only because he's heard them or he lived them, not because they have any special relevance or add particularly to the story in hand.

Nevertheless, Salewicz's presence at some of the events he recounts (it's he who has Strummer's back when he is evicting the Notting Hill rioters) lends authenticity to a tale which, while it was unfolding, was mired in a Clash/Strummer mythology partly incidental, partly of their own or Bernie Rhodes's contrivance. He debunks several myths, including the one that the Clash's 1981 stint at Bond's in New York was part of the Bernie master plan. In fact, Epic wouldn't finance the sixty-date tour Rhodes wanted, so the Bond's residency was the expedient substitute.

This isn't a flawless account, nor for that matter a complete one (you'll find more information in other sources, if you feel the need), but it's worth checking out if you want a better understanding of what made Strummer who he was, and the Clash what they were.
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