Top critical review
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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.