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Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer
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Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  1,313 ratings  ·  91 reviews
The Clash was--and still is--one of the most important groups of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Indebted to rockabilly, reggae, Memphis soul, cowboy justice, and '60s protest, the overtly political band railed against war, racism, and a dead-end economy, and in the process imparted a conscience to punk. Their eponymous first record and" London Calling" still rank in Rolli ...more
Hardcover, First American Edition, 629 pages
Published May 22nd 2007 by Faber & Faber (first published January 31st 2006)
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Despite a few flaws, Chris Salewicz' definitive biography of Joe Strummer is essential for Clash fans. Chris came to San Francisco last year on a book tour, and I was struck during the reading by how painful Joe's death was for Chris even after five years. Joe left his impression on a great many people. What I appreciate most about the book is that Joe's myth is debunked, and what we see in the pages is John Mellor, the melancholy poet and prankster who never really got over his brother's suicid ...more
Tom Nixon
I was on the M3 Motorway in England when I learned the Joe Strummer had died, courtesy of The Daily Mail. It was 2002 and we were in England for the winter for a change- for Christmas and so that Dad could teach a course in London and Paris over the winter break. Newspapers were still buzzing about the benefit concert for striking firefighters that Strummer had played some weeks before. He had been joined onstage by fellow Clash member Mick Jones, marking the first time they had played together ...more
Simply one of the best rock'n'roll biographies I've ever read and I've read a LOT of them. Joe Strummer has been a hero of mine for ages. I first heard The Clash's London Calling in '79, and I admired his convictions and dug his music throughout his career until his untimely death at age 50 in 2002, when he was still making powerful music with The Mescaleros. Author Chris "Sandwich" Salewicz knew the man as a friend and journalist since his days before the Clash formed, but that doesn't mean he' ...more
Steve Bennett
Very enjoyable, if too long, biography of Joe Strummer. Thankfully, Salewicz, despite apparently being good friends with Strummer, does not portray Strummer as an idol. The book does a very good job of deconstructing the myths about Joe Strummer and focuses more on John Mellor--a confused British youth from a somewhat fragmented family whose entire life probably was defined at age 18 by his slightly older brother's suicide after he got mixed up with the National Front. Strummer comes off not so ...more
As of chapter 4: With no chronological or thematic organization, reading this book is a chore (so far). It also appears to be mostly about the author, Salewicz.

Soo, the book gets a little more interesting after about page 100, especially when Salewicz makes comparisons between the Clash and Sex Pistols. Over all, however, this book is a disappointment. I was so excited to read it! But it is mostly a litany of 'We did this' and 'Joe did that' and 'Then we all moved into another squat at this add
I gave this a 4 because it was a little repetitive...otherwise, it's almost hard for me to talk about since I knew Joe fairly well. It was really interesting reading about his youth which was not something you'd ever heard too much about, at least not beyond that he was pissed his folks sent him off to boarding school...but I also used to go out with Paul Buck, "Pablo LaBritain", who'd talked to me about he and Joe at school, and about his brother's suicide. I loved Joe. I know everyone did, but ...more
David Tracey
Probably required reading for anyone who (like me) got the Clash. "The Only Band That Mattered" was, at it turns out, the last band that mattered for me, especially as Bob Marley died in 1981. Fittingly, the title of the massively detailed bio by journalist and Clash friend Chris Salewicz is titled after Bob's last great lament song.

I learned a lot about the Clash and the birth/death of punk from this book, making it a breezy read even at 600-plus pages. I also learned tons about John Mellor, th
A superb biography from a friend of the subject who also happened to be a journalist with total access through the punk era and beyond. Straight-up timelines in music biographies that start off with a dragging account of childhoods - and even the parents' and grandparents' childhoods! - always bore me. This one isn't like that, so much. More interesting. Picked this up months ago, but the recent film got me re-interested. As an aside, the Mescaleros albums have been infused with a new charm for ...more
Many funny anecdotes, insightful stories - but some dull stretches in the book too. A favourite was when he met INXS on tour, and wondered how Michael Hutchence felt about being a sex symbol. Hutchence said "You must know that - you're Joe Strummer!" to which Strummer replied, "No, I was Spokesman Of A Generation".

Joe lost the plot when he split The Clash and slumped into a tailspin of depression that took him many years to climb out of. Throughout the book, he treats women badly - I know, judg
Reading this book, especially at the end, sad. I missed my chance to ever see Joe. He toured quite a bit near the end with the Mescaleros and often played a heavy rotation of Clash songs and I never saw him. It was particularly interesting to read about the later parts of his life, as I have read other Clash bios before. But to get an idea of the man he became was quite interesting. I am of the opinion that Joe was much more articulate, funny and interesting in his lyrics than he often was in re ...more
What an perfect storm of contradictions this book conjures about its subject - an egotist for collectivity, a martinet for equality, a control freak for freedom - somehow just about the only "committed" song writer whose work wasn't made risible by his politics. The consumption by the anti-consumerist Strummer was astonishing - drugs, drink, women were devoured at a pace which might leave an 18th Century roué shocked. The book is WAY too detailed - it's like every time Strummer falls over in a p ...more
A bio that reads like a novel. It's the subject but also the treatment of the subject.
Shit. This is a hard book to review. I love The Clash but after reading this, I am a little underwhelmed by the band's energy force, Joe Strummer. The weird thing is the author is in love with his subject, irritatingly interjects his personal anecdotes with Joe, but somehow manages to describe the dude as a total asshole half the time. TMI - London Calling is still one of the best rock albums of all time.
Laraine Ryan
This book was interesting for the most part. By the chapter, "The Excitement Gang" it sort of fell apart and became a list of names and a travel itinerary, except for a brief interesting description of a concert at the Glastonbury Festival. It seems the author is part of the gang and such a nice guy, that he wanted to be sure all of his friends got their names in the book. The number of names got overwhelming to the point where I hardly cared who anybody was and the few names that recurred here ...more
Edward Sullivan
Definitive is right! Everything I could possibly ever want to know about Strummer is in here and then some, and most of it quite interesting. Very insightful about England's early punk rock scene, too. No discography!
Mar 27, 2008 April added it
Shelves: back-burner
This is a great book, but the reality of one's heroes can be a little hard to take sometimes, so I've had to put it down for a while. I'll definitely be coming back to it.
Really well written and lots of insight into the man. I feel sorry for the women in his life though ;)
I admit that for the 21+ years I've been a fan of The Clash, I've had an idealized view of Joe Strummer as a rock 'n roll icon who was still a man of the people. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read "Redemption Song" and found, in addition to Joe's better qualities, an almost endless litany of depression, insecurity, substance abuse, irresponsibility, selfishness, and disloyalty. I thought I was reading about Elvis at times. I should have known better than to ever place anyone on a pedestal, o ...more
Blog on Books
The lead sheet that comes with this book says "The importance of the Clash to modern music is almost impossible to overstate." A strong statement, to be sure, but one that is hard to argue. And while the band was certainly not solely one man's vision, Strummer (nee John Mellor) was the captain of it's apocalyptic view. Salewicz, a longtime writer for England's New Musical Express (NME) is in a fortunate position to write this revealing, up-close-and-personal account of the frontman's life as he ...more
John Nelson
Before there was an Anthony Bourdain, there was a Joe Strummer. Chris Salewicz' camp fire approach to this biography makes it possible for me to reach that conclusion, and others.

This was my second full read. I refer to this book often, but in March/April, I just kept on going. The worst thing about this book is my familiarity –and a disdain for– some of the people interviewed, but that's not the writer's fault. There might be one or two spots where it meanders, but who cares?

The more I underst
the never-ending library
What stands Salewicz’s book apart from the many other musician biographies that I have read is the evident personal connection that he shared with his subject. Instead of starting at the beginning of Strummer’s life, the book opens with his tragic death.

Salewicz’s brutal honesty is entirely necessary when writing a biography of this kind. No one wants to read an abridged version of Strummer’s life, where his achievements are mercilessly praised and his many flaws are only mentioned in passing. W
Oct 24, 2012 Simon rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: music
I've never quite fully bought into The Clash. I don't dispute that they came up with some very good songs; add their best efforts to a couple by The Buzzcocks and a couple by The Sex Pistols and you have enough material to keep people convinced that it was a major movement. It wasn't. I was seventeen in 1976, it was fun, we pogoed, spat, got drunk and sang along. Then we moved on realising that three chords could be put to far more imaginative use and that other songwriters had something to say ...more
What a great book! Chris Salewicz has done a fine job writing this, and has come up with a biography which actually does justice to the memory of his late friend Joe Strummer. When I was a kid, in the '70s & '80s, the Clash were one of the coolest bands around. Myself and many of my friends as well were inspired to pick up instruments and put bands together primarily because of the example set by the Clash. I was never lucky enough to see the Clash live in concert (I saw Strummer with the P ...more
Nick Pemberton

Hundreds and hundreds of pages. Salewicz obviously loves Joe Strummer and was one of his pals. Strummer lights a fire. Joe buys some brandy. Joe has his shoes shined. Joe buys some more drink and some drugs. Joe is insecure and difficult. Confrontational and cowardly. Lovable, needy, creative. Fearless and yet full of fear. He loves children, bless him. Everybody loves him but he doesn't love himself. He drinks more. XSalewicz records all this with a kind of indulgent approval based on the fact
I think I picked the best book on Joe Strummer to read, it really laid out his personality and showed him to be a complex and human character. He could be a control freak but was more famous for being warm and caring to folks that he considered his friends. The complexity of his personality makes for an interesting read because it was his darkside that really fucked up his life and relationships (most importantly, The Clash). The sweet thing about it is that he seemed to learn somewhat of a less ...more
I consider Joe Strummer a God, and watching The Future is Unwritten really kind of stabbed me right in the heart (which is more my fault for buying into the whole punk mythos than his for not living up to it). So my wife bought me this book for Christmas so I could investigate further.

This book radically changed the way I felt about the man and, if anything, I love him even more. This may be due, in part, to Salewicz's handling of the later part of Strummer's life (when Salewicz became a closer
I spent the better part of a month slogging through this 600+ page tome, with its awkward syntax and interminable descriptions of what seemed to be just about every time Joe Strummer got drunk or stoned. But no worries. Despite its flaws, this is a beautiful portrait of an intense and conflicted man, one of the few true stars of my generation. I feel like a shared a bit of Joe's life, and even shed a tear for him at the end.
One of the best biographies I have read in a long time. The author tells a lot of great stores about Joe and the clash. He gives great insight behind the albums and the lyrics of Joe songs. After reading this book i have a greater sense of who Joe was and why he did what he did. The author tells story the really show the members of the clash and the people Joe worked with. You get the sense how much of flawed man Joe Strummer was and yet he was great friend and person to everyone around him. Joe ...more
Andrew Reynolds
The best live band ever. One of the best front man ever and one of the best books concerned with music.
Really recommend it if you like the music and/or were around at the time.
Punk gigs were not nice places to be and the this book gives a little of what it was like to be there but never the less a lot is glossed over but perhaps not necessarily needed.
Loved the book....but I am a fan
Mar 22, 2009 Amy rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: hardcore clash fans only
Finally finished this exhaustive (and often exhausting) bio of Mr. John Mellor/Joe Strummer. Salewicz, who got to know the Clash when he worked as a journalist with the NME, interviews everyone Strummer sang, snogged, or smoked a spliff with -- and that's a lot of people, let me tell you! The man achieved superhuman levels of creativity, philandering, and substance intake. His death at 50 is less surprising than the fact that he actually made it to 50.

I love the Clash and find Strummer fascinat
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Chris Salewicz's writing on music and popular culture has appeared in publications around the globe. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer."
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