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Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,812 ratings  ·  113 reviews
With exclusive access to Strummer's friends, relatives, and fellow musicians, music journalist Chris Salewicz penetrates the soul of an rock 'n roll icon.

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 w
Paperback, 640 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 2006)
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4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,812 ratings  ·  113 reviews

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Tom Nixon
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Andy Carrington
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Take this somewhere. Read it. Absorb it.
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
Wilde Sky
The life and times of a famous musician are reviewed.

I have always liked the Clash and picked up this book with great expectations about finding out about one of the core members of the band but this book (which is obviously a labour of love) was so full of details that I couldn’t clearly see the person, plus I found it slightly repetitive.

I expect this is one for dedicated fans.
Dave Purcell
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
A wonderful read that captures the complexity, contradictions, and beauty of the great Joe Strummer. Earlier, I decided to pass on this because of the length -- despite my love of Joe and The Clash, I wasn't sure if he deserved 600+ pages. I'm so glad that I changed my mind.
David Tracey
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
600+ pages on one of the most amazing human beings to have ever walked this earth. Joe Strummer is a huge idol of mine. He is the only "celebrity" who's death I have cried over. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I reached the final pages of this extremely detailed account of his life, knowing how abrubtly it all came to an end. For people out there who don't consider themselves a fan of Joe Strummer's music, you should still read this and learn a thing or two about the human condition. An ...more
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
Mar 09, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Edward Sullivan
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, music
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, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really well written and lots of insight into the man. I feel sorry for the women in his life though ;)
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.
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A bio that reads like a novel. It's the subject but also the treatment of the subject.
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I have been a fan of Strummer and The Clash for years, I knew little of their story and artistic inspiration. Redemption Song provides meticulously detailed biography of Joe Strummer from someone who knew him. Salewicz consulted with more than 300 different sources resulting in a multifaceted and fascinating account of Strummer's life and music. Salewicz admiration borders on hero worship at times, but doesn't prevent him from revealing some of Strummer's worst tendencies and flaws. Overal ...more
Sarah Aldridge
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s taken me nearly a year to finish this book - not because it’s bad (it’s so good), but because I didn’t have the time to truly dedicate to it until this week. The storytelling is so wonderful that it leaves you looking up more - the places Strummer vacationed and recorded hits and played hits, and it’s also impossible to read about music without wanting to sit and take in the songs and live performances it’s talking about. Wonderful book about a wonderful life that was truly lived to the ful ...more
Jez Keighley
A missed chance. Worth reading because Joe Strummer was an interesting if contradictory figure. Fighting for justice and equality in his music but quite capable of being an unpleasant bully to his partners or band mates. Unfortunately Chris Salewicz seems to have been a friend of his and repeats this endlessly. He never tires of telling us that he had a few beers with Joe strummer now and then or that Joe thought he was a great guy. He makes bald statements and leaves them hanging in the air wit ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wish that Goodreads had half star options.

At times, Salewicz's writing is overly long; he was Joe Strummer's friend and it's understandable, but I don't want to or need to read the Jim Jarmusch called Joe "Big Chief Thunder Cloud" multiple times, nor do I need overviews of multiple years' summer trips to San José, Spain.

However, I did tear up near the end of the book for obvious reasons.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From his early days with the 101er’s (named after the house they lived and practiced in), through The Clash then with his final CD with the Mescaleros, Joe Strummer will go down as one of the greats. “Write truths not slogans!” A good rock n roll read
Josh Gering
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joe Strummer is a fascinating person because of his strengths and his weaknesses. Through his glories and his struggles, he was so simply human. While this is a fantastic biography, it did at some points go very slow. Not perfect, but still highly recommended.
Allen Henderson
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One man, one love

Fascinating read, a must for anyone interested in the man we all listened to and called Joe Strummer (A) 👍
Reanin Mcroberts
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
really comprehensive. great writing.
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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."
“I tell her how sorry I am, and as I speak my words feel inadequate and pathetic.” 2 likes
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