Last Friday I went to the Joe Strummer tribute show at Mohawk Place. I was a big fan, still am, and every year I try to get to this gig at Mohawk, usually scheduled between Christmas and New Year's, and every year, something keeps me from getting there; a winter storm, conflicting work schedule, etc. But this year nothing was stopping me except my middle-aged indifference to all things happening outside the comfort of my cozy couch. So I had to sort of march myself out into the cold winter night, before I could find an excuse to stay home. Dug up and found, miraculously, my old Clash pin buttons, and adorned them to a Wal-Mart chic faux-leather jacket. Put black make-up on my eyelids, as Strummer was prone to do, and marched, marched, marched. Called my brother and a few friends to tell them I would be there, if they cared to meet me.
So I drove into Buffalo from the Chautauqua County industrial farm lands I hail, thinking of Strummer, dead from a heart attack at age 50, me, his age, still behaving like a teenager, drug-free, (tonight anyway), but with enough residue in my system to last a lifetime, my poor friend sitting home probably feeling miserable, (he called back to say he was having emotional problems), my state trooper brother, who might meet me tonight, and who I often party with, but whose presense can be unnerving as one never knows if he'll suddenly pull out a gun, point it in all directions and yell, "OK everybody, FREEZE!"And I was bummin' out. Stopped at Burger King, fished a greasy chicken patty out between it's bun, ate it, and felt disgusted. And the freezing rain made things perfect.
The place was packed. I felt so much better just getting through the door, and felt a bit proud to be supporting a Strummer show where proceeds benefited struggling musicians. I loved Joe Strummer, and that's why I came. A diverse age group- teenagers, young and old musicians, aging punks, hot young things, yes Strummer would have loved this. A young band was playing songs from the Clash's first album. Teenagers were mouthing out the lyrics with a memory better than mine. The world has changed. When I was a teenager, I couldn't fathom, liking or even knowing the music of the generation before me. I was a post hippie, pre-punk lost seventies child, star gazing into the likes of Yes, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Now we're a united Clash. My brother showed up and we just hung out drinking beers and listening to the bands. I recognized a group of Buffalo actors, who I guess would be the epitome of that scene. Is that Father Baker? I wrote a scathing piece on that play after the - president? king? director?, of MusicalFare encouraged people to publicly announce their feelings about the play after a nastily negative review from The Buffalo News, where the production was somewhat accused of fostering child molestation. I pointed them out to my brother and told him "those guys are actors", and we just sort of stared at them for awhile like we were contemplating an exhibit at the zoo.
We couldn't find a roster of the bands, it was almost impossible to get a beer from the packed bar, so I don't know the names of the bands and musicians I saw. The next band played a lot of Sandanista. I wormed my way onto the cramped dance floor, and some stranger behind me kept screaming into my ears that the lead singer looks like he's about to OD. "He's going ...going....going to fall over ...that guy is messed up!" And, well he did seem a little high. I can't remember which song it was, but he kept tripping up on the lyrics, repeating the same stanza over and over, like he couldn't find his way out. Like a dizzying skipping record. Nice set though. The next band were dazzling in ways only a Clash fan could appreciate. A tight rhythm section behind a vocalist respecting and imitating Strummer, mouthing out sacred words and emotions as carefully as taking them from a Braille board. Never guessed I would see a perfectly executed "Car Jammin'" performed live by anybody in my lifetime. They were then joined by a saxophonist and trombonist from The Great Train Robbery, who brought an exotic illustrious flair to the decidedly hoodie caucasion scene, and provided perfect backup to a number of Clash songs, notably, "Rudie Can't Fail".
Yeah, Clash forever. Freezing rain and glaring lights outside. A cute teenage girl asked me to get on her cell phone and tell her boyfriend to F off. I obliged but wasn't so drunk I couldn't imagine a 6-foot tall football jock showing up and beating the crap out of me. A street guy emptied the handful of quarters out of my pocket befitting a Strummer sentiment. I defied orders and buzz-drove home.