The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.
Joe Strummer is my own personal Bruce Springsteen. People get totally moony-eyed over Bruce, and I 100% get it because Bruce is one of the most insanely talented, hard-working, and deeply sensitive musicians who has ever lived with an uncanny ability to make the audience feel like he’s talking directly to them or about them. He’s just not my particular brand of vodka. I ain’t mad when Bruce comes on, and if you love Bruce, please tell me your stories of listening to him. But you’re not gonna find me sitting around putting on Bruce’s records or telling you any Bruce stories of my own because I don’t have any.
Joe Strummer, though? I’ll tell you some stories of listening to Joe Strummer! Spoiler alert: We’ll get to The Clash and my favorite song of theirs soon enough, but for now let’s talk about Joe Strummer and his post-Clash project The Mescaleros. For a brief time I was a music reviewer at a website (that apparently still exists!) called 411Mania. I didn’t last long there because even though my background was in writing about pro wrestling, the trolls that email you about how shitty your music taste, your insight, and your writing are, are WAY meaner and grosser than pro wrestling dorks.
Needless to say, people had feelings about my pretty innocuous, overtly positive review of Streetcore by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros. I found the Word document of that review (since it no longer exists online), and wow, my writing is… not great. I was 22 when I wrote it, so I didn’t know shit about shit, but still, some of the fuckers who wrote me about it were straight up savage. I liked this record so much and put a lot of work into this review only for the public to go, “You’re a fucking idiot, and you suck. You should quit and/or kill yourself.” So yeah, I was feeling pretty down.
For some reason, I had a Cuban cigar and a bottle of Crown Royal I think my dad gave me that I was too inexperienced to know what to do with on my own. I invited some friends over, we passed around that cigar and took turns puffing it, poured the whiskey equally among us as we sat on the back porch listening to the entirety of Streetcore and made a nice dudely evening of it. None of us were good at sipping whiskey yet, which made it largely go down like fire. We later took this picture.
Look at those fresh-faced kids.
I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but this night set a template for what would become so many of my favorite nights. A whiskey in your hand, the company of good friends, great music playing, sitting on a porch shooting the shit and just being together. On the show Inside the Actor’s Studio, James Lipton used to ask his guests, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?” I think my answer is, “Your friends are on the back porch. Grab a glass and select your whiskey. They’re excited to see you, and Joe Strummer can’t wait to meet you.”
“Silver and Gold” is the last song on Streetcore, which when viewed a certain way, feels like Joe Strummer’s very last song ever since this album was completed after his death. It’s a cover of a 1960 Fats Domino song called “Before I Grow Too Old.” That version is excellent, but like the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt,” once Johnny Cash put his stamp on it, it belonged to him. “Silver and Gold” is Joe Strummer’s, if nowhere else, then in my heart.
I’m gonna go out dancin’ every night
I’m gonna see all the city lights
I’ll do everything silver and gold
I got to hurry up before I grow too old
I’m gonna take a trip around the world
I’m gonna kiss all the pretty girls
I’ll do everything silver and gold
And I got to hurry up before I grow too old
Joe Strummer was a mere 50 years old when he died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. He didn’t know he was right near the end when he recorded this song, but how eerily true the words turned out to be. Tomorrow is promised to no one, and none of us know when our time is up. One thing you’ll hear me say a lot on my show is a line I’ve stolen from legendary ski filmmaker Warren Miller: “Do it this year. Because if you don’t, you’ll be at least one year older when you do.” Or maybe you won’t get to do it at all.
This is not intended to be maudlin, nor is it the invocation to “live everyday like it’s your last” which is not only lame and platitudinous, it’s wildly impractical. Some days you just have to buy insurance or clean out the garage, man.
No, this song is a reminder that whenever my time is up, I’m not going to regret any time I spent on a porch or a patio sipping whiskey with people I love, hearing their stories, exchanging laughs, and nodding along to Joe Strummer or Bruce Springsteen or Taylor Swift or whoever. That time is precious. Invaluable. Stamped on my memory in what I hope is among the last of my memories to go.
And it’s not even that I feel the impulse to remember anything super specific about any of these times. When I listen to Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, and in particular “Silver and Gold,” what envelops me is a feeling. An amalgamation of memory and vibe and warmth that is among the best feelings I can call to mind. And the best part is: You’ll never be too old to do whatever version of this you desire. You’ll do it silver and gold forever.
Up next: Til I understand or go blind…