Strummer's widow reveals cache of unheard Clash songs and lyrics
By Amol Rajan
Published: 08 December 2007
There is always more to say about a life as eventful as Joe Strummer's. Friends, family and fans of the lead singer of The Clash have spent the past five years wondering about the stories he might have told and the songs he might have sung had he lived alittle longer.
They thought he had taken such secrets to the grave when he died on 23 December 2002. But in today's Independent Magazine, Strummer's widow, speaking to a British newspaper for the first time since he died, reveals that she discovered a treasure trove of scribbled notes, cartoons, cigarette papers, songs – and forgotten Clash lyrics.
They will form the basis of a tribute book to the uniquely talented musician, which she says will be produced in conjunction with his friend, the artist Damien Hirst.
Lucinda Mellor explains that the discovery was made in a room buried in the depths of the farmhouse she shared with her husband, which she rarely if ever ventured into while he was alive.
When Strummer returned home after a tour, he would throw his suitcases into the room, leaving them jumbled alongside other suitcases he brought back from his travels.
Ms Mellor left the suitcases untouched until long after Strummer died of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. When she ventured into the room for the first time to investigate the contents of the baggage, she unearthed a veritable Aladdin's cave of music and musings from one of the most celebrated artists of his generation. Each suitcase contained around 30 plastic bags, each in turn laden with an array of writing and drawings jotted down while Strummer had been on the road and at his most creative.
Alongside the cases were a few mouldy tea chests containing lyrics that he wrote for The Clash. Otherwise, the material from the room relates to tours he undertook as lead singer of the Mescaleros , the band he formed in 1999, six years after he met his wife and fourteen years after The Clash finally disbanded.
The layers of packaging – suitcases within a room and plastic bags within suitcases – represent differing time-scales. Most of the bags relate to a week; most of the suitcases to several months; and the room to several years. "I suddenly realised that each bag was pertinent to a week on tour or a session", Ms Mellor said, adding that alongside the glimpses into his extraordinary life were more mundane items.
"Each bag had a sharpener in it, each bag had cigarette papers, a matchbox, endless bits of napkins, kitchen roll, receipts,". The plastic bags formed a kind of material diary of a particular segment on any tour. "Each bag told a story which was amazing. I had done quite a bit of sorting before I really realised..."
Fans hope the scribbled thoughts of their hero will further illuminate a life-story that they have already found gripping. The son of a Foreign Office diplomat and a Scottish crofter's daughter, Strummer spent his early life in places such as Cairo, Mexico City and Bonn. He worked as a gravedigger, did some busking and played in pubs before rising to fame on the emerging punk scene. The Clash formed in 1976 and remained together for a decade.
Strummer never used a computer, preferring to record his thoughts on paper. He would often stay up until five in the morning, scribbling away, and not wake until the afternoon. "I was a lark, but he was a night-owl", Ms Mellor recalled.
When the value of her discovery dawned, Ms Mellor drafted in the artist Gordon McHarg to help archive the material, cataloguing it and storing it between acid-proof paper.
If sold at auction, the memorabilia could fetch tens of thousands of pounds. But that is a distant prospect: for now, Ms Mellor plans to convert the material into a book, co-authored by Hirst.
"It's not something that's going to be rushed into; it's going to be beautifully done," said Ms Mellor. "It'll be like an art book, with photographs, lyrics, drawings, maybe unreleased songs, rarities. It'll have CDs in it, rare Joe stuff – we'll see what we've got."