Saturday, August 6, 2016
RIP Mushy Peas – The Ghost of Joe Strummer, The Pseudo-Victorian Mindset of Donald Trump, and The Essence of Multiculturalism
In recent weeks, the prevailing cliché that the world is getting to be a smaller, more cosmopolitan place has taken a blow to the solar plexus. We have had an apparent majority of British voters follow a pied piper and turn the clock back to, oh say 1895. We have a major political party’s candidate whose platform is most closely associated with building a physical wall between the US and its neighbor to the south and excluding continued immigration of adherents to an entire religion. And he picked a running mate whose calling card is purporting to sign a bill into law which would enable every Joe’s pizzeria in Indiana to refuse to serve customers just because they, you know, look a little gay. Excuse me, and pardon my language, but what exactly the fuck is going on here?
I don’t know. Sorry. I can however submit that there are worse places for thoughtful, goodhearted people to turn for guidance than to the words of the late, great Joe Strummer. After all, during his all too short life and musical oeuvre, he had a thing or two to say about misguided political leaders with a tragicomically myopic view of the world.
Last week, listening to Global a Go Go - one of Joe’s three noteworthy post-Clash efforts with his band The Mescaleros - I was struck by how my favorite track “Bhindi Bhagee” is so, so on point for these bizarre times. Besides a freewheeling, killer beat and gloriously skittering African-ish guitars, it features a poignant and personal first person narrative from Joe that puts a line under his entire body of work by capturing the essence of his global humanist, multicultural vision.
Strolling down the ‘high street’ (that’s like Main Street, Donald) of some unnamed British locale, Joe is approached by a tourist from New Zealand (WASPish, no doubt...) and is asked where one might find mushy peas. A better metaphor for a bland, homogenous, and long-gone England would be hard to conceive. Joe thinks, bemusedly, before responding that, well, can’t get ‘em anymore round here – before reeling off a plethora of diverse offerings that are readily available – curries, empanadas, ackee...you get the picture. The parable continues with the visitor asking Joe what kind of music his band plays, and again, Joe rambles on about the gamut of international styles his band can offer. Both, damn right delicious.
“Bhindi Bhagee” ranks up there with countless Clash classics like “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Jimmy Jazz”, and “Bankrobber” that so effectively fuse disparate musical threads from around the world into a vibrant new musical reality. Sandinista’s “Let’s Go Crazy” – one of the band’s truly crowning achievements – wonderfully foreshadowed Joe’s giddy embracing of a muilticultural mindset of inclusion in the introductory sampled remarks from a Carnival announcer, imploring the gathering faithful to “have a great, peaceful time at Carnival time – black, white, pink, blue, you name it...”
We can’t predict how long this surreal isolationist mojo will carry on either Stateside or across the pond, but I can say with confidence that somewhere Joe is rolling another Turkish cigarette, and he is not amused. He will also say he’s seen it before (“Something About England”) and counsel us to hang in there with hope for the future, I’d expect.
Mushy peas, sorry, but the world in which you enjoyed primacy has been evicted from High Street and relegated to an obscure suburb.