A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 164: Let Fury Have the Hour

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“Kick over the wall/ Cause governments to fall/ How could you refuse it?/ Let fury have the hour/ Anger can be power/ You know that you can use it”

It is the Clash’s “rage against the machine”, simply put, and may be one of their greatest songs. I heard it on the radio as I was driving around a couple of days ago. If you know me at all, you know the Clash is pretty much the soundtrack that runs in my brain 24/7. When a station actually plays something beyond the usual three or four Clash tracks on rotation I sit up and take notice. “Clampdown” is full of wonderful Joe Strummer lyrical moments like “In these days of evil presidentes/ Working for the clampdown/ Lately one or two has fully paid their dues/ Working for the clampdown”. It is a song at the soul of punk in so many ways.

The live performance of this song is maybe the best example of the power of this band when they were called “The Only Band that Matters”, before typical rock band pettiness crept in and blew the group apart. This isn’t awesome because of the stellar musicianship. This is awesome because of the power, conviction, energy and, yes, fury that can be communicated by four guys with the Drive.  Here is that video. If you don’t understand the lyrics, as Joe once said, “Don’t worry. You’re not alone.” However, I have printed them below just to be helpful. You’re welcome.

HA! Gitalong! Gitalong!!

What are we gonna do now?

Taking off his turban, they said, is this man a Jew?
‘Cause they’re working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying we earn more than you!
When we’re working for the clampdown
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers

The judge said five to ten-but I say double that again
I’m not working for the clampdown
No man born with a living soul
Can be working for the clampdown
Kick over the wall ’cause government’s to fall
How can you refuse it?
Let fury have the hour, anger can be power
D’you know that you can use it?

The voices in your head are calling
Stop wasting your time, there’s nothing coming
Only a fool would think someone could save you
The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don’t owe nothing, so boy get runnin’
It’s the best years of your life they want to steal

You grow up and you calm down
You’re working for the clampdown
You start wearing the blue and brown
You’re working for the clampdown
So you got someone to boss around
It makes you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize
Make your first kill now

In these days of evil Presidentes
Working for the clampdown
But lately one or two has fully paid their due
For working for the clampdown
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong! (working for the clampdown)
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong! (working for the clampdown)

Yeah I’m working in Harrisburg
Working hard in Petersburg (working for the clampdown, working for the clampdown)
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!
Beggin’ to be melted down

And I’ll give away no secrets

Written by Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 99: Sunday God Quote – Strummer

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This Sunday’s God Quote is a poem in the form of lyrics to the song “The Sound of the Sinners” by Joe Strummer (1952-2002), the former front man of the Clash and the conscience of Punk rock…

As the floods of God
Wash away sin city
They say it was written
In the page of the Lord
But I was looking
For that great jazz note
That destroyed
The walls of Jericho
The winds of fear
Whip away the sickness
The messages on the tablet
Was valium
As the planets form
That golden cross Lord
I’ll see you on
The holy cross roads
After all this time
To believe in Jesus
After all those drugs
I thought I was Him
After all my lying
And a-crying
And my suffering
I ain’t good enough
I ain’t clean enough
To be Him
The tribal wars
Burning up the homeland
The fuel of evil
Is raining from the sky
The sea of lava
Flowing down the mountain
The time will sleep
Us sinners by
Holy rollers roll
Give generously now
Pass the hubcap please
Thank you Lord
Joe Strummer

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 96: Punk Rock Names, Top Five

On day four of my week of Top Five lists I come to a list that I had a difficult time keeping to only five! Today is a list of Punk Rock names and, frankly, there are a lot of great ones. Of course, Punkers are not the first musicians to rename themselves. For example, Richard Starkey loved American Westerns and bling on his fingers and so became Ringo Starr. But Punkers have definitely taken renaming to a whole new level. In fact, quite often the renaming is part of the Punk process: a way to show that you’ve embraced a new life, or rejected an old one, by taking on a name that sets you apart from “normal” society.

My favorite Punk names are those that are funny and self-deprecating. I could’ve had quite a list that included names like Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Cheetah Chrome. However, I will follow the rules in a most un-Punk-like manner and stick to five. So here they are, My Top Five Punk Rock Names. You may not like them, you may have a list you think is better, but that’s just fine because, y’know, that’s so Punk Rock.

5. Siouxsie Sioux – nee Susan Janet Ballion

She’s the British Punk fashionista with the name to match. When you combine it with the band name – Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees – it is even better.

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4. Iggy Pop – nee James Newell Osterberg, Jr.

Iggy predates the Punk era but he was a massive influence on the music, style and, of course, the rite of renaming. As with Siouxsie, when combined with the band name – Iggy Pop and the Stooges – it becomes just about perfect. And, seriously, does this guy look like a James Osterberg, Jr. to you?

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3. Jello Biafra – nee Eric Reed Boucher

He’s the front man for the Dead Kennedys, a band name you may find offensive or humorous, depending on your perspective. But the name Jello Biafra is just plain funny and wonderfully nonsensical. It contains within it a true “F#&k you” to any convention whatsoever and therefore makes it truly Punk.

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2. Poly Styrene – nee Marian Joan Elliot Said

One of my favorites because it is so funny and so British. What we call Styrofoam in North America the Brits call Polystyrene. It is self-deprecation combined with a sharp sense of humor. Poly was with the short-lived all-women group the Slits but her name lives on as one of Punk’s best.

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1. Joe Strummer – nee John Graham Mellor

At the number one position on my list is the name of the front man for the Clash, and perhaps the least showy Punk name of them all. Why is it my favorite? Because it conveys a humbleness and a sense of the everyman which perfectly encapsulates Joe Strummer’s vision of what Punk Rock was about. He said he couldn’t do all those “fiddly bits” on guitar and that led him to the name. But he was also aware of the power of this new brand of folk music. “This is Joe Public speaking!” he shouted out on the track “Complete Control” and he was, maybe more than anyone else in the history of Punk Rock, the voice of the people.

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 1: Marley & Me

bob-marley

“The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?” 

Bob Marley is an iconic figure in history. His music and image are well known all over the world. What is not as well known is that on December 3, 1976, someone tried to rip him open with bullets and take his life.

It was just a couple of  days before the “Smile Jamaica” concert, organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley, in an attempt to bring peace between warring political factions. Some saw Marley’s decision to play in this concert as support for Manley. In the midst of these tensions, a gunman entered Marley’s home and shot him, his wife Rita, and manager Don Taylor. All survived but sustained injuries, Marley to the chest and arm. Nevertheless, just two days later, as scheduled, he appeared on stage with the Wailers to sing and play. When asked why he would choose to perform just two days after an attempt on his life, Marley responded, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

As I reflect back on 2016 on this first day of 2017, the lasting impression is of a year that cast a dark, dark shadow. It was a tumultuous 365 that contained tragedies like Aleppo and tragi-comedies like the US Presidential election. Racists were emboldened to go public, hatred in speech and action was rampant, innocents suffered for others’ political ends, and images of destroyed cities, thousands of refugees and dead children threatened to make us all despair. There was good in 2016, of course, but the bad seemed to outweigh it so much as to crush the life out of it and us.

How to move forward after all of that? It is easy to retreat into our fantasy lands, our distractions and our devices; easy to bury our heads in screens and a virtual reality of our own making. This is especially true for us in the privileged parts of the world, where bombings, death squads, starvation and disease are part of the plot to our favorite Netflix show, not part of our daily lives.

But retreat is cowardice. Retreat is giving in to those who are trying their hardest to make this world worse.

I am an artist, a creative person. I don’t say this in a boastful way. It is simply who I am. I draw, I paint, I sing, I write – creating for me is essential to keeping me from going dead inside. I associate with other creative people, from the local painter toiling in obscurity to the iconic Reggae singer known worldwide. I understand the drive and I understand the risk. Artists can only be truly creative if they are vulnerable. Artists are meant to put themselves out there, on display, warts and all: Open to criticism and disdain, praise and adoration or , worst of all, being ignored.

Creating art and putting it out there is like exposing a wound: It’s painful, it stings but it could possibly bring healing. Artists go against human nature, against the evolutionary grain of self-protection, self-preservation. They play the role of standing in the breach, naked to enemy fire and friendly fire alike, with the possibilities of complete failure or eternal glory hanging in the balance.

Bob Marley knew this. He knew that artists are always in conflict, either with themselves or with the world around them. He put himself out there, exposed. It was where he needed to be and had to be. As someone who created music that gave life and hope, he felt a responsibility to keep on creating no matter how fear and self-preservation may have gripped him.

Pondering this event and considering an artist’s response to the darkness, the void that threatens to suck all the light from the world, I was deeply challenged and greatly inspired. I could not give in to the brutality and banality that was dragging me down. I am an artist and I have a responsibility to respond creatively, hopefully, compassionately. .

To that end I have decided, first of all, to post to this blog each day for the entirety of 2017 – 365 days of Creating Dangerously. What I hope to do is post things about or from artists that inspire me and challenge me to truly live my life. And I hope to also share with you my creativity, my artwork, my words, to give you inspiration and challenge you in your lives. Second of all, I plan on creating a series of paintings this year, with the goal of one per month (or more!). These paintings will be of the artists who have shaped who I am and who I admire, not because they were perfect, but because they were courageous and took risks; because they fought to beat back the darkness and bring light.

On December 30, 2016 I completed the first painting in my series which I share below:

punk-rock-warlord-joe-strummer-vs-the-void

Punk Rock Warlord (Joe Strummer Vs The Void) Ron Kok December 2016 Acrylic on canvas

Joe Strummer was the front man and main songwriter of the legendary British punk band the Clash. But he was so much more than a “rock star”. Joe was as flawed as the next human being but was also deeply passionate about people, about truth and justice, and about being a champion for good in a often nasty world. His desire to connect with people, to demolish the barrier between performer and audience, to empower other artists to find their voice, to keep kicking at the darkness until it bled daylight (to borrow a Bruce Cockburn lyric) has been a continual source of inspiration for me in my life. He was an artist who understood that to make a significant impact, you had to put yourself out there to be spit on (which happened to him quite literally) or loved or both. I guess it’s the vulnerability of someone who half-jokingly referred to himself as a Punk Rock Warlord that I have always admired most.

Joe seemed like a great place for me to start in my Year of Creating Dangerously. I hope you can come along with me for the ride. I want to do my part to be proactive and creative in 2017. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and bitch and cry. I want to take on the world in the way that I am wired: As an artist. And I want to inspire you and give you hope. I really do. If just one person can be moved to do what is right and good despite all the ugliness around them, I will know that it was all worth it.

I don’t want to take a day off. This fight is too important. Let’s rise above, friends, and give love, embrace hope, spread peace, and speak truth.

Random Thoughts from Joe Average

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I am a big fan of 1970’s Punk Rock, especially the British variety (though I have a soft spot for the Ramones, those adorable ragamuffins!). In the nascent days of that fast and furious music genre, many Punks gave themselves new names, often with a self-deprecating edge to them, like Johnny Rotten, Poly Styrene or Joe Strummer. I have thought about what name I’d take if I was in a Punk band (it’s kind of a fun exercise which I strongly recommend, by the way). After some consideration, I’d choose the name Joe Average. It’s not too edgy or anything but contains an homage to my Punk hero mentioned above and it also sums up my view of myself quite nicely.

I’m an average guy. I’ll never be famous. I’ll never be a CEO. My name will not live on past my grandchildren. I’m okay with that (I think). It is my reality. That’s not a grand idea but it is still worthy of embracing. After all, being average puts me in the company of billions of people. And being average isn’t all that bad. I can do some things really well, some things okay, and some things I ask my wife to do (she’s far above average).

And in the spirit of Punk, being average should in no way keep me from being out there, creating, expressing myself, writing a blog, whatever. After all, it was pop music in the hands of the “rock gods” – those mythical figures in leather pants and flowing locks – that got enough average people riled up to create Punk in the first place. Rock was reclaimed as the new Folk: the expression of the common person, the Average Joe (or Average Jo) and was boldly screamed out over simple guitar riffs played really fast. Punk emboldened an entire generation of kids to grab instruments and start playing, writing their own music, embracing who they were in every shape and color and pattern that could be. I believe it to be the single most significant movement in popular music, the ripple effect of which just keep going on and on.

Anyway, enough Punk preaching from me (can I get an “Amen”, brothahs and sistahs?!). What I’m trying to get at is that billions of average people are, really, not average at all. At least not in the way we often define average. For some reason, no one wants to be known as average at anything. In our world, that is often related to just slightly above failure. Why? Maybe it is because the “gods”, be it “rock gods” or “beauty gods” or “intellect gods” or “money-making gods” are constantly venerated and thrown in our faces. It is that tiny percentage of people who are worthy, we are told in a variety of ways. Average is not worthy. Average is just too average. Who wants to be that?

But the irony is that 97.3% of us are average (I’ve done extensive research and stand by that statistic). So what is average, exactly? What does average look like? Again, after extensive research, I think I have a pretty good idea…

Average looks like the guy who works his ass off in two jobs to support his wife who can no longer work because of health issues. Average looks like a man committed to his spouse and to the vows they took no matter what. Average looks like love not just spoken but acted out day in and day out, selfless and constant.

Average looks like the woman who raises two young children on her own because her former husband left her. She not only is the sole bread-winner but also the sole care-giver. In the midst of this she has to sell her house and find another place to live, tasks she tackles virtually alone and unassisted. All the while she refuses to bad-mouth the man whose actions put her in this place to begin with.

Average looks like the family that opens their doors to foster kids. Average deals with the after effects of horrible trauma some of these kids have endured. Average stays up at night, dealing with children whose only form of coping is a kind of animalistic behavior. Through it all, they never fail to make those same kids feel loved and feel accepted into the family.

Average looks like the woman with cancer who continues to smile, laugh, enjoy life. Average is in tremendous pain on a daily basis, yet radiates healing through the connection she continues to make to those around her.

Average looks like two sisters from Africa who lost their parents to AIDS. They had to care for them as their parents slowly slipped away, something no child should have to endure. Average is adopted, uprooted and brought to North America where a new life has to be crafted. After all this, they shine with life and with purpose.

Average looks like the mom who stays up into the early hours of the morning, talking, listening and laughing, guiding her adolescent children through their battles with depression and anxiety. Average puts many of her own dreams on hold to help them achieve their dreams. Through it all she displays an unfailing grace.

All these people would be considered average by the standards of our world; not supremely gifted in anything, not famous, not movers and shakers, not headline-makers. But if this is average, does it sound like almost failure to you? If this is average, don’t we need more average in our world?

The truth is that we celebrate those we deem above average, the Great Ones. But our world runs on the power of the Average Ones. They’re the ones who create a world worth living in and worth protecting. They’re the ones who craft lives of real purpose. Their names may not be remembered to history, but without them this place would certainly be hell on earth. Maybe it is time to celebrate them.

Thank God for those blessed to be average. I know I’ve been blessed by them. So, yes, I’d proudly call myself Joe Average. Now to find some other middle-aged guys who want to form a Punk band…