John Graham Mellor 21 August 1952 – 22 December 2002
We went down to San Diego to catch the Clash on the Combat Rock tour, what was that, 1982?
Real excitement to see a show, the kind of thrill that has been worn down from years of countless gigs and shameless guestlist action.
But then we were bubbling over and pregaming in a shabby motel room, taking turns at writing our fantasy setlists on the blank back pages of a Gideon’s bible.
Will they open with Complete Control? Safe Euro Home?
We downed another Coors banquet and joined the other kids walking to the show, a tribe united.
The band was at the top of their game, though sadly without Topper Headon onboard.
They had mastered the form, slaying the crowd with guitar and shout, had the room going crazy as one.
But it was when they did Straight to Hell, Joe bathed in blue spotlight, alone, that’s when they really showed the power of the quiet moment.
He told his story of Eurasian throwaways in almost a whisper, and it made the song all the more tragic and beautiful.
Oh, there were lots of other Clash shows after, watching them graduate to actual stadiums as The Who brought them along for one of their many farewells.
We left the Coliseum before Townshend did his first windmill of the night, satisfied that our boys took the baton from the aging gray rockers with style.
Then we suffered through Cut the Crap with everyone else, wanting so hard to go along on this new lineup but never being able to forgive Joe for cutting off Mick Jones.
They went out with a whimper, it turns out.
The only band that matters faded out finally.
Then with the Mescaleros, it seemed as though Joe had a renewed sense of creativity, and there were even whispers of a reunion.
Was it too mush to hope for, a comeback that would be not just a quick cash in tour, but a reconciliation of men still in creative prime?
I got the news that Joe passed on Dec 22. And now Christmas will always be linked to that death, just as Easter always reminds me of the other king Joe, Ramone, who passed on that very holiday of rebirth: irony intact.
And if we thrust sainthood upon them, our Joes who art in heaven, it is more for our own comfort, nothing to do with them.
After all, he was no angel, by all accounts a bit of a hothead stoner and control freak–this was the man who kicked goddamned Mick Jones out of a band for fucks’ sake!
But what do ya want?
We have to validate our love and our life somehow, don’t we?
And so we wear the T-shirts and paint the murals, making our heroes live on.
A night after the news had spread, I went to the local House of Blues for one of the myriad Social Distortion shows that used to take over that shed for all of December.
I ran into a lot of people, some would burst into actual tears, though most just used the tragic news as an excuse to get drunker than usual.
Ness came out, and instead of the usual opener he and a keyboard player did a slow quiet version of When Angels Sing.
I was reminded of that night decades ago, and a quiet moment that changed me.
Joe onstage, alone in a spotlight.