Jesse Malin Breaks Down Strummer Save Our Stages Benefit With Springsteen, Bob Weir, More
Kevin Mazur / Getty Images – Back at the Bowery
Jesse Malin returns to the stage – albeit without an audience – at the Bowery Electric, which he co-owns, for a livestreamed gig in June.
Joe Strummer left a vast cultural footprint – and now some of the late Clash founder’s closest friends, collaborators and acolytes are harnessing his legacy to keep the independent venues where he made his name alive.
“A Song For Joe: Celebrating The Birthday of Joe Strummer” airs Friday at 3 p.m. ET and will unite a spectrum of musical talent including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Weir, Jeff Tweedy, Tom Morello and Lucinda Williams, along with other luminaries such as Steve Buscemi, Shepard Fairey and Beto O’Rourke in service of NIVA and its Save Our Stages Act.
Courtesy Gates of the West – Strummer SOS
Figures from Bruce Springsteen to Beto O’Rourke will participate in the “A Song For Joe: Celebrating The Birthday of Joe Strummer” broadcast.
The streaming event, which coincides with what would’ve been the rocker’s 68th birthday, is a natural, COVID-era extension of the Gates Of The West all-star Clash benefits that singer-songwriter Jesse Malin and Jeff Raspe, a DJ on New Jersey public radio station WBJB, have hosted in conjunction with the Joe Strummer Foundation in recent years.
With Dark Horse Records, the George Harrison-founded imprint that also oversees Strummer’s estate, in the fold, the tribute has reached a “bigger, super level,” Malin tells Pollstar.
“We thought for Joe’s birthday, this would be a great time to bring people in that are feeling really isolated,” says Malin, adding that the event came together “out of a passion for the music and the spirit of Joe on his birthday and his message, but also at a time where live music and how it will exist is so uncertain.”
Malin and company assembled the event in only a month – an achievable feat given the widespread reverence for Strummer, who died in 2002. In fact, the immediate outpouring of interest presented one of the primary challenges for the “A Song For Joe” team.
“The people he touched, if we really went for it, we’d probably be doing this for a telethon length,” Malin says with a laugh. “We have more than we can fit in without making it turn into ‘Gone With The Wind’ or ‘Godfather 3.’ It was about keeping it a good tight show and figuring out as a collective what the best bill would be, too.”
Unseen live footage of The Clash and Strummer’s later band The Mescaleros shot by longtime videographer Don Letts and other remembrances from Strummer collaborators like filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and photographer Josh Cheuse will stitch the show’s performances together, making every second of the gig’s two-hour runtime count.
“We want it to be concise and in your face – like a Clash song,” Malin says. “It’s been fun trying to put the running order together, give it a setlist and have that impact like a show does.”
Malin’s most recent Clash events were 40th anniversary tributes to the band’s seminal London Calling, held at New York’s Bowery Ballroom and L.A.’s The Roxy in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Some “A Song For Joe” artists, including Bad Brains’ HR and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and Tad Kubler, have participated in Malin’s Clash programs before.
Other heavyweights may be new, but have deep connections to Strummer and The Clash nonetheless.
Reddit – Workingman’s Dead
The Clash’s Joe Strummer (left) and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir (right) cross paths in the ’80s.
Take Bob Weir, who regaled Malin with Strummer stories when they covered “Death or Glory” together – Weir’s contribution to “A Song For Joe” – at the Grateful Dead member’s TRI Studios in 2012.
“Bob and the Clash had a real connection, where Joe really wanted to know how the Grateful Dead had gotten so big, but stayed grassroots to their fans at the same time,” Malin says. “Bob told me about a conversation they had on a roof until about nine in the morning, drinking a bottle of wine in Philadelphia when both bands were touring in the ’80s, and Joe was really curious to see how the Dead kept it so real.”
The precise details have been lost to the sands of time, but the Dead and the Clash both played Philly on April 21, 1984, the former at the Philadelphia Civic Center, the latter at the Spectrum.
Earlier this year, before the pandemic hit, Malin had been on tour supporting the Americana hero Williams, and knew she shared his love of the Clash.
“She’s going in her direction with something that’s a little heavier,” says Malin, noting that Williams’ 2020 album Good Souls Better Angels “has a great message … very close to what the Clash and Joe Strummer stood for.”
And Beto O’Rourke, the Texas politician who flashed punk cred during his unsuccessful presidential run, accentuates the political gravity of the moment.
“He’s never been shy about showing his affinity for the Clash and his feelings toward people and equality and the right thing,” Malin says. “It’s wonderful, in these times especially, to have somebody like that that is on the right team and is intelligent, that has heart, coming up to speak.”
Of course, the lineup’s most noteworthy inclusion is likely Springsteen, who has previously covered both The Clash and The Mescaleros and even quoted Strummer in his acclaimed Broadway show.
Springsteen and Strummer had a mutual bond, and Malin says that the first time he met the Boss – they’ve collaborated on stage and in the studio, including for Malin’s 2007 song “Broken Radio” – they went deep on The Clash, with Springsteen talking about everything from Strummer’s pre-Clash band The 101ers to his final posthumous album with The Mescaleros, Streetcore.
“They’re artists for the people and of the people, and he sees himself in the crowd the way Joe did,” Malin says. “He’s humble, he’s connected, he knows what it’s like to be a fan, and he’s not afraid to stand up and say what he feels during hard times and put down his heart and soul.”
Debra L. Rothenberg / Getty Images – Strumming For Strummer
Bruce Springsteen joined Malin during a January performance at Light of Day Winterfest in January at Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, N.J.
It’s all in service of ensuring independent stages remain after COVID, so that future artists can enjoy the same starts as Springsteen, Strummer and legions of others. The topic’s close to the heart for Malin, who co-owns Manhattan clubs Bowery Electric, Niagara and Berlin, and has hosted the weekly livestream series “The Fine Art of Self Distancing” throughout the pandemic to benefit his road crew and the musicians in his band. (In the next installment, scheduled for Aug. 27, Malin will perform his 2004 album The Heat in full for the first time.)
At first, Malin “thought it was antiseptic and disconnected to play to a camera,” but quickly came around. Like many artists, he’s quick to reiterate that “nothing really matches” physical concerts, but says the gigs have given him creative direction, his fans entertainment and connection and his associates financial relief.
“I’m a guy that used to not be able to even work the Apple TV or the DVD player or the iPhone 25 or whatever, and I had to learn how to be able to put this all together,” he says.
In June, Malin made a proper return to stage at Bowery Electric, albeit without an audience. And “A Song For Joe” and the Save Our Stages effort more broadly are fighting so venues will still be there “for the next generations of bands and the next Joe Strummers and the next Blondies and Basquiats and all the things that come from the nightclub community and live venue community,” Malin says.
Few artists embody the cause more than Strummer.
“The Clash, The Mescaleros, Joe Strummer were such a thing of the people, that that audience really understands that this is about unity and coming together to help each other out,” Malin says. “We’re excited on two levels: to have a really fun show, to really see how great that catalog is, and also how he’s affected so many people, so many artists, who have been influenced not just by the music, but by the message.”
“A Song For Joe: Celebrating The Birthday of Joe Strummer” broadcasts Friday at 3 p.m. ET via Strummer’s official Facebook and YouTube pages.