Hey Joe

Sean Gullette
Originally Written for Gear
2003





All across the town
All across the night
Everybody's driving with full headlights
Black or white turn it on face the new religion
Everybody's sitting round watching television

Midwinter 1982, 1000 feet over Chicago-O'Hare in the dark I am strapped into the bulkhead seat of a PanAm 727 bucking wildly in a certain-death descent towards the icy runway. On our last approach we pulled up and out when we were low enough to make out runway lights just yards away through the whipping snow. Now we're trying again.

People are brick-tight with fear, sitting very still, some holding hands. The stewardesses are belted in and expressionless. The woman next to me is glaring at me with pure hate, her jaws locked dangerously hard, gripping the armrests like she's going to tear them loose.

It doesn't help that I'm laughing, grinning, my knee going 100 beats a minute and my head thrashing with an overpowering surge of pleasure. Clamped to my head are a set of Sony headphones and blasting out of them to wake the dead Joe Strummer screams over a blistering 4/4 assault by Jones and Simenon like there is no tomorrow, and I'm barking along with it, not giving a shit:

I get violent when I'm fucked up
I get silent when I'm drugged up
Want excitement, don't get none, I go wild

I am laughing because this music is so good and fierce and and RIGHT NOW that I'm ready to die, I am a 14 year old samaurai, bring on the somersaulting steel, the blast of icy air, the screaming. Bring it all on.

Yankee soldier
He wanna shoot some skag
He met it in Cambodia
But now he can't afford a bag

Yankee dollar talk
To the dictators of the world
In fact it's giving orders
An' they can't afford to miss a word

Sophomore year of high school and me, Luke Dawson, and Chris Ford are getting baked in the car, cranking I'm So Bored with the USA on a terrible tape deck, banging on the dashboard.

I pop the tape into my walkman and walk into the big school, along the prison architecture of Main Street, as the cliques swirl around me -- the jocks, the punks, the townies, the Commonwealth Avenue rich kids, the granola munchers...

I am not one of you. I am me. Fuck you all. I walk alone. And across America and the world 100,000 kids walk that naive proud adolescent walk, a huge straggling misfit army with no leader or rules, but an ethic of contradictions and defiance driven by that brilliant poser Joe Strummer a hoarse anthem against conformity, control, and the comfortable lobotomy They offer you with a smile...

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?

1989. We are driving a Toyota pickup, the second vehicle in a convoy of 40 trucks, loaded with 100 Viet Nam veterans and a few dozen tons of food, medicine and clothing, through Southern Honduras. We've been on the road for 6 weeks, traveled 4000 miles, been stopped at the border by the US Secretary of State. It's 100 degrees and humid. Our destination Nicaraguan border is 40 miles ahead when we hear the distant sharp crack crack crack of rifle fire. Those guys have US-made Claymore mines that Reagan and Ollie North gave them. They can detonate them by manual remote from any of these hillsides. Once they did it to a schoolbus full of kids.

In the lead truck right ahead of us Big Bob Livesey, makes his Marine Corps "hoo-ah" gesture with his right hand and speeds up. These vets understand US foreign policy from the inside -- Southeast Asia, Central America, South America: same shit, different day...

We light the 25th evil Mexican cigarette of the day, grin, push the throttle down, and crank up the little tape player sitting on the dashboard as loud as it goes:

As every cell in Chile will tell
The cries of the tortured men
Remember Allende, and the days before,
Before the army came

Please remember Victor Jara,
In the Santiago Stadium,
Es verdad - those Washington Bullets again

Christmastime 2002, New York City, alone in a taxi to the airport at 6 AM.

It's a flat cold winter morning, mortality in the slanting sunlight, winter coming, shorter days drawing to a close, one after the other...34 years worth.

The Haitian driver is listening to BBC World Service and I hear that Joe Strummer's dead.

I feel so thin and weary with self doubt that the light shines right through me without making a shadow. I can't feel much of anything.

I dig out a neglected Clash disc from the bottom of my bag out and slip it into my little red plastic sony disc player.

All across the town
all across the night
Everybody's driving with full headlights
Black or white turn it on, face the new religion
Everybody's sitting 'round watching television...

Saved again. Aiplanes taking off into the cold air, disappearing into the bellies of the clouds.