Bobby left to go to work and I joined the crowd that was already outside Tower waiting. A ton of people from the Boston and NY punk scenes were there - the Ducky Boys, Clowns for Progress, the Shods, H2O, people from WFNX and other radio stations, label people, the works.
A little while later Joe Strummer walked through the crowd and went inside. He looked fabulous. He didn't look aged at all, he looked exactly the same as he looked in pictures. He was beautiful. Over the next few years Joe seemed to age much quicker, gaining weight, his jowls becoming more pronounced. But back then he still looked pretty much the same as in his Clash days. Tim came over - "What the fuck happened to you?" I told him about the cab and it turned out they were having lunch at Legal Seafood in the hotel and Tim kept checking to see if I was there yet. I should've stayed in the lobby. I should've checked the restaurants myself because I knew there was a Legal Seafood in the hotel and Bobby didn't. Tim said, "Why don't you come with me after this, I have to take Joe's manager back to the hotel. You'll meet Joe at the party tonight either way." So I felt a little better.
The crowd got bigger and some police and TV people showed up. Tim went inside Tower with the rest of the band. Everyone started yelling "Joe! Bosstones! Joe!" Some idiot kept yelling "White Riot! White Riot!" After awhile they all came out onto the raised steps in front of Tower. Joe made a little speech about the Bosstones, Dicky spoke briefly, and everyone posed for pictures. They unveiled the star and then it was time for the signing.
It was nice and all that the Bosstones got a star on the walk of fame, but most people were really there because of the signing afterwards. The crowd filed into a line that stretched for blocks. I wormed my way inside and one of the managers stuck me in a little corner in the signing room where I could watch and be out of the way. For the next hour or so, I watched people come in and get their shirts, cds, books, tapes, records signed. People were more comfortable talking to the Bosstones than to Joe. When they approached him, you could see the reverence glowing in their faces. Joe was happily chatting, shaking hands, signing. Everyone had something to tell him, some little story about how the Clash had changed their life, how his music had affected them. I just stood there, silently watching, probably boring a hole through Joe's head with my eyes. At one point, he noticed and glanced up at me. I looked away, embarrassed.
I'm not easily starstruck. In fact, until that moment I'd pretty much never been anywhere near starstruck. But seeing Joe for the first time I was the embodiment of the stereotypical drooling idiot fan. But why not? If you spend your whole life being a jaded prick and letting nothing affect you, letting no one you admire impress you and arouse emotion inside you, than you're missing the fucking point of living. Yeah, he was just a guy. He wasn't without his faults. But in some of the darkest, most painful times in my life, the music this man created gave me comfort. It somehow enabled me to find the strength to cope and to see beauty and joy in the world at a time when all I could see was hatred and hardship and alienation. That this impressed me enough that I wanted to stand there like an idiot and stare at him for a little while, so be it. But I also didn't really want to get caught gaping and then have to try to have a normal conversation with him later.
So I went for a walk. When the last fan had been appeased, Tim and I packed up and hopped in the car with Joe's manager (whose name unfortunately I can't remember). He was a nice guy, small, and very talkative. We drove over to the Plaza and he left us in the lobby, saying Joe would be down to meet us in a bit. Tim and I got drinks and sat down.
We were finally going to get the interview, but the thing is, neither of us had really thought of what to ask him. Tim had tried to ask a few questions at dinner the night before, but felt it was kind of impolite and awkward to conduct an interview when everyone else was chatting and having fun. He hadn't had much luck at lunch either. He said Joe was kind of quiet and it might be hard to get him to talk about certain things. That Joe's manager mentioned he wasn't too keen on talking about the Clash. So if we couldn't talk to him about the Clash, then what should we ask? This was before the Mescaleros got together and we weren't sure Joe had any new projects going on. But no mind, he was an interesting guy, and just hearing about his life would be a story enough.
"Hello." I looked up and Joe was sitting next to me, hand extended, his leg touching mine. Sneaky fuck, didn't see him coming. I jumped a little and shook his hand.
"Hey, I'm Margo."
"You do the magazine with Tim, yeah?"
"Well, fantastic, I fucking love it. You guys should really keep at it. I know it's hard work but we really need magazines like yours out there. Don't give up on it. Really."
"Thanks, I'm really glad you like it." I smiled nervously at him.
Joe nodded to Tim and smiled at us both. I couldn't think of a damn thing to say. His leg was touching my leg. There was a piano not far from us that was playing itself. Joe stared at it.
"You see that? What the hell is that? Since when do instruments play by themselves?" He snorted derisively. "Technology and all, but this bullshit is the reason most musicians can't get by. There should be a musician sitting there, getting paid properly to play music. The damn thing shouldn't be playing itself!"
Joe went over and examined the CD player attached to the bottom of the piano. "How do you work this thing?" he asked me. Luckily, I had a friend in high school whose parents had a fancy apartment in Lincoln Center. They were cheezy enough to own a piano like that. She had showed me how it worked. In my head I silently thanked her parents for their bad taste.
I went over and knelt down next to Joe and showed him. He flipped through tracks and we watched the keys press themselves for awhile. When we sat back down, he said "You know, we should really flip that thing over and fucking burn it!" and flashed an impish grin at me. Yeah... there was good reason I always liked this guy.
Joe invited us up to his hotel room. The Bosstones had put him and Lucinda up in a suite, with a big plush living room. We sat down on the couch and Joe went to fetch Lucinda. A large polished wood table in the corner was stacked with bottles of alcohol, cartons of cigarettes, CDs, vinyl, and a bag of weed. Lucinda came out and introduced herself. She was petite, with delicate features and chin-length straight blonde hair. I liked her immediately. I had been sort of curious as to what Joe's wife would be like, and assumed she would be some statuesque brunette, chesty, with big eyes. You know, a rock star's wife. But Lucinda, she wasn't at all what I expected. Although very pretty, she was almost plain. Unglamourous. She seemed simply sweet and genuine. I was glad.
She glanced over at the table and smiled apologetically at us. "I know, it looks a little extreme, but the duty free is just great. We picked it all up at the airport, much cheaper that way." She opened a pack of cigarettes and lit one. I was dying for a cigarette but there was no way I was going to bum one. Well, okay, maybe I would.
"Mind if I bum one off you?" I asked.
"Not at all! Do you want a pack? Just take one, we have so many. Please."
I blushed. "No, I, um, that's okay, I don't want to take..."
"Oh honey, don't worry about it at all. Here." She handed me a pack. They were Silk Cut, King Size. Joe came out of the bedroom and poured us rum and cokes. Everyone settled down, and Tim asked if Joe wouldn't mind our interviewing him for a bit. Joe said sure, and Tim turned on the tape recorder. Then came a knock at the door, and people poured in. Suddenly it was very loud.
Bob Gruen came in with his wife and there were greetings all around. If you don't know who Bob is, he's a very famous rock photographer. He took most of the seminal pictures of the Clash in their heyday, as well as famous pictures of the Sex Pistols, including the one of Sid eating a hotdog with mustard smeared all over his mouth wearing a pin that says "I'm a Mess". Bob also took many early pictures of the Who, and was close friends with John Lennon. He shot the famous picture of John, arms folded, staring into the camera, wearing a cutoff NEW YORK t-shirt. Bob said the t-shirt was his, he had lent it to John. He loved that shirt and could never wear it again after that because everyone would tease him, saying he was trying to be John.
Joe's manager brought Michael Badami. Michael Badami is a big player in the music industry. He does a lot of shit, music publishing and whatnot. I found this out later, but at the time I didn't know who he was.
The interview was officially not happening. Everyone sat down and Joe poured drinks. Bob immediately launched into stories. He spoke loudly and was very animated. He told stories about John Lennon, Yoko, all kinds of people. They all started with "One time John and I were hanging out..." or "This one time so and so and I were hanging out..."
I was very interested in these stories. I don't really remember them all now, but one I do vaguely remember him telling was a story about how it was the 70s and he was living in a dive in the East Village. He had to go pick up his girlfriend's mother for Easter Sunday to go to church or something pious like that. He was nervous that his car was such a rundown piece of shit and John was teasing him about it. He woke up the next day and John had painted obscenities all over his car. He had to pick the girl's mother up with the car covered in curses. Or at least I think that's how the story went. Stuff like that.
Everyone was laughing, talking over each other. Joe, Tim, and I were pretty quiet, listening. One thing struck me as odd, though. Bob and Joe had been good friends for years. Bob obviously knew Lucinda well and Bob's wife had surely heard these stories. There didn't seem to be much provocation for Bob to tell the stories. There was no "Oh, that reminds me of the time...", he just kind of launched into them. I wondered, after all the years that John Lennon was gone, wasn't it a bit odd that Bob was still randomly telling these stories? Did he want to make sure we all knew how famous he was? Did he always just show up at gatherings and launch into it like "I remember John and I, you know, John Lennon of course... well, we just had the darndest time one day..." etc.
Well, whatever the deal was, I wasn't about to complain. Hell, it was interesting and I certainly didn't have any stories about hanging out with John Lennon. When Joe was done playing bartender he sat in a chair across the room next to Lucinda. After awhile he got up, picked up the bag of weed from the table, and sat down next to me on the couch. I was involved in a very interesting discussion with Bob's wife about the Mach 3 razor and how fantastic it was. I had never tried it, but she assured me it was top notch - never even nicked your leg no matter how hard you pressed!
Joe leaned over and tapped me on the leg. "Would you like to smoke?" Okay. Here's the thing. Sure, I liked to smoke. In my living room with my friends. Watching a movie, listening to music. All proper joint-smoking activities. But here I was, sitting on a couch in a room full of famous people feeling just a tad nervous and sorely out of place like - who brought the random little teenage punk rocker to the party? What the hell is she doing here anyway? Shouldn't someone call security?
It was nervewracking enough just being there. Pretty early on I had realized I had absolutely nothing to add to the conversation. As much as I would have liked to impress them with my witty banter, my scathing intellect, a bit of older-than-my-years insight, I had pretty much abandoned any thought of opening my mouth. Or moving at all and drawing any attention whatsoever to myself. I realized that this was one of those times in your life when you don't talk. Just listen. Because I had far more to learn from listening to them than they had from me.
Now Joe Strummer was offering me weed and I was having a moral dilemma. On one hand, if joe-fucking-strummer offers you weed, you don't say no. I mean, how could I live that one down? "I had the chance to get high with Joe Strummer and I declined." I would be lynched by my friends. The pothead ones, anyway. On the other hand, I was trying to make some kind of decent impression and when I got high I had a tendency to giggle and say stupid shit. And when I didn't feel comfortable enough to giggle and say stupid shit, I got paranoid. And this was the kind of room you could get pretty paranoid in. (They're all looking at me/ They want to know what the hell I'm doing here/ I'm the only one here who isn't famous or married to someone famous / They know I'm high/ I have to leave.) That sort of thing.
Well, what the hell. I nodded, and he pulled out papers. "I'm going to show you how to roll the English way. We don't waste weed like you Americans. We mix it in with tobacco, it's better that way and it goes farther in the end." I wasn't a total plebeian, I did know how Europeans rolled their joints. I'd smoked many a European-style joint. I saw no need to tell Joe this, however.
"Could I have a cigarette, please?" He asked. I gave him one and he patiently explained to me all the steps of rolling a proper English joint. I watched, fascinated. Not with the joint rolling, but with the sound of his voice. That voice, so familiar. I'd heard it so many times, knew every
nuance of how it cracked and moved through each song, how it howled, how it sang. And now it was next to me, talking quietly to me, and it was actually concerned that I knew how to roll a proper English joint. When Joe was done, he lit it, and passed it triumphantly to me.
The rest of my time in the hotel room was hazy, as you might imagine. Joe and I talked about the magazine for awhile. Joe and Lucinda talked about their daughters, about how they went shopping for them during the day - one of them was into Hello Kitty and they had found a great store on Newbury and bought a bunch of Hello Kitty stuff for her. They did some record shopping and found a record that Joe had been searching for a long time, and he was excited. It was an old tune and I was the only one who didn't know it, so Joe sang part of it for me. God, that voice. There was something utterly magical about it. Everyone stopped talking to listen.
The one major observation about Joe that stuck with me is that he wasn't a frivolous talker. He kept quiet mostly but when he did speak, it was well thought out and eloquent. It wasn't as if he was trying too hard, it was very natural. He had a kind of quietly authoritative manner, not brash or cocky, but you were aware that he knew what he was talking about. Not only was he knowledgeable, but his observations were always insightful and interesting. This impressed me.
Bob told more stories, Michael told some. They talked briefly about politics and Joe said that sometimes he felt like the immense pressure and slagging brought against people when they spoke publicly about how they felt politically was too much. He felt like at some point no matter how angry you were and how vocal you were about things, that in the end it didn't make a difference, that they just went ahead and did what they wanted anyway. I was startled to hear this.
Granted, this is my version of what he said and what he actually said was more complex and articulate, but that was the gist of it. Although it surprised me to hear him say it, I knew what he meant. I've known many people who fought hard their whole lives for what they believed in, and although the frustration and backlash never really made them stop, it did wear them down. We are only human in the end, and it certainly becomes tiring after awhile to keep banging your head against brick walls. Of course we all know Joe went ahead and did it anyway.
It was time to head out to the party at the Middle East club. Tim and I drove Joe and Lucinda over and on the way Tim took us around Boston a bit and gave them a brief history lesson. Joe had been there before, but not for great lengths of time and was curious about the city.