Are you sure you’re not overreacting just a bit?
We’re fucked, I’m telling ya! I asked the guy who told me about the cows what he thought about my new album, and he said [Strummer whispers], “I’m waiting to hear it on vinyl. Then I will truly know what the music is like.” I went, “Jesus, he’s right!”
You’re 47 now. Does the idea of turning 50 scare you?
No way! I had to wait ten years to make it back into music. What I did is make a deal with the devil. I said, “I’m going to take ten years off, but when I come back I want to still look 37.” So somewhere along the line what I lost by signing that stupid contract with the record company, I gained by pleading with the gods of rock ’n’ roll. It’s only right.
You do look great. But don’t you also credit your youthful appearance to large amounts of marijuana?
The thing is this: Just now they’re discovering that Prozac can bring out suicidal and murderous tendencies that have been suppressed in people. People are going out of their minds. There are people jumping off the rails, if you know what I mean. Perhaps the government should check out marijuana as an alternative. You’re never going to jump off the rail after smoking a spliff. I reckon a spliff is probably a better Prozac than Prozac. Do you see what I mean? It should be recognized. It grows out of the earth. Meanwhile, everyone in government is drinking gin and tonics.
Is punk rock something you grow out of?
Never’ You see, punk rock is like the Mafia. Once you’re made, you’re made. Punk rock is not the clothes or the music. Punk rock is an attitude.
As the don’t-give-me-any-bullshit-cause-I-can-see-right-through-to-the-heart-of-the-situation attitude. Because I’m wise to the tricks of the world. We’re sick of all the bullshit. Give us some truth. That’s the energy of punk rock. But don’t get me wrong, it’s a hard way to live. I’m a difficult person to be with.
So the years haven’t softened you?
I’m more gnarly than in the past. Being ten years’ unfamous after being famous for five years is a great thing because it makes you hard as nails. I just don’t care anymore.
Which life did you prefer more, the famous or unfamous?
Being unfamous was nothing. could do 50 more years of being unfamous. Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t give a fuck. I could drive a fucking cab. I don’t give a fuck about my career, and that is a great thing.
If you don’t give a fuck about your career, why go on tour with the Mescaleros?
Hey, I got a second chance, so I’m taking it. It’s like Indian summer. I got the greatest group of musicians ever assembled. Ya gotta check us out. We’re smokin’. We’ve reconstructed the way music is played. We’re into telepathic jamming.
What do you hope will come from Rock Art and the X-Ray Style?
I just want to put out a record that’s worth having. I wanted to make a record that I would play. In fact, I told the MTV kids not to buy it. “Don’t waste your money on this, because this is a grown-ups’ record.” The record-company guys love when I say that.
Are you surprised that the Mescaleros have received such a warm reception from both fans and critics?
No, it’s because I chilled out for ten years. That’s a good little rest-up, ain’t it? If I would have kept going, I would be burned out now.
Yeah, but it wasn’t like you did nothing for ten years. Didn’t you work on a few movie soundtracks?
Yeah, I did the soundtrack to Sid and Nancy. Little bitty things like that. When they say I did the soundtrack to Sid and Nancy, what it really boils down to is one tune or two. [Strummer also did the scores for Permanent Record and Walker.]
What did you think of the film version of Sid Vicious’s life?
It was too long.
Are you surprised that the Sex Pistols’ lead singer, Johnny Rotten— a.k.a. Johnny Lydon— is still around?
I love that man . I think he’s a great poet. I wish him all the best things in the world.
He seems just as angry as you.
Yeah, so let him rock!
Rolling Stone said that the Clash was the greatest band that ever lived.
I’ll tell ya why they said that — we paid them 500 bucks each.
Many people agreed.
It’s a ludicrous thing. I mean, let all the bands be. There are many bands out there that are great. I’m into a variety of bands today.