I first met Joe on September 23, 2000 in New York City.. My friend Marc Spitz left a message on my voice mail to meet him at Toad Hall on Grand Street in SoHo…Joe Strummer would be there. I got to the place before Marc and sat right down and introduced myself. I told Mr. Strummer how I had once found Allen Ginsberg’s hand written “corrections” to his Combat Rock lyrics in a draw at Allen’s home office. As we casually chatted about poetry and Morocco, I sketched a crude portrait on a piece of stationary from the SoHo Grand (the hotel around the corner where Joe was staying). I also jotted down some lines from our collaborative free-verse. After inspecting the finished product, Joe immediately signed it and dated it “Sept. 23/4 2002.” By now it was a little bit past midnight.
I soon learned that Joe was in town as part of a group of friends that the artist Damien Hirst had flown in for his opening at the Gagosian Gallery. At one point, Joe started throwing pretzels across the room at Damien, screaming: “You rich cunt!” As the evening progressed, someone began to strum an acoustic guitar. Eventually the guitar got passed around. One guy played “Louie Louie” and, en masse, the whole backroom of Toad Hall began to sing along. Next it was “Twist and Shout” and “La Bamba” (all basically variations of the same tune). I was seated next to Joe at his right. When the guitar got passed to him he immediately put it in my lap. “Now, let’s see what you do,” he challenged me. I paused for a moment. I thought: what song would Joe appreciate that everyone could easily sing along to? I needed a campfire “Kumbaya” that was clever and cool. I started strumming the chord progression Am F C G for Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” and, as I began to sing, quickly truncated the first verse to get to the hook: “La la la la la la la la.” Instantaneously, the whole bar erupted into their own drunkenly boisterous “La la las.” As I turned a bit to look at Joe I noticed the beatific smile on his face. He leaned after a few more choruses and whispered in my ear: “You’re a fucking genius.”
At some point after this beer hall sing-along, Marc Spitz arrived. He stood by us sheepishly not knowing what to say. Joe leaned into me.
“Is he alright?”
“Yeah man, he’s o.k.,” I explained. “He writes for Spin.” As soon as that sentence left my lips I wanted it back. Joe shot me a disturbed look.
Luce gave Joe some money and looked straight into my eyes: “Make sure he gets home O.K.”
We head over to Bar 13 at Marc’s suggestion.
Before we got into a cab I called Sisko up on my cell phone but got his answering machine. Joe took the phone from me “Sisko! Siko Kid! This is Joe Strummer speaking.” Get down here; immediately!” Sisko forgot to save the message.
Doing the French Twist
Closing time. “David, don’t leave me.”
Joe grabbing my feet crawling on the floor. I tried to kick him off me. The bar-back was wearing a Clash T’shirt. He was the only one left in the place besides me and Joe. He was closing up and he had to kick us out. He had such a pained expression on his face. It was the last thing he wanted to do.
Ran downstairs to get a cab. The sun was up.
I felt guilty and went back to the hotel. Called up to his room to make sure he got back ok. “Is he alright?” Luce yells: “No he’s not alright, he’s bouncing off the walls.”
We e-mailed a bit.
Then while I was living at the Chelsea Hotel, Joe did a week long residency at St Anne in Brooklyn. I was only planning on seeing him one night, I Was reluctant. I was apprehensive thinking it might be too intense. When I saw him backstage before the show, he placed his own backstage pass laminate around my neck and pushed it into my chest: “You’re coming every night…and you can bring a friend.
“Bankrobber” was transcendent.
Sitting at a table with Joe and Jim and Steve Buscemi. Joe kept introducing me to Jim and Steve, who I already knew. Jim I knew since I was 19 in fact and had talked his ear off in Max Fish and various music clubs for years. Joe screamed across the table: “Jim do you know David Greenberg? He’s fuckin’ genius.”
Jim smiled and shook his head, hiding a chuckle. “Yes, Joe I know David.”
Joe seemed disappointed that everybody already knew me and he hadn’t made some like great discovery. It was silly really.
I also realized that night of the first show that Joe always added a little bit of tobacco to his joints which really annoyed the hell out of me. After smoking for hours I finally said, please let me roll one without tobacco. Joe produced a slim joint from his jacket pocket: “I swear, David, this one has no tobacco, I swear.” I took one toke and coughed.
Joe put his hand on his head. “I lied David, why did I lie to you?”
“You can’t handle your weed, Joe.”
“You’re right, I need tobacco in my spliff.”
I finally brought Sisko along.
Somebody from Triple 5 Soul gave Joe a shirt. He put it on and then turned to me. “Is this a cool shirt?” Yeah it is. Joe then took it off and put it on me…literally as the old saying goes giving me the shirt off his back.
I think Bob Gruen didn’t want me in this photo but Joe said: “David, sit right there and don’t move.” It was the only way he could get Mr. Gruen to take a picture of Joe and me. Joe was the coolest guy. Jack Kerouac’s picture was above his head. That was planned by me. The photo looks very casual, but Joe and I set it all up. Kerouac is drinking a beer in the photo. Later that night Joe asked me: “David, are we gonna get into Heaven?”
Last thing he said to me right outside the Grammercy Park Hotel: “David, let’s be friends forever!” I said ok. Then he said: “Forever and a day…this day.” I never spoke to him again.
When I checked my e-mail after hearing on the radio that he had died, there was a message from his wife Luce saying Joe was looking for me but didn’t have my number. He wanted to talk to me. But it was too late.
I miss him so much. I feel like I was robbed of a longer friendship. A few weeks after he died, I was walking down Bowery around midnight all sad and gloomy thinking of him. As I approached the corner at Houston Jim Jarmusch ran right into me. He was thinking about Joe too. At least Jim had so many years of friendship with him. He really was such a great decent guy, with an energy that was at times almost too much for even me to handle.