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Talking Spaghetti with Joe Strummer - by Pat Dull

As I write this, I am listening to the first album I ever bought with my own money.  I bought London Calling by The Clash because I had read a tremendous review describing the opening title track as “too apocalyptic” for the other songs to follow.  Scooping up my meager paper-route and lawn-mowing earnings, I simply had to get that album.

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I bugged my parents to drive me to the Salem Mall in Dayton, Ohio and - once there - dashed immediately into Camelot Music.  I vividly remember London Calling being displayed majestically, six copies wide, upon the wall.  When I saw the cover, I was 100% certain it would be the greatest record I had ever heard.  When I learned it was a double-LP selling for the price of a single, I was even more certain than 100%.  

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Back home, I played the shit out of that record.  I had never heard anyone sing like Joe Strummer; it utterly floored me.  In a later interview, Joe claimed he was not a singer: “Sam Cooke – now that’s a singer.”  Whatever. I loved his voice, and I really loved London Calling.

My mom was not quite as smitten, however, and was constantly yelling “Turn that down!” up the stairs.  Fortunately, thanks to Joe’s unique enunciation (or maybe just because the sound was travelling through the floorboards) she never quite seemed to hear the lyrics.  To her, it was all just noise. That all changed, however, the day mom decided to snoop in my room while I was at school.

Snooping Mom lower left corner.

Snooping Mom lower left corner.

Although my room was suspiciously tidy when I got home, it did not seem openly violated.  We had dinner like normal people – we definitely had spaghetti – and afterward I went to play London Calling.  The records were on the turntable – double-stacked – and the album cover was on my bed.  Hunky dory.

I typically read album credits and lyrics while listening to records, so I started to scan my room for the two inner sleeves.  Those sleeves were printed with handwritten notes and lyrics, and were almost as important to me as the music itself. But they were not anywhere I looked – and I looked everywhere.  I flipped that room upside-down, but the sleeves simply were not to be found.

Eventually – and reluctantly – I asked mom if she had seen them.  Her response was a wickedly cold, calm, and cryptic, “You don’t need to know where those are.”

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I protested: “What? Why?!?”  “You don’t need trash like that,” she said.  I knew then that she had thrown them away, and I was pretty sure which lyrics had doomed the sleeves to the trash heap.  

While the lyrics on London Calling can be earthy – see “Lover’s Rock” for frank talk on erectile dysfunction – I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable about any of them, except one.  If you’ve heard the album, you know the one: “He who fucks nuns will later join the church,” (from “Death or Glory”). On the other hand, however, my parents had raised me fiercely Protestant, and I was fairly certain Martin Luther would have approved of, If not this exact lyric, then at least the spirit of it.

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Further, I felt the first stirrings of independence mixed with righteous indignation: those sleeves were mine, and I had paid for them.  How dare she take them. I was nun-fucking mad.

I resolved to get the sleeves back somehow, and landed upon the rather obvious scheme of sneaking out of the house to salvage them from the trash.  To this day, I am surprised mom had no counter-offensive prepared. A rookie mistake for a mother of four.

That night, after everyone went to bed, I quietly snuck out of my small second story bedroom window, climbed down a nearby TV antenna, crept through the backyard to the garage and, in the dark, rummaged through the garbage cans.  I found the sleeves relatively quickly – they were on top of the pile, and had been angrily crumpled into two little balls of paper. Oh yeah, they were also freshly splotched with that evening’s spaghetti sauce. On the return trip to my room, I nearly fell off the TV antennae as I tried to silently climb back through the window. Back inside, I wiped the sleeves clean and pressed them between two large, heavy books.  After a few days, they were pretty flat and, although stained with spaghetti sauce, they resumed their rightful place inside London Calling, where they remain to this day.

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Almost 20 years later – on November 15, 1999, to be exact – I was in Columbus, Ohio, having moved there for school.  That night, Joe Strummer was in town playing at the Newport, in support of his solo LP, Rock, Art & the X-Ray Style.  I was going to the show, having won tickets that morning during a CD-101 radio contest: I had to sing Clash lyrics on the air over the phone.  (editor’s note: I REMEMBER this. I was listening to CD-101 that day when Pat won.) The show was great, of course, and I tried to meet Joe afterward by waiting around the back door of the venue. Unbelievably, I was the only person waiting.  A roadie popped his head out of the door and said “Don’t worry, Joe will come out this way, he always meets with fans.”  He popped out several more times, reassuring me each time. As I was the only person waiting, we actually spoke a bit, and I remember giving him some Twizzlers.  His name was Brian.

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After about half an hour, Brian came out again and said, quite sincerely, “Hey, I’m really sorry, but Joe got snagged by some radio people, and he went out the front door.”  Man, I was bummed. Joe was my hero, I had brought London Calling with me to get signed, and I had even made friends with Brian, but now I had to go home without meeting Joe Strummer.

Four days later, my roommate Eric asked me if I wanted to go to Cleveland to see Joe Strummer at the Odeon – he had free passes waiting at the box office.  Of course I wanted to go, so we piled into his brother’s car and drove two hours to Cleveland.

Once there, however, tragedy struck: the passes were not at the box office, and we had stupidly brought no money with us.  Supremely disappointed, we began to trudge back to the car for the long drive back to Columbus. Before we had walked 20 steps, however, I saw Brian, the roadie, walking up to the Odeon.  

I called out to him – “Brian!”  He turned around and recognized me – those Twizzlers had paid off!  I quickly explained what happened, and he just as quickly said not only would he get us four passes to the show, but he would also get us four backstage passes to meet Joe afterward!  

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True to his word, that is exactly what Brian did.  After the show, he escorted us backstage, ahead of everyone else – even radio contest-winners.  The band was sitting around toweling off, having been off-stage for only about 10 minutes or so.  There Joe was, not 10 feet away from me. When Brian introduced us, Joe immediately said “have a beer!”  Which, of course, we did.

I was shaking with excitement – here I was, having a beer with Joe Strummer!  Joe was sitting down, and I was standing next to him. He very kindly, very patiently, listened to me gush about his records, and he happily signed my copy of London Calling.  When he saw Mick Jones’ autograph already on the LP, he faux-angrily pointed to Mick’s autograph and said “wanker.”  Hilarious!

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Joe was so generous with his time that I could not resist telling him about how I bought the record with my own money, how my mom had thrown away the inner sleeves, how I climbed out of the window to get them back, and how I then cleaned and re-flattened them.  I even pulled out the sleeves to show him the still-visible spaghetti stains. Again, he was so kind, so patient.

People often say, “Don’t meet your heroes.”  Not true. At the end of my breathless, five-minute re-telling of my life, Joe didn’t appear tired or bored, although he may have been both.  Instead, he smiled, looked me right in the eye, and said “That is the greatest story anyone has ever told me about the inner sleeves of one of my records.”  He didn’t have to say that, but he did. And I believed him. And I still believe him.

Pat Dull was born and lowered in Greenville, Ohio.  Back in the 1950's, his dad saw live shows by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley.  Pat has never seen anything remotely as cool as that, but he does have a boyish curiosity that gets him into scrapes from time to time.

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