“Now every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock-n-roll
grabs the mike to tell us, he’ll die before he’s sold…”
– Death or Glory, The Clash
By Eric Odier-Fink
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. We’re taught that each of us should feel as if we were personally taken out of Egypt, and that we should each examine our own lives to find and be freed of our own, current pharaohs. Our own personal liberation from Mitzrayim, the ‘narrow places’. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 70’s and 80’s, most places felt narrow. This was not a unique experience, not for the time nor the place. Without the suffering confines of youth, little progress would be made. Dissatisfaction is what breeds innovation. But I happened to have my childhood and adolescence run side by side (forgive the reference) with that of punk rock.
The promise of the new era of the 60’s was already waning by its end- the promised land of Cana’an had run dry. The hippies were already giving up and/or giving in (this is over simplification, but stands for a short piece), and true redemption was being forfeited for either the decadence of the disco, the surrender of the mediocrity of soft rock, or conservatism of Southern rock. Some got lost in fantasy, others in despair. Some just got drunk and screwed anything they could. I don’t blame them. Entirely. They had been presented with the hope of the social movements, only to find that sustaining those movements against overwhelming odds and Pyhrric victories was simply too hard for most.
We, the true believers in something better- and better for *all*- were a bit lost. Iggy, the first of our brothers to have visions of what could be was cast out. Just too radical a message, him, the Stooges, and the MC5. Maybe, had they been heeded, the famine might have ended. But down to Egypt we went.
Even as a young boy, living in NY in the 70’s made me believe the world was falling apart. And while I wax nostalgic for it now, at the time things really were bleak. And then the bush caught fire: a couple of Jews from Queens and a couple of their friends, calling themselves the Ramones, started screaming. They were as eloquent as a their mentally handicapped mascot, but they transmitted one important message: this way out. And to complete the narrative, someone or something had to play Moses: a wanderer, educated yet adrift, named John Mellor, heard this message and answered the call.
Joe Strummer put the rage of post-60’s frustration to use. He saw what that fire could mean. Papa Joe, throughout his career, actually imagined a better world. And while he toyed with fashion and cool, it was part of a package- the trappings are the medium to get people to the message. Towards the end of his life, middle age, hopefully, for the rest of us, Joe had a bonfire fetish. Just sit around the fire and talk and sing. Spread the message around the flames: The world can be better.
So this may push the Exodus metaphor a bit far, but the point is made: the world can be better, and it is what Torah teaches us.