Punk rock was never meant to gain municipal recognition, but with time it often occurs that what was once rebellion becomes part of the establishment. Joe Strummer of the Clash has been no stranger to public acknowledgement, and yesterday the city of Granada, Spain, named a plaza in his honor.
Sitting in the Plaza de Carmen waiting for my contact from the Granada City Council to take me to the plaque unveiling what is now known as Placeta de Joe Strummer, I thought about how much dissension there was once in Portland, Oregon, when they tried to rename a street after the renowned Latino American civil rights activist Caesar Chavez. In Granada, memorializing Strummer seemed to meet with no opposition—in fact, it was being viewed as a moment of great importance.
Prior to his death in 2002, Strummer was a frequent visitor to Granada. He first came in the 1970s with Slits drummer Palmolive, his girlfriend at the time. He would later immortalize the city in the classic 1979 song "Spanish Bombs" in which he referred to the city as his corazon and paid homage to the famous Granadino poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. Over the years he could be spotted rollicking through the Albayzin neighborhood. His daughters said they would join their father on his all night pub crawls as he worked his way from bar to bar collecting a Pied Piper crew of drinking companions. The idea for the tribute to Strummer dates back from late 2011 when local residents launched a Facebook campaign trying to lobby the city to name a square after him. In the end thousands of residents and a number of local political groups—including conservative city council members working in tandem with socialist unions—petitioned to make it so, and Placeta de Strummer became a reality.
Placeta de Strummer is situated in a quiet neighborhood called the Realejo, just outside the red walls of the Alhambra castle. It is a smallish, dirt-covered square with a few pine trees and a drinking fountain carved in stone. There is a breathtaking view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Just below this vista there is a large mural depicting Strummer's face—it was in this little square where his family and friends along with hundreds of residents and fans gathered to say a few words and have a bit of fun in his honor.
The evening began with a speech by Marcia Farquhar, a friend of Strummer's. She spoke about how much the "extraordinary leader of lost boys and lost girls" loved Granada and Spain. This was followed by a few words from his widow Lucinda Garland, who reiterated his appreciation for the city and its people. Looking on were his daughters Jazz and Lola, as well as Richard Dudanski of Strummer's pre-Clash band the 101ers and Public Image Ltd.
Following the unveiling of the plaque, there was music and revelry. The air filled with the undeniable scent of marijuana and bottles of wine circulated through the crowd as it was regaled by a Clash cover band made up of members from the Spanish band 091 (for whom Strummer had produced an album and worked with extensively), his old backup band the Mescaleros, and Jem Finer of the Pogues.
A slew of Clash classics rang out into the night, including "Spanish Bombs", "London Calling" and "Guns of Brixton.” Passersby were drawn into the festivity as smiling neighbors looked on from windows and balconies. Undoubtedly the celebrations were loud, but things are always loud in Granada—perhaps that's one of the reasons Strummer was drawn here in the first place.
It is an interesting moment for one of the great chiefs of punk music to garner such a recognition in Spain. Street demonstrations have been rocking the country on a regular basis, and youth unemployment has reached an insufferable nadir. Benefits are being steadily cut to the lower-classes, people are being turned out of their homes, and a number of provinces are renewing their calls for independence—could there be a more fertile atmosphere for the sound of rebellion?