Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 356
Mon, Jan 06, 2013
“The Unknown Immortal”
In between disbanding The Clash and finding his creative resurrection with The Mescaleros, Joe Strummer was invited in 1987 by Sid & Nancy director Alex Cox to act in Walker. Cox’s film is the story of William Walker who invaded Mexico in the 1850’s and shortly after named himself President of Nicaragua. Strummer talked about how this soundtrack opportunity came to him when he said, “Alex Cox and the writer of the film Rudy Wurlitzer wrote parts for me and Dick Rude, another of the veterans from the wonderful Straight to Hell, ha ha. We were supposed to be comic relief from the classy actors. But of course we got cut out; it was classic cutting room parts. I felt it would be from the time I got down there. But, after six week, Alex turned round to me and said, “Do the score.” The film took 10 weeks to shoot; I went back to England to sort a few things then went back to Grenada in the south of Nicaragua and wrote the score in weeks.”
Composing a soundtrack was a new creative endeavor for Joe Strummer, according to Marcus Gray who wrote in his book, The Clash: The Return of the Last Gang in Town, “When [Joe] was with the 101ers, and much of the time with the Clash, Joe’s ability to compose music had been limited to sketching out some rudimentary chords.” As mentioned in Gray’s book, Cox cited Bob Dylan’s Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid as model for what he wanted Joe to compose for Walker, Strummer found inspiration in his Latin American upbringing having lived in Mexico City with his family. Joe explained this in Gray’s book, “The key for me was finding the Mexican harmony. Once I found that, I could hear the trumpet part in my brain.”
Strummer found rhythmic revelations for the Walker soundtrack in those hills of Nicaragua as he explained, “Nicaragua was just like being in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book. There’s nothing to do except sit outside on rocking chairs, rocking the mosquitoes away. You’d sit there in the afternoon and feel so clear in the mind that it was like being on a different planet.”
“The Unknown Immortal” is one of the few songs on Walker that has Joe Strummer vocals. Just listen to the way Strummer croons sounding truly “Immortal” on “Unknown.” “Unknown” is the theme for Walker but what’s distinctive to me is that the Latin flavored score is the sound that would eventual spark Strummer to form and play with his beloved Mescaleros. You can picture Joe sitting outside in Nicaragua writing his chords smiling while singing, you can hear Strummer stripped back his Punk Rock persona, as he sings, literally become “The Unknown Immortal” legend.
Today we honor “The Unknown Immortal” that is Joe Strummer. Many Clash fans never knew that Joe composed to the score for a historical western film by Sid & Nancy director Alex Cox. One of the most unheralded songs in Strummer’s canon and from the soundtrack he created for Walker, Joe Strummer immortalized within the haunted beauty of this corrido melody.