By Alan Scherstuhl
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"In a sense, the film turned out to bevery much the same story I was telling in Joe's shoes about having to fight to put something out into the world. It's kind of like I took up where he left off, you know?" We're sitting outside an East Hollywood coffeehouse on a muggy June day, and Dick Rude is telling me about making and promoting his movie Let's Rock Again!, a documentary about the late Joe Strummer. It's sort of like a Prince album: Rude did everything. "I've had to wear so many hats making this film, from music licensing guy to producer to director, photographer, editor—you name it, I did it on this film. I mean, sticking stickers on postcards for festivals, hitting the streets and wheat pasting posters." Let's Rock Again! follows Strummer's 2001 and 2002 tours with his band the Mescaleros, tours on which Strummer, after 11 years of retirement from the music business, can take nothing for granted. Early on in the movie, Strummer is talking into an intercom outside the door of a New Jersey radio station: "My name's Joe Strummer, and I'm playing in Atlantic City tonight, and I've got my new album here and I wanted to ask you if you'd, um, maybe plug the show and play a track off the CD?" A few moments later he's explaining to the program director, "Well, I used to be in the Clash, so it's kinda rock music?"
Strummer is so lionized in punk circles that it's hard to imagine him having to cold-call radio stations to promote his shows, or stand on the Atlantic City boardwalk passing out handmade fliers, as he does later ("Let's put Captain Beefheart on the guest lists from now on," he says to the camera. "Word might get to him"). In another way, it isn't surprising at all, since Joe Strummer's humility, unaffected graciousness and populist politics are among the reasons he is so revered. The Clash drank with their fans, put them up in their hotel rooms, and insisted there was no difference between performers and their audience by acting as if there wasn't one.
"In my film, I'm trying to give people a chance to recognize the existence of love, you know?" Rude says. "And in making this film about my friend, and my hero, and a hero to so many other people who loved him, it was important for me to express those sides of him that I felt were virtuous, one of those being his humble aspect.
"Joe was the inspiration for a lot of people in so many different ways. There's a huge difference between someone talking to you and talking at you—not shoving your philosophy down someone else's throat. Joe, in my opinion, laid it out that way, like: I'm gonna challenge you to stand up for yourself or stand up for what you believe in. I'm not telling you to do that, and I'm not telling you to be like me, but you have a voice, and you matter. In addition to that, from a purely musical standpoint, his music moved a lot of people and inspired them. His poetic phrasing, the comparisons to Dylan and a lot of other musicians I think are warranted. Probably it's like any other hero, whether it's Gandhi or Martin Luther King or whatever kind of musician. The true heroes come from a place of humility and a place of truthfulness, and aren't really concerned so much about making people believe as much as they are about maintaining their own integrity and dignity and being able to turn people on with that sense of honesty."
Aside from the hair climbing out from under his fedora, Rude is still instantly recognizable as the skinhead punk Duke in 1984's Repo Man. Duke utters the immortal words "Let's go get sushi and not pay!" In that role, Rude was the first punk rocker many people ever saw on a movie screen. "We made that film at a time when punk rock really hadn't hit the world or the nation in a way that it was being incorporated commercially, and the soundtrack for that film really changed everything. Suddenly there were kids out in the suburbs of Ohio and wherever else it was that were being exposed to Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag and Circle Jerks, all of these great bands! I've had people from Russia come to me and say, 'I had this copy of Repo Man on VHS and I showed it to everyone that would listen,' and other people come to me and say, 'Yeah, I was in law school at Harvard, and inscribed in the desk was LET'S GO DO SOME CRIMES.' It's fantastic that sometimes you can really hit, you know?"
Through the '80s, Rude continued to collaborate with Repo Man's director, Alex Cox, co-writing 1987's satirical masterpiece Straight to Hell and acting in the vastly underrated historical drama Walker, for which Strummer composed the vastly underrated score. "I met [Joe] probably about six months before we made Straight to Hell," Rude says. "We met on the post-production of Sid and Nancy. He was doing music for the film, and I had done probably seven or eight different things on the film. There was really kind of an instant affinity toward each other—he represented London punk, I represented LA punk, and that's where the two met. There was always a back and forth between us, and I was constantly turning him on to what was going on in LA, and the roots that I had come from, the bands that had been a formative part of my life: the Minutemen, Black Flag, X, the Germs, the Weirdos, the Zeros, the Screamers. He was like a wide-eyed child when it came to music, and particularly LA punk, which had gone pretty much unnoticed to the rest of the world for the first few years after it started."
Rude is currently working on what will obviously be the greatest movie ever made: The Asshole ("it's your typical story of greed—it's about capitalism"), co-written with Alex Cox and with Jim Jarmusch as executive producer. He also hopes to develop the short film he made about LA punk for the DVD of Don Letts' PUNK: Attitude into a feature.
LET'S ROCK AGAIN! IS RELEASED ON DVD JUNE 27. VISIT DICK RUDE'S WEBSITE AT WWW.DICKRUDE.BIZ.
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