Where the Hell Is Joe Strummer’s Car?

One of Joe Strummer's most frustrating moments is dissected for music lovers, one more time, in I Need a Dodge.

There have been a remarkable number of documentaries based on Joe Strummer since his death, and the stories get stranger. Take this one for instance, involving Strummer’s abandonment of a Dodge at a parking garage in Spain before catching a flight to London. It’s a weird time in Strummer’s life, the era of Cut the Crap, the final Clash LP, the one that so many people apparently didn’t like at the time (no matter that there were some favorable reviews), the one that made some wonder if Strummer had really gone around the bend.

He’d done this before, having disappeared once before when the heat was too hot in the kitchen, so his running off isn’t that remarkable. And it’s not all that remarkable that he left this car back in Spain: asked about it during a radio interview some years later he doesn’t seem all that concerned about what happened to it. It’s a curiosity, sure, but it’s not the really heart of the film.

Is the real heart of the story, as some have suggested, his relationship with Spain? Maybe. He’d been there before his mid-’80s disappearing act and apparently had a good time, but the answer might be closer to what you’d expect. This is a story about Strummer’s wandering in the wilderness, that era in his life when he followed the bad advice of a bad manager, when he’d sold Mick Jones down the river and right before he started making some of his most interesting but sometimes under heard music.

He did some acting, soundtrack work, and an album called Earthquake Weather that seems due for a major reevaluation. That period isn’t part of this film, though, it’s about the moment before that. Director Nick Hall tracks down a lot of people who were there all the way back then and it seems like what they reveal is perhaps exactly what you might expect: Strummer could be fun, Strummer was trying to figure out what to do, Strummer was trying to get away.

Is that enough to carry a film? Maybe not in and of itself, but there’s more to this picture, more for you to appreciate if you pay close attention (which is sometimes difficult to do, despite Hall’s air-tight focus). The search for the car itself certainly doesn’t carry it but like most things Clash-related, it’s Strummer’s charisma that keeps us watching, his ability to really touch those he came in contact with.

For those who are somewhat immune to Strummer’s charms and find his songwriting sometimes overrated, this film won’t do much to draw them in, but for the hardcore fans, for whom no stone should remain unturned, this will be worth watching and re-watching and all that. The packaging for the film is gorgeous and is almost worth the price of admission alone.

As for what should be next? Maybe laying off the films for a while and getting down to rehabbing Strummer’s musical reputation from the era rather than focusing on the ephemeral moments around it.