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The way that music sits within my memory can be a very funny thing. Joe Strummer was one of the world's most prolific songwriters, an amazing musician and an astounding activist. Yet, despite knowing every word to at least 50 of his songs, when I think of him it isn't a Clash lyric that pops into my head when I think of him. No, it's a line from "Constructive Summer" by The Hold Steady. 

"Raise a glass for St. Joe Strummer, I think he might have been our only decent teacher."

On the surface, it may seem counterintuitive to think of a different musician whilst remembering Strummer. But Craig Finn, as he often does, cuts to the core of what made Strummer such a giant in just one line. If you have even just a drop of punk in your blood, chances are you were profoundly influenced by his music, lyrics, activism and politics. 

Before we get to the gallery of tattoos featuring Strummer and The Clash, I want to go over just a few of the things I have learned about thanks to Strummer. 

Global Political Movements

Practically everything I know about the political climate of England in the 1970s and 1980s comes directly from Clash songs like "English Civil War." Despite growing up in a country that went to war against the Sandinistas, I only learned about them from a punk record. How does a kid in the San Francisco suburbs learn about Basque separatist groups? From "Spanish Bombs" of course. This list could go on for days.

Systemic Racism

If you think that protests spurred on by systemic racism and mistreatment of Black people by the police is a recent development, let me tell you a little something about the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival Riot. Strummer and Paul Simonon were in attendance, and it was the inspiration for their first single, "White Riot."

Punk Ideals vs. Capitalism

The Sex Pistols may have a more public fight against their record company, but The Clash's tunes about it hold more than just snotty aggression, instead laying the groundwork for tearing the system down. 

Fighting the System

All it took was a public service announcement with guitar to let me know that I mattered. "Know Your Rights" is such a tremendously powerful song. While the points within it may seem obvious, it still hits hard every time. 

Don't Get Put Into a Box

This is the one lesson that doesn't come from Strummer's lyrics, but from his music. Too many times in this world you are made to follow the rules, but a true creative won't be boxed in like this. Over the course of his career, Strummer drew influence from reggae, ska, disco, calypso, rockabilly, jazz, gospel, funk, rap and so many other types of music. He was a musical sponge, and it shows throughout his discography.  

This only scratches the surface of Strummer's influence on me, I'm sure I could go on forever. On what would have been his 68th birthday, throw on some amazing music, know your rights, get politically active and raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer. The future is unwritten.