Tom Morello's 2003 Speech Inducting The Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I had the good fortune to see The Clash at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago when I was a teenager. It was an experience that changed my life. Even before the first note was played, the transformation began. I bought a t-shirt in the lobby. I was used to buying heavy metal t-shirts that had lots of pictures of garish wizards and dragons on them. But this Clash shirt was very different. It just had a few small words written over the heart. It said “the future is unwritten.” And when I saw the Clash play, I knew exactly what that phrase meant.
The Clash perform with passion, commitment, purpose, righteousness, and an unflinching political fire. There was such a sense of community in the room, it seemed like absolutely anything was possible. I was energized, politicized and changed by The Clash that night. And I knew that the future was unwritten and maybe we fans and that band would maybe write it together.
Joe Strummer was even playing through the same little amp I used when I was a high schooler. They proved to me that you didn’t need a big wall of Marshall stacks and a castle on a Scottish loch to make great rock and roll music. All you had to do was tell the truth and really, really, really mean it. I’d never seen a better band before that night and I’ve never seen a better band since. That’s very true.
The Clash were one of those rare bands that were greater than the sum of their parts, and yet the parts were awesome. Mick was the brilliant arranger and tunesmith, always looking forward musically. Let’s hear it for Mick. Right on. Always looking forward musically and pushing the boundaries of what was possible for a punk band, of what was possible for any band. Paul was just so damn cool looking. And as you’ll see, he’s still so damn cool-looking tonight. He’s running it like a pimp. And the image of him smashing the bass on the cover of London Calling, sums up the fury and beautiful force of the band. He also wove in the reggae influence that completed that Clash chemistry -- of three chords, a funky groove and the truth.
Terry Chimes provided the cavalry charge beats that propelled some of their early anthems, but it was Topper that made it all possible with his drumming. He effortlessly, and with great originality and skill, steered the band through genres undreamt of by their peers.
But really, they had no peers. Because at the center of the Clash hurricane stood one of the greatest hearts and deepest souls of 20th century music. At the center of the Clash stood Joe Strummer.
Joe Strummer died on December 22nd, 2002. But when Joe Strummer played, he played as if the world could be changed by a three minute song. And he was right. Those songs changed a lot of people’s worlds forever, mine at the top of the list. He was a brilliant lyricist with anger and wit always stood up for the underdog. And his idealism and conviction instilled in me the courage to pick up a guitar and the courage to try to make a difference with it.
In the great Clash anthem White Riot, Joe sang, “are you taking over? / or are you taking orders? / are you going backwards? / or are you going forwards?” And when I heard that, I wrote those four lines down, I put them on my refrigerator, and I answer those four questions for myself every single day. And to this day, I still do.
Joe Strummer was my greatest inspiration and my favorite singer of all-time and my hero. I miss him so much and I was looking forward to him standing on this stage and rocking with his friends tonight. And I know that he was too. I’m grateful though to have the tremendous legacy of music that the Clash left behind, cause through it, Joe Strummer and the Clash will continue to inspire and agitate well into the future. In fact, the Clash aren’t really gone at all. Because whenever a band cares more about its fans than its bank account, the spirit of the Clash is there. Whenever a band plays as if every single person’s soul in the room is at stake, the spirit of the Clash is there. And whenever a stadium band or little garage band has the guts to put their beliefs on the line to make a difference, the spirit of the Clash is there. And whenever people take to the streets to stop an unjust war, the spirit of the Clash is definitely there.
Tonight, we will honor the Clash, and Joe Strummer, with toasts and applause, but the best way to honor them is by putting the Clash’s philosophy into practice. By waking up each morning knowing that the future is unwritten, and that it can be a future where human rights, peace and justice come first. But it is entirely up to us. To me, that’s what the Clash was all about.
They combined revolutionary sounds with revolutionary ideas. Their music launched thousands of bands and moved millions of fans. And I cannot imagine what my life would have been without them.
During their heyday, they were known as the only band that matters. And 25 years later, that still seems just about right to me.
Tom Morello Inducts the Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Library and Archives, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
As a prominent member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee, Morello, like Stevie Van Zandt and Robbie Robertson, will likely be called upon again to deliver additional induction speeches in the future.