In search of Joe Strummer’s Dodge

Moviemaker goes looking for car The Clash star left in a Madrid garage in 1986

Clash frontman Joe Strummer with a Dodge in the background.
Clash frontman Joe Strummer with a Dodge in the background.

“Amigos, mujeres, brothers and sisters, I loved that Dodge.” It was 1997 and from the Glastonbury festival, legendary The Clash frontman Joe Strummer was making a direct appeal to RNE national radio listeners in Spain to help him find the classic car he had left in a Madrid garage in 1986. “Let’s see if we can get Joe his car,” journalist Paco Pérez Bryan responded.

The search for the lost vehicle, which Strummer had acquired on one of his many visits to Spain in the 1980s, is the thread that runs through new documentary I Need a Dodge! Joe Strummer on the Run. In the film, British director Nick Hall reconstructs the days that The Clash star, who died 10 years ago, spent in Madrid and Andalusia via testimony from some of the musicians he hung out with at the time, including Spanish rock band Radio Futura.

The search for Strummer’s car is “a minor chord, something apparently anecdotal,” says Hall, who only has to negotiate the rights to the soundtrack and the archive footage to finish his film. But he also thinks this minor story hides something more. “It is also the story of an encounter between a local group fighting to survive who by coincidence bump into the frontman of The Clash at the counter of a bar in Granada.”

Hall is referring to Granada band 091, whom Strummer helped on the production of their 1986 album Más de 100 lobos. He believes the film reveals one of the lesser-known sides of the musician — that of a generous collaborator with nothing to lose: “It gives us an important clue about his life, his personality and his almost philanthropic nature.”

Following the vehicle’s trail promised to be no easy task, but Hall admits he found a lot more clues than he was expecting. “We talked to the son of the owner of the garage where the car was seen for the last time. I even spoke to the DGT highways agency,” he says.

The Dodge, which Strummer abandoned in Madrid when he raced back to London to attend the birth of his daughter, symbolizes the escape of a tormented artist who suddenly decided to leave all his headaches in London behind. In those years, Strummer ended up having to throw guitarist Mick Jones out of the group and The Clash, who had once been at the forefront of punk, practically stopped existing. “Between 1984 and 1986 Joe Strummer was at a crossroads,” explains Hall. “At that time he took refuge in Granada to escape what was happening in London. In Spain he accidently bumped into 091 and regained his excitement.”

The film also gives an account of Strummer’s trips to Madrid, where he hung out with such Movida icons as Radio Futura. The band’s frontman Santiago Auserón, a friend and colleague of Strummer’s at the time, appears in I Need a Dodge, along with the members of 091 and musicians from The Clash’s last incarnation.

Strummer’s relationship with Spain stretched back quite a way. His girlfriend at the beginning of the 1970s was Spaniard Paloma Romero, later known as The Slits drummer Palmolive. And from his exile he started to develop a fascination for Lorca, Andalusia and the Civil War that culminated with The Clash’s classic Spanish Bombs in 1979.

Despite his spirit of adventure, Strummer never came back for his car. “His widow told me he wanted to return to Spain to bring his Dodge back, but he never got round to doing it,” says Hall. As Strummer did at Glastonbury, he uses the opportunity to make another appeal: “If anyone has a Dodge 3700 GT, silver gray, with an Oviedo license plate, get in touch with me.”

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