Topper Headon‘s life took a nasty turn after he was dismissed from The Clash, but the drummer managed to find his way out of the long dark tunnel — and he also found forgiveness for the man who ejected him from the band.
Headon, who turns 61 today, chatted with The Independent a couple of years ago, talking about the massive substance abuse which took him from behind the drumkit at sold out arenas to driving a cab, busking in subways and living in a homeless shelter, subsisting on food handouts — one of the biggest examples of rock and roll rags to riches in recent memory.
He had numerous chances to get back on the rails. After Joe Strummer sent him packing, he had an opportunity to play with The Who. He also attempted to create a new band with members of The Pretenders and Bob Dylan‘s band, for which Pete Townshend was to handle production duties. He also appeared briefly with Mick Jones‘ Big Audio Dynamite — and then a big royalty payday sent him back to the land of excess.
After he contracted hepatitis C, Headon underwent rehabilitation for the thirteenth time, and that seemed to be literally just what the doctor ordered. “Something happened,” he says, when questioned about how he’s managed to stay clean. “I started feeling part of life again. I’ve been clean ever since.”
He now works on behalf of Strummerville, which is the charity founded in Strummer’s memory after he passed away in 2002. One would be forgiven for thinking that Headon might harbor animosity toward his former bandmate, but it’s not so. “By rights, it should have been me that died,” he reflects. “Joe wouldn’t have sacked me if I hadn’t been a raving heroin addict, trashing hotel rooms, throwing up, late for rehearsals. He had no choice. I was in a state. We were kids. It was the best thing that could have happened. We made all that fantastic music and then imploded at the top.”