“First its fun, then it isn’t, then its hell. I can’t really think of anything to add to that story. It seems to be the time worn trajectory.” When listening to John Cooper Clarke muse in this manner, I always get the impression that he is using the trivial matter of everyday existence - in this case his former addiction to heroin - as an allegorical story aimed at a deeper understanding of the ‘human condition’ itself. He added too the story by saying that “It’s a tedious and narrow life”. John’s sentiments here seem clear to me. Although talking about his drug addiction, the words he uses, his beautifully expressive delivery and synonymous Salford droll start to transcend the shackles of their immediate linguistic purpose. To view Clarke’s work in relation to esteemed literally figures like Beckett or Proust, I sense a ‘unity of opposites’. I say this because John Cooper Clarke’s words also represent, in the literary sense at least, an absurdity of sorts. However the ‘opposites’ apply as he chooses to use seemingly more accessible subjects than the aforementioned praised individuals; and has developed his own well crafted, rhythmic technique of expression as a type of performance. Therefore I believe John’s poetry and what it is able to say about ‘our times’ should be valued in equal measure; it differs simply because his chosen subjects seem more overt. Nonetheless its primary rationale and preoccupation is - the same as in all great art - with the ‘truth’.
The documentary is still available at the iplayer, so check it out please
So, John Cooper Clarke, “You either love him or have never heard of him” apparently. Well this is according to the new BBC4 documentary Evidently…John Cooper Clarke, and one of the many customary talking heads who feature throughout. The one who made this statement is now but a distant memory and I can’t summon the energy to go back and check. For arguments sake lets just say Steve Coogan, as I remember he was one of the many ‘famous’ admirers, but at the same time I know it weren’t him, because then I would have remembered; if that makes sense? This is what listening to too much Cooper Clarke can do to you. Ones ‘thought’ and it’s ‘train’ become slightly misplaced. Even before watching this documentary (and more than once too I must declare; but only once for pleasure may I also add), I have been avidly listening to him on BBC Radio, as and when he crops up; mainly on 6 music. Having been a devotee of John’s own ‘written’ work for many years, I was keen to hear more of him on the radio, in any capacity. As a result of this, and after his hilarious guest appearance on Radcliffe and Maconie’s show a year or so back, when just listening to him talk I thought this guy is “magic” and I was hooked on all things ‘Johnny Clarke’! His film idea ‘Parrot in a Car’ still springs to mind and makes me laugh out loud. Therefore much to my delight he has had a month long stint sitting in for Jarvis Cocker on BBC Radio 6 music’s, Month of Sundays show. And coupled with this, he was on this Tuesday’s (29th of May) Radcliffe and Maconie show…again. Consequently this general exposure to all things Punk, Poetry and Clarke, is probably the reason for much of my wandering tones, but I will do my best to keep ‘things relevant’.
For a man who is, we are told supposed to be allusive he certainly does get about. But after surviving many years - or ‘the forgotten ones’, if we take Miranda Sawyer’s word for it – of heroin addiction and general apathy towards his art, brought on by this dependency; he is now having what could be described as a sort of renaissance. In fact after watching the documentary and the praise being heaped on him, John Cooper Clarke seems to be the worse kept secret in ‘Showbiz’. Joking aside however, although he has been back working the music/punk/poetry/whatever John wants to call it, circuits for over a decade now at least, possibly two; its just in the last 4 or 5 years that he has been really getting the widespread credit and acknowledgements he deserves.
So to grasp the relevance of this moment held beneath the linguistic power of the keyboard; I will firstly apologise if you are one of those wrecked souls who has of yet never heard of Mr Cooper Clarke. Well firstly you’ll be pleased to hear, I can assure you that it is going to be ok, you have no excuses and can start listening to him. Secondly, I am not interested in writing a kind of mini-biog here as I am sure you will have noticed, but I will very briefly give you my take on this Cooper Clarke chap: working since the early 70s on the old working man’s circuit, and then with the introduction of Punk progressing onto that touring scene; John Cooper Clarke is, was and will forever be a poet. This is how he describes himself and as he would know infinitely more about that subject than anyone else, then that will do for me. Of course his associations with punk, mainly because of the way he looks (and the fact he did have a band for a while, which was more a collaboration with Martin Hannett than anything else), his poetic delivery - sometimes at breakneck speed and subject matter, mean that he will forever be known as the original ‘Punk Poet’. With all due respect to Punk however, in my view JCC is far more than this.
Consequently, John Cooper Clarke matters and has lasted because he is not part of any movement or trend. Making the fact that he is not a “Punk Poet” or even his latest label “The Bard of Salford”, an important fact and of the paramount sort in my view. Like all great artists he has used certain aspects of western culture such as the 50s Teddy boy or the Punk or the Goth as conduits in order to communicate how he feels about his own experiences. It is impossible to pigeon hole him, even though many have tried. Therefore the more all encompassing term used to categories him might simply be that of the Artist. This seems far more appropriate to me. One only has to hear the timeless social commentary on his classic poem Besley Street; the relentlessly aggressive nature of Pest, Twat and Evidently Chicken Town or even the absurdist nature of Nothing in order to get a first hand account of why Cooper Clarke matters. These poems and their content are documents of a collective British ‘class structured’ history and should (and when the fag ash settles I suspect will) be regarded as classics of modern poetry.
And finally, perhaps now with the welcomed news of his poems being included in the English national curriculum of all places; after decades of being overlooked John Cooper Clarke may finally be getting the literary status he deserves, as a truly great and original poet, and of course – to coin a phrase - as always “a very thin man”.
I just included this clip because it is my own personal favourite; no other reason needed I feel…