I was thoroughly entertained by the BBC 4 profile on John Cooper Clarke and it was a pleasure to see that he is miraculously still in the land of the living after kicking his longstanding heroine addiction.

It’s heartening too to see that he is winning a whole new audience, some of whom were alerted to his genius when a neutered version of Evidently Chicken Town featured on the closing credits of an episode of The Sopranos.

This is still one of his funniest and powerful poems even when the emphatic adjective has been altered from ‘fucking’ to the milder ‘bloody’. Film of his performance in the documentary shows that there’s nothing to beat the original when it comes to the venomous delivery of peerless lines like:

“a fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
waiting for the fucking cab
you fucking stay at fucking home
the fucking neighbours fucking moan
keep the fucking racket down
this is fucking chicken town”.

Poems like this and Beezley Street (which rhymes with uneasy cheesy greasy queasy and beastly) are Britain’s answer to Desolation Row although comparisons to Dylan are exaggerated for someone who has passed the best part of two decades without writing anything new.

JCC speaks frankly, and humourously, about the feral existence as an addict like when he says that he can’t remember meeting Tom Waits despite the fact there are photographs to show he did. This only goes to prove, he notes in his inimitable deadpan voice, that one of the handicaps of being a junkie is that “the good memories go with the shit you’re trying to block out”.

He says he was pleased that his mom & dad gave him zero encouragement for his poetic aspirations reflecting philosophically that poets who are praised and supported by their parents are “all shite”. He challenged the popular working class notion that a poet is someone who “skips around with a butterfly net”.

His punk redefinition of poetry influenced ‘alternative’ comics like Steve Coogan and Stewart Lee and has been an inspiration to the Arctic Monkeys.

His prose presentation of himself in his book ‘Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt ‘ from 1983 still stands as one of the best descriptions of this one-off character:
“In a vain attempt at bourgeois credibility Lenny Siberia changed his name to John Cooper Clarke and under this title embarked on a polysyllabic excursion through Thrillsville, UK. yes, it was be there or be square as, clad in the slum chic of the hipster, he issued the slang anthems of the zip age in the desperate esperanto of the bop. John Cooper Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle, the words walk in the grooves hacking through the hi-fi paradise of true luxury”.

It’s a big shame that his voice was silent for so long but it’s great to have him back.

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