Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Undead Poets Society: John Cooper Clarke

To be deemed worthy of induction into the Undead Poets Society, a writer must have something of the night about him.

Born in a coffin in 1949, with his cadaverous complexion and just got-out-of-the-grave hair, John Cooper Clarke fits the bill, but isn't he just a funny man in a pall bearer's suit, his pipe cleaner limbs fitting those drainpipe kecks most snugly?

He is funny, sure - shoot flies off the ceiling with syringes of blood funny - but that isn't the end of his talents, and nor are his winklepicker boots. To describe him as a performance poet or stand-up doesn't do his stagecraft or pagecraft justice, although he is an example to the purveyors of both of those dark arts. Whatever a poet is, he is it, though some poets would deny it.

He wouldn't trust a man from the academy, and neither should you, but he gets their respect for his metrical ability, dead-eye image play and verbal dexterity. Before the Beat, Pop Art and Punk knocked down the walls of the old school, little Johnny would've been kept out of the playground of poetry, but the Children of Albion let him in on their game and then he changed the rules to ones more to his liking; it's Johnny Clarke's world and the fuddy-duddies will just have to get used to it.

Neither is he a musician, although many of his early works were released on vinyl, the best being 'Snap, Crackle and Bop' produced by Martin Hannett - the man who made Joy Division sound like a World War Two factory - and backed by some of Manchester's finest, Pete Shelley and Vini Reilly among them. But even Yorkshiremen admire the Bard of Salford, Simon Armitage and Alex Turner included, and now he lives in the belly of the beast that is Essex; rumour has it even southern softies like him, and not just the Honey Monster.

In the 2007 film 'Control' he played his self of thirty years before, and looked no more ancient now than he did then, surely proof he is more dead than alive. And yet he lives on: on a stage somewhere near you, often with Mark E Smith of Prestwich not far behind; or between the covers of 'Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt'; or spookily providing the soundtrack to an episode of the Sopranos with the bloody-tastic 'Chickentown'.

If he didn't have to drink so much blood, he'd no doubt lend his name to product again, and sink his fangs into a new generation. By making him our first honorary member of the Undead Poets' Society, perhaps we can urge him back into the immortality of print, before the River Styx takes him down to the dark beyond. If we can't, he has already done enough to live in our veins forever.

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