In 1977 stencil artist Hugo Kaagman put out his first piece in the city of Amsterdam. He was a pioneer before street-art became ‘salonfähig’ (Banksy coffee-cups are a permanent sold out item nowadays) and delivered his works to the streets – long before Blek le Rat, Keith Haring and Basquiat. Only the Americans Fekner and Hambleton and a few kids not older than fourteen at the time (Taki 183 being one of them) who are mentioned in the ‘classic’ Watching My Name Go By book (foreword by Norman Mailer!) in 1974, were prior to the sympathetic Dutchman. In 2008 Hugo's pioneering works were notably acknowledged by Mr Banksy himself, followed by his invitation to participate on the Cans Festival in Leake Street, London.
In 1977 John Cooper Clarke released his first vinyls on the independent Rabid label, run by Martin Hannett – first the E.P. Innocents. Since 1979 he tourd with colleague pop-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and shared the stage with the Sex Pistols, The Fall, Joy Division, The Buzzcocks, Siouxie and the Banshees, Elvis Costello and New Order. In 1980 Cooper Clarke’s album Snap, Crackle and Bop reached the 26 spot on the U.K. Charts. Producer: Martin Hannett.
Martin Hannett! How fucking legendary can a man be, to speak with JCC. The man behind the Factory Sound, Joy Division, Durutti Column, the Invisible Girls; drums on top of the roof of the studio...
In 2007 the monotonous, somewhat bored beat of the first track of the record, Evidently Chickentown, resurfaces in The Soprano’s. While Phil Leotardo reconsiders his sins at the bar, Clarke’s voice penetrates the image in staccato:
the bloody pubs are bloody dull
the bloody clubs are bloody full
of bloody girls and bloody guys
with bloody murder in their eyes
Notable remark: in the episode of The Soprano’s the word bloody is used, like on the record, but when performing live the poet prefers fucking.
Than it sounds more like this:
the fucking pies are fucking old
the fucking chips are fucking cold
the fucking beer is fucking flat
the fucking flats have fucking rats
the fucking clocks are fucking wrong
the fucking days are fucking long
it fucking gets you fucking
That poem Evidently Chickentown, I remember, made a big impression on me, a youngster in the beginning of the eighties, mainly because of the everyday spoken word and use of rhyme (not done). I was a snob of the purest kind – the more obscure the author the better (I still think like that, but nowadays I try to make a living of it). I had a clear view about a writer: a slightly unconditioned person who shaped his words for the madding crowd. What a cliché!
Being a writer, that's what I wanted to be.
The only problem was that I had nothing to say.
That’s why I became a publisher.
John Cooper Clarke and Linton Kwesi Johnson, but also Dutch poet Johnny van Doorn - who whirled through the alternative pop circuit of the eighties like a dervish, was a kind of pioneer, shouting Komtocheensklaarklootzak (meaning something like: Cumyoubastardcum) in the distinguished Carre theatre, mid sixties. Clarke and Johnson breathing the punk mentality in words. The four-four time of punk music found resonance in the quadruple time of poetry. Hard, fast, rough, irreversible, no mercy, humorous, critical to society, proletarian: this was language like steel on steel, but spat out in microphones.
For me, it could never be subversive enough, nor rough enough, and JCC coupled his performances with disordered one-liners of the better kind:
' If Jesus was Jewish, why the Spanish name'?
Mind you, he is fully up to date, our man Clarke. Recently he said about Phil Spector: ‘It's pretty bad shooting a chick through the brain but not as bad as fucking children’.
‘There is not one word Chinese in that’, as my literary hero Cornelis Vaandrager would say, a man who also could catch the extraordinary in ordinary words.
Back to Clarke.
In 2011 I could trap him for a short performance during the presentation of Mecano, the memoir of Dirk Polak, a legendary musician, writer, painter, surrealist. There he was! Hero of the eighties, sharp as a razor blade, witty as hell and completely relevant.
Since the phenomenon Poetry Slam made its mark in Holland (in 2002 Erik Jan Hermens was the first national champion) the appreciation for the poet performer has changed 360 degrees: was he a suspicious figure before (because it was assumed that a great delivery on stage more or less implied it’s quality wouldn’t stand on paper, because humor was not done, because a writer should operate behind the scenes at any cost, with the exception of small performances in libraries or sophisticated bookshops) - it is now more and more accepted that writers can not only be verbal on paper but also on stage. It is more than about time that writer and natural performer John Cooper Clarke finally makes his breakthrough in the Lowlands.
Starting with Vlieland.
This piece was commissioned by the good people of MOJO. JCC will perform at the festival Into The Great Wide Open on saturday september 5th, at 6.25 PM, on the Bospodium. Cooper Clarke will also perform in The Hague (3 september) and Amsterdam (4 september).
Big up: Dirk Polak translated this piece from Dutch into English! Thanks, old friend.