The ‘bargain-basement Baudelaire’ looks back at his life with an unflinching gaze, plus plenty of gags and mad anecdotes
When the teenage John Cooper Clarke announced he wanted to be a poet, his alarmed parents asked for examples of people who had made a living from it. “I discovered that most modern poets had to work as teachers, bank clerks, insurance salesmen, doctors, diplomats, railroad workers, tax collectors, publishers or postal clerks,” he recalls in his memoir. Even Philip Larkin “turned out to be a librarian by day”. His father’s feelings about these literary aspirations were summed up in three words: “Get a job.” So he did.
Before his beatification as “the Bard of Salford” (though he prefers “the bargain-basement Baudelaire”), Clarke was variously a bookie’s runner, an apprentice car mechanic, a cutter in the rag trade, a lab technician, a fire-watcher at a naval dockyard and a trainee printer. But at no point did he give up on his ambition to be a poet. Early on he realised that, in order to get paid, he would need to combine his way with words with live entertainment. In the early 1970s, he road-tested poems such as “Salome”, “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” and “Kung Fu International” at local comedy clubs (Bernard Manning was an unlikely mentor).
I have a delicate ego and what I require from an audience is a unanimous display of carefully considered adulationContinue reading...