Dr John Cooper Clarke is a man who brings to mind the following prose from a fellow wordsmith, doctor, and movement figurehead (albeit ‘the freak movement’ in America as opposed to the punks of Britain), Dr Hunter S. Thompson: “One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” Not only does that passage perfectly describe Johnny Clarke, the Bard of Salford and eponymous punk poet, but it’s one of the more brilliantly pithy bits of prose ever put to print and a description Clarkey would have been proud to have penned himself.
As the doctor of rhyme regales you with tales in his memoir, it’s clear that he has been kept with us by some sort of divine intervention from a benevolent force with the steadfast aim of preserving the wholly original, and yet he’s too unique not to handicap with idleness, both inherent and induced, to ever live unencumbered and fulfil his terrifying otherworldly potentials, whatever they may be. John Cooper Clarke is without a doubt a prototype of some description, but quite what his maker was hoping to achieve when they begot him is hard to decipher aside from the obvious fun and thrills of his gnarled mind and serpentine silver tongue.
The main source of the idleness, that Clarke admits has handicapped him but is also ‘in the poets’ job description’ was an 18-year heroin addiction. Tales of touring and narcotics are pretty much a constant in pop culture, but very rarely is the more tedious side of ‘how?’ ever explored or rather admitted to. Do you just enter an airport arrivals lounge and hope that someone from the underworld has been expecting you? Apparently, yes, as is detailed in one of the more riotous accounts in Clarke’s new memoir I Wanna Be Yours.
So, as the story goes, Clarke’s management saw fit to send their prised punk asset to Switzerland. Quite how a Manc shooting off a thousand syllables a minute performs through two degrees of separation from the English language is a story in itself. Needless to say, it was a tour organised by someone other than the bard himself.
Clarke landed at an unnamed Swiss airport where rather than the usual chauffeur holding a name card, a strange man tapped him on the shoulder. It was the courteous tap of a man Clarke refers to as Dr Müller. As the good doctor shepherded the confused poet towards a classic car, he explained: “I have taken the liberty of cancelling your hotel bookings, I will explain on the drive.”
Much to Clarke’s surprise, the doctor was well aware of his narcotic dependencies, and he made him an offer that he could not refuse. On a no questions asked basis, Dr Müller would supply Clarke will all the drugs, accommodation, transport and upkeep that he required. In exchange, John would simply have to indulge the doctor in his pet passion of passing the time chatting all things British poetry.
Clarke recalls the classic car winding a route through the gorgeous Alpine mountains until they arrived at a beautiful château-like home. When inside the contented, but nonetheless discombobulated punk poet was introduced to Dr Müller’s pleasant little family, before being led upstairs to a library. The tale then descends into some sort of junkie James Bond book. The doctor tugged on a specific edition within the library and the bookshelf parted to reveal a secret room, within which was the collected works of Switzerland’s most wonderful pharmacopoeia. Johnny makes the quip, “We have been expecting you, Mr Clarke.”
Therein JCC indulged himself with a speedball that would surely lay a mere mortal in the ground, a dangerous concoction of cocaine and heroin. Only, as John insists you understand, this was no normal cocaine, but the finest lab manufactured Swiss Merck cocaine.
The silver-tongued bard of Salford then recalls waltzing outside while waiting for supper to be served, gazing up into the Alpine firmament and feeling gripped by the strongest of white-coated lab induced highs, “Like they say in the M&S adverts – This wasn’t just any high – this was a Merck Switzerland high.”
He then concludes that, sadly, following that tour, he never met Dr Müller or his wonderful family ever again, “It was a beautiful friendship based on a one-off encounter.” Such tales are commonplace in Clarke’s memoir. His life, much like his poetry, has never met with a dull moment, it’s all one big laidback riot, almost laughably so. It’s tales like this one as well as his near-constant presence amidst a multitude of music scenes, whether it be Joy Division, Chuck Berry or Arctic Monkeys, that makes I Wanna Be Yours, not only one of the most charming memoirs but also inadvertently one of the best music books of recent times.