“The fact that a London cabbie has got a favourite poet… I can’t help feeling partially responsible for that” – John Cooper Clarke
The saying goes “out of sight, out of mind”. When one hears the words “80s” and the punk poet “John Cooper Clarke” referenced both in the same sentence, one may be apt to remember or be aware of just how out of sight the Salford bard was during the 80s. He was very much, as he himself has admitted, holed up in hiding as a heroin junkie, living in Brixton with none other than Nico from The Velvet Underground. Then one fateful, or rather, desperate day, Johnny Clarke, the people’s poet, or as Kate Moss has affectionately named him, “The velvet voice of discontent”, appeared out of the underworld of London, for a Sugar Puffs advert.
A bizarre sight, but then again, perhaps not if you consider Clarke’s slight cartoonish and animated look, something that strikes you as if he jumped straight out from a Tim Burton movie; he probably inspired Johnny Depp’s performance for “Edward Scissorhands”.
The absurdity of the artist is the stuff of nightmares at times, but nonetheless enough to make one gaze in amazement, whether in fear or hilarity. In the advert, Johnny Clarke’s sartorial swagger does not seem to have been altered one bit — as if one minute he was doing a “speedball” in a bathroom, right before getting on stage to sling poetic slang and images of nightly outings; only to find himself in front of a camera with a bunch of children dressed in the brightest colours possible.
To top it all off? There is a gigantic yellow furry monster (the Sugar Puffs mascot) who seems to have a slightly more menacing side than the poet himself. It’s a strange collection of images which makes for one of our most curious moments of British TV.
The year Johnny did this, of course, is 1988. It wasn’t until 1987 when he met his future wife Evie, and when he decided that enough was enough, that he tried to cut heroin out of his life. It would be a few more years until he would successfully kick it. So when asking the question why would the enigmatic people’s poet of Salford ever risk tarnishing his career to appear in a sugar puffs advert? I would imagine it was the money.
Nevertheless, the Salford bard seems to be doing well, and sober as ever at 71 years old. In 2013, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford, an “acknowledgement of a career which has spanned five decades, bringing poetry to non-traditional audiences and influencing musicians and comedians.” In addition, he has released his first memoir titled I Wanna Be Yours this year, named after his famous poem and the same lyric that Alex Turner would adapt for his own version of the song, maintaining the same title.
HEART DISEASE CALLED LOVE
One kiss became a weapon
I don’t want to bleed in vain
Clouds collide in the heavens
I surrender. To the rain
The death bells that also rang
like madness… from above
I’m going… out with a bang
And a heart disease called love – Heart Disease Called Love