Dr John Cooper Clarke: 'I've been overshadowed by that philandering, tax-collecting twat'

John Cooper Clarke: 'I've been overshadowed by that philandering, tax-collecting twat'

Quintessential punk poet discusses being The Luckiest Guy Alive

John Cooper Clarke emerged in the 1970s as the quintessential punk poet, supporting bands on stage in front of the occasional hostile audience while retaining a distinctive look and having plenty of northern attitude. In his highly productive later career, his work has been used on The Sopranos, found itself on the syllabus, and been covered by Arctic Monkeys and recorded with Plan B. As The Bard of Salford's new tour The Luckiest Guy Alive gets motoring, he talks about ready-made rhymes, being a doctor, and why he's always been a little bit famous

On Burns Night this year you celebrated your 70th birthday. Did you do anything Rabbie-related in his honour?
It's the bane of my life. I've been overshadowed even beyond the grave by that philandering, tax-collecting twat. I'm trying to introduce Clarke Night south of the border. A glass of Boddingtons with a meat and potato pie.

Do you feel differently now that you've entered your eighth decade?
The old clock is ticking. But it's nothing to reach triple figures these days. I don't think the Queen bothers sending a telegram anymore, it's so common to get to 100 now.

When you wake up in the morning, do you immediately start thinking in verse?
Sometimes you get rhymes by accident. I'm going to start writing down the first sentence I hear every morning. The first thing I do when I get up is put Radio 4 on and talk about obsessed: they have three obsessions that are never varied from; it's unbelievable. But I can never resist a ready-made rhyme. This is going back years, but my favourite one is 'Jeffrey Archer and his sudden departure'.

Have you found a word that rhymes with orange?
I can tell you now that there's a guy called something like Alan Gorange who worked on The Larry Sanders Show. I'm a great reader of credits; I never leave the cinema before they finish.

Do you have a favourite word?
They're all pretty good, but I like 'wow!' It's not only a word, but it's a sentence. It's a good word for anything. I say it loads. Maybe I'm easily impressed.

And do you have a least favourite word?
Yeah, loads: 'iconic'. For a start, a radio show can't be iconic, as an icon is a visual thing. 'Journey', in a non-vehicular sense. 'Passionate'. 'Literally'. I'm not having it; people can't go around saying literally. Otherwise, what's literal? There's not another word for literally: if it isn't figurative or metaphorical, what is it? It's literal: there's no substitute. Can you see how worried I am about this?

Do you feel like the luckiest guy alive?
It's written from experience, yeah. That's how I feel on a daily basis. I lost it for a while and then got it back. I got two bites at the apple which is very unusual. Not everyone is prepared for fame, not even at the level I got it. One minute you're just a face in the crowd, next minute everyone wants a piece of you. I think anybody who doesn't crack up in that sort of situation must be a monster; anybody human is going to get damaged for a while, one way or another. Fame just ain't a natural situation. But I shouldn't have worried because everyone thought I was a bit famous even before I'd done anything; people just assumed I was famous. I always turned up places early and my face kind of fitted. So I was already living the life of a famous person. I've always been a careful dresser and I guess I just have that star quality [FOLLOWED BY AN UPROARIOUS LAUGH].

In 2013, you received an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford. What's the most doctorly thing you've done since then?
Firstly, call me 'doc'. Let's keep it informal. I had to do a routine tracheotomy on the train from Liverpool Street last Wednesday. I won't go into it. But it's amazing what you can do with a Bic ballpoint pen.

John Cooper Clarke: The Luckiest Guy Alive is on tour from Thur 7 Mar to Sat 28 Sep.

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