Those geeks who advocate all things binary were onto a thing or two, though they will be appalled to hear - as though they didn’t already know - that dichotomy, for that is what this 0 1 thing is all about is not in the slightest bit original. Everything, it seems, comes with its opposite and without which it might never exist. So to start at the beginning: there was nothing, then there was something. Things were dark, then they were light. But I shan’t labour the point, which I think you might well already have grasped. Fast forward several thousands of millennia from that fateful point in time when God became a little bored and decided to have some fun by creating everything to now.
By now, of course, I don’t mean now - 21.50 on May 31, 2012 - but now, which - I crave your indulgence - is more or less contingent with my lifespan (and what is left of it). So ‘now’ we have all kinds of opposites: to carry on, spuriously and not to say meretriciously, with the scientific angle (to give this entry an intellectual feel, don’t you know), there’s matter and antimatter (though I am sure I’m not alone in wondering what the bloody hell ‘antimatter’ is or could be). When I was younger, there were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Or how about Michael Jackson and Prince? In sport there’s, or there once was before a certain whore of a team hitched its wagon to the good fortunes and billions of roubles of yet another Russian oligarch, Chelsea and Fulham.
Broadening the it all I could refer to sweet and sour, New York and Chicago, good and bad, night and day, gays and straights, truth and fiction, but none of it brings me any closer to what I want to write about except, perhaps Liverpool and Manchester.
For those who give a hoot, I am unashamedly Manchester. I have Liverpudlian friends and acquaintances, and I like and respect many of them. But unfortunately for me Liverpool, like Newcastle (where I once lived and worked) has a fatal flaw: it and its people are unbearably - or, more fairly, can be be unbearably and insufferably - sentimental and lachrymose, forever reminding the world and his dog what fine fellows they are, how unfairly the world has treated them, what a spirited place their city is, what marvellous, generous, kind-hearted people live there. Manchester has none of that: Manchester has the acid which cuts through all the grease. And I like it.
Manchester is, though Mancunians would be horrified to hear me say it, a first cousin to Birmingham. And then there’s that accent. I love it, too.
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Some fuckwit somewhere wrote along the lines that to ‘be born British is to have drawn the first prize in the lottery of life’. Perhaps (though Brits don’t like it that every other nation under the sun says the same about itself, except, perhaps the Poles. I think the Poles rather suspect that they are the losers of this world. But that’s another entry.) Well, this fuckwit would like to paraphrase that other fuckwit and say to ‘be born in Manchester/Salford/Wigan or wherever the fuck else is nearby is to be born at the very least with the right accent and attitude to make a first-class comedian’. Does that make sense? But let me cut to the chase
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Born in November 1949, I was 20 in 1969 and a prime candidate for all the hippy-dippy acid bollocks. To be fair I never subscribed to the airy-fairy flowers-in-your-hair philosophy and never quite got into all the music, but I liked the dope (as in cannabis, not heroin) and had a fairly substantial number of trips. (Musically, I was seduced rather early on into R&B - what was then R&B, not what is now R&B - soul and eventually gospel, funk, jazz and the rest.
Crucially, I found it impossible to dance to on-beat rock and was very relieved to discover music which celebrated the off-beat. Man.) But having been born in 1949 I was 30 in 1979, or more pertinently 27 in 1977, so the whole punk thing passed me by. I didn’t particularly like the music, except that of certain ‘punk’ fellow travellers such as The Police, but in all honesty for me to turn up at some Clash gig and pogo would have been dishonest.
Oddly enough, punk spawned more important trends in what might very loosely be called contemporary art than its forbear, the hippies. (And it is no mystery to me why punk so successfully followed the hippy-dippy bollocks: it was quite simply a question of younger brothers and younger sisters wanting to do the complete opposite of their very boring, very condescending, very preachy and increasingly very, very dull older brothers and sisters.) But let me now bring the two strands together: Manchester/parts of Lancashire and me being just a tad too old to be a punk. What this entry is all about is John Cooper Clarke.
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I heard of John Cooper Clarke when he was in his heyday but paid no attention. He was, after all, a punk thing and by then age had rather brutally excluded me from the punk thing. But by chance I have, very late in life, come across him again. And he is a gem.
There are many others who could rave about him far better than me, so I shall simply say that as far as I am concerned he is a one-off. His poetry might not impress the middle-class ‘poets’, but then they don’t impress him, either. He is witty and funny - and they are not always the same thing - he has verve, he has a love for language, he is good-natured and honest, and he does the virtually impossible: he takes what he does seriously without taking himself seriously. I think I am rather lucky to have finally come across Mr Clarke so late in life and I shall not pass up the opportunity to find out rather more about him and his work. For a flavour of the man, try this recent interview in the Guardian.