I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke review – chapter and verse

This riveting memoir of the Salford dandy’s ascent to national treasuredom charms with tales of heroin and Sugar Puffs

Even at the start, John Cooper Clarke never had stage fright. “They say about people in showbusiness, ‘They ain’t got something extra, they got something missing’.” In Clarke’s case, he was untroubled by self-doubt, and however low he sank, that never changed. You can hear it right through this wild ride of a memoir, in the sardonic Salford drawl that’s always ready with a quip or a comeback. Here, that voice takes a while to tune into, for it’s strange to have this dandified poet suddenly present himself in the plain clothes of prose. When he recalls his family, for instance, I couldn’t help think of his magnificently gloomy A Distant Relation: “All of our yesterday’s./ Familiar rings,/ I have to get away,/ Its breaking my heartstrings,/ We have a drink,/ On special occasions,/ It makes me think,/ About distant relations.” But the truth is in every way more prosaic. The young poet loved his mum and dad and most other members of his clan.

A nervous, malnourished youth, born in 1949, the young John survived a bout of TB to grow up in the largely Jewish neighbourhood of Higher Broughton (“Had I seen Schindler’s List? I was on Schindler’s List – Dr Schindler my dentist, that is”). When his mother went shopping, she parked him at the Rialto picture house, where a lifelong passion for movies was born. A bookish teen who hated school, where he was chastised for his “lack of team spirit”, he immersed himself in Mad magazine, comic books and pulp fiction, not to mention clothes, music, adverts, hair styles, modern art, football and showbusiness. The intricacy of detail he supplies is staggering, right down to his uncle’s “beautiful pale-blue and cream Dansette”, and you start to wonder: is he going to tell us everything? Apparently yes, because he’s forgotten absolutely nothing. This is the Lancashire lad as mohair-suited Proust, weak of lung but iron of will, plotting his course from antic poète maudit to punk laureate with all points in between.

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