Saturday, September 16, 2023

Tales from the Rickshaw: of John Cooper Clarke and Clash road manager Johnny Green!!! (and Mike Garry and the Merch Guy)

John Cooper Clarke last night at the Rickshaw, by Allan MacInnis

Johnny, I never knew ye! Mr. Green, I have a link below you'll perhaps want to visit (a piece of historical writing that I did which involves you; my apologies that it wasn't forefront in my mind when I was interacting with you, but I did not know that's what I was doing). First, I hope you don't mind if I give some backstory to my readers about our brief conversation. I will omit potentially compromising details (but I will report, what I believe, was a joke on your part, though it took me awhile to realize it!).  

So... scene: Rickshaw merch table, where I opened one of Dr Clarke's two books (the one I read roughly half of when thinking I might get to interview him). There, against my hopes, I discovered he had signed it. Obviously this needed to be bought -- if not for me, then for someone else -- but it turned out that, inquiring into the price, that, having tipped both servers who had served me that evening (and bought two drinks for myself), I was now $1.75 short in a cash-only context to pay the full (very reasonable) $25. Check the wallet, check the pockets: no more coins. The merch guy -- a Brit on the tour, too, of perhaps a slightly younger vintage than Dr. Clarke (but not much), whose identity I did not establish -- forgave me and expected nothing more, but (slinking away sheepishly), after a moment's contemplation (and imagining scenarios in which I tried, say, to borrow $1.75 off Mo, which prospect I just did not feel comfortable with) and otherwise wrestling with myself, shook my head, raced up the Rickshaw stairs, and took $20 out of the account I'm trying not to touch via the ATM that would charge me three dollars extra, so I could a) buy a Coke - to get change, y'see; -- and race back down the opposite stairs to give the merch guy five dollars -- "because," as I said to him when I did it, "I'd rather pay too much than pay too little." 

He chuckled and seemed to appreciate the gesture. 

Well, I am glad I did this, because a) having bought something, even if for someone other than myself, and b) having in effect tipped this dude, albeit for the equivalent of a small coffee, this then emboldened me, a bit later on, to ask the same merch guy if Dr. Clarke would maybe sign a couple of records after the show was over. The merch guy told me that I should wait by the door, while he was handling merch transactions, then -- when the door opened -- directed the emcee for the evening, who had been introduced by Dr. Clarke as Johnny Green, to take me back to get my records signed. And so I found myself in the Rickshaw green room with Dr. John Cooper Clarke, after the show, as well as said Green (at this point I did not realize who he was or that I had written about him, briefly); and the wife of either one of them (or perhaps Mike Garry, the Manchester poet who opened). 

Johnny Green introducing John Cooper Clarke

Well, what does one say? It ended up that I jabbered a bit about John Otway, URGH! (my introduction to both Dr. Clarke and Mr. Otway) and the Minimalist Jug Band (who I believe has opened for both men in the past and who will be opening for Otway at LanaLou's on November 4th). But by way of breaking the ice, I wanted to be social and offer them something, some welcome-to-Vancouver kind of thing. And there I was, without any Timbits; all I had with me were some cannabis gummies. Perhaps cannabis gummies also say, "Welcome to Vancouver?" Hell, Are they even legal in the UK? These were Pearls, the black container ones, the high-CBN items (also with some CBD and less THC): ideal for relaxing and/or sleeping, but also slightly intoxicating. 

Maybe they had jetlag? A sleep aid would perhaps be helpful? 

Besides, being the kiss and tell type, just as I have let the world know that I gave tentacle porn to Lemmy Kilmister (but can't say if he watched it), I knew I would get to say I offered drugs to a man who bought heroin off Chet Baker (even if he didn't take them). A story is, after all, a story (you've read this far, right?).  

So that seemed like a fun thing to do: "Uh, would anyone like some cannabis gummies?" I explain their aforesaid properties and crack the seal. And while I will not disclose whether anyone actually took them, I hope Johnny Green won't mind my recording that he did NOT take one, saying something like, "Bah, rubbish! You know what I always say" (standing close -- tall and a tad intimidating -- and pointing a finger in my chest), "Soft drugs are for soft people!"

It takes a while to process this, during which time I have to go through a few layers of response, unvoiced and refreshing in my brain every few seconds, replacing the previous reaction:

1. Wait, are you insulting me? What the fuck?

2. Wait, no, it's worse, maybe: are you actually offended that I am offering cannabis? Did I just fuck up? Will I still get my records signed?

3. But, uh, it's true, I am kinda soft. Fat, too! Physically and spiritually soft. Mishima would disapprove. Should I say something in defense of softness? "Soft is love! What's wrong with being soft?"

My mind tries to formulate a soft-positive comeback, but finds itself sliding down a cliff without purchase. None of the alternatives that spin unvoiced through my mind seem fitting. And Johnny is still standing close, watching me think about it. You will here understand that I had already had a gummy myself, a bit earlier; I'm not drooling but I'm sideways enough that I've been contemplating that the shadows over John Cooper Clarke's eyes, seen through his shades, bear an uncanny resemblance to the eye makeup worn by John Travolta in The Devil's Rain, my favourite occult horror film. Is this a design feature or an accident?

4. After a few minutes, it comes clear in my head that the inverse of "Soft drugs are for soft people" is "Hard drugs are for hard people." It takes a few minutes for me to piece this together. Is he stating a preference for hard drugs? How does one respond to THAT -- "I'm sorry, I didn't bring any heroin with me...?"

5. I scan back and do a fast recap of interpretations 1-4 and give a sorta-chuckle-or-something, stammering in confusion: "Wait, what... uh...," I say, and he says, turning to take a seat, "Make of that what you will," or something to that effect. He's apparently enjoyed my befuddlement, which I am now thinking might have been the point: it was some sort of one-on-one impromptu hazing ritual he's pulled on me. I've been, kinda, pranked, or at least subject to some memorable wit, and I'm impressed: this man has a rich and colourful sense of humour, apparently, and a larger-than-usual personality (which also manifested on stage, where he was sort of an interim act during his introductions). Thankfully, our further chatting was a bit easier on my brain, as I babbled about Otway and the Minimalist Jug Band, etc. (with whom I talk about Dr. Clark here). 

There was a bit more to the interaction, tho'. Green (who remained steadfast in his lack of interest in gummies) made sure that Dr. Clarke added (as to per my request) "to Al" on my copy of Zip Style Method, having examined the cover, commenting as he did (while Dr. Clarke signed the back of Snap, Crackle, & Bop) on the decisiveness of ZSM's front cover as a representation of Dr. Clarke, and adding that it was the image of Dr. Clarke with his hands in the pockets that made the back work so well. 

For my part, standing there awkwardly, I explained to the room that both the Minimalist Jug Band and myself were named Al and this way, if I predeceased Al, he could have both the record AND the inscription, if you see what I mean. 

I guess it's a weird thing to have someone want to live for -- "I just hope, whatever happens, that I outlive Al MacInnis, so I get that record" but, y'know, whatever, I'm the architect of this situation, I can't blame him if the thought flickers; maybe it will serve as motivation through a health crisis or something? ("If I die now, I won't get that signed Zip Style Method." We all need SOMETHING to live for, right?) 

And I got to get a good photo of Dr. Clarke's cool (snakeskin?) boots:

Anyhow, to their credit, I guess, everyone in the green room seemed amused by my babbling, affable, relaxed, and accepting of me, "soft person" or not. Plus, as you see, I got me rekkids signed. Only after I left did Erik Iversen (thanks, Erik) fill me in on who I had just interacted with, besides Dr. Clarke; he'd read Green's book, A Riot of Our Own (Erik is actually much better read on music history than I am) and was fully hip to who we had seen (he enthusiastically recommends said book, by the by). From the publisher's page: 

Johnny Green was a footloose slacker who loved punk rock, stumbled into being a roadie for the Sex Pistols, then tripped again into a job pushing sound equipment for the Clash and driving their beat-up van to performances in the mean industrial towns of England. Disaffected youth anointed the Clash as their spokesmen and made the group synonymous with punk itself in the late 1970s. Eventually becoming the band's road manager, Green had a unique vantage point from which to witness the burgeoning punk rock movement while helping the band in their perpetual search for women, booze, and drugs. Green was with the Clash when they conquered America, bringing with them their bad behavior and great music, and burning out after their third, too-long tour. Written in a tell-it-as-it-was style and accompanied by contemporaneous drawings by Ray Lowry, who tagged along with the Clash on their American tour as their official "war artist," A Riot of Our Own pierces the heart of the culture and music of punk rock and the people who lived it.

And indeed, as I say, I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT JOHNNY GREEN MYSELF, in the Montecristo article entitled (and about) "That Time the Clash Played Soccer with a Bunch of Vancouver Punks." It was only one sentence, and it was based around a quote from the Pointed Sticks' vocalist, who was in the soccer game himself (the Pointed Sticks, note, play the Rickshaw in a couple of weeks, with Night Court before them and the Avengers after them; more on that to come). Quoting myself:

Clash road manager Johnny Green was charming to the girls off the field, but—according to Nick Jones—was “a big monster, playing as though his life depended on it” during the game itself.

Aggressive at football, sharp of wit: honour to meet you, Mr. Green! 

As for the show: John Cooper Clarke was very entertaining. Mike Garry was moving, funny and captivating too, but surprisingly much harder to follow than John Cooper Clarke, considering the general speed of Dr. Clarke's delivery. Both men got ample laughs from us, generally in-between poems, but Dr. Clarke's jests were significantly developed and expansive enough to serve as a sort of secondary act, like he was a poet in between bursts of his own variant of standup comedy, which was just as fun as his poetry, if somewhat more old-fashioned: I would not be surprised to discover that some of his jokes date back to the Manchester equivalents of Henny Youngman or WC Fields. Maybe he lifted one or two off Bernard Manning himself (the man who gave him his first stable gig, pretty much around the time I was being born, I think, whom Garry also namechecked apropos of a mention of his Manchester venue, the Embassy). Manning would have enjoyed some of his one-liners, like the one that framed marriage in terms of playing cards, with the marriage starting on a "a heart and a diamond" and two weeks later had you wishing for "a club and a spade." (This was apropos of a performance of "I've Fallen in Love with my Wife"). 

There was also a routine involving anyone over 60 being a "bed-blocker" in the UK medical system, interfering with younger and more vital people getting care, apropos of "Bed Blocker Blues." Dr. Clarke riffed for a few minutes on this theme, taking in Swiss assisted suicide clinics, which he may not realize had a local resonance here in Vancouver in the death of Elizabeth Fischer, and joking about having Alzheimers, explaining that it had three good points: that you could hide your own Easter eggs; that you met new people every day; and that, third... (he let us wait for it), you could hide your own Easter eggs. 

As Dr. Clarke might say (adopting an unexpected US-gangster-style accent), Geddit? 

Mike Garry

Clarke was very funny, in any case, and did very fun deliveries of several poems I did not know ("She's Got a Metal Plate in Her Head," for instance) and a few most of us likely did. He explained, by way of introducing "Beasley Street," that it was frequently framed as a commentary on Thatcher's Britain, but that in fact he wrote it eighteen months before she took office; he also did an "Evidently Chickentown" with "fucking" instead of "bloody" as the default descriptor (and some humming-through of a line he'd forgotten). He didn't actually manage to get off the stage for the encore ("I was going to milk it, but there were stairs involved," so he just about-faced and came back), but he did give us "I Wanna Be Yours" as a show-closer. I like that well enough, but my favourite of the ones I knew was and remains "Twat," performed earlier. He invited the audience to chime in on the last line, without telling us what it was, then, when it came around, pointed the microphone out towards us and let us do it all ourselves.

I was very pleased that a good number of us called out this word zestily: "Twat!" we shouted, and he deadpanned, "Right on time..."

(Actually, it was a superb audience. I haven't been this impressed with an audience's listening skills as the time that the whole Rickshaw listened attentively to Ford Pier as he opened for Bob Mould. I fancy I had had a hand in that, having written a very well-timed feature about Ford, immediately prior to that show, but tonight I can take no credit. This was, simply, an intelligent, civil, and impressively full house.Which was nice, because I had misgivings that I'd made the right choice -- I could have been watching Iggy Pop in Victoria, after all. "Would a noisy audience ruin the night?" was definitely on the list of things to worry about, along with, "Would the house be inadequately filled?" and "Would I understand Dr. Clarke's Britishisms?").

Happy to report: I made the right choice. By the by, Mike Garry mentioned Iggy by way of introducing a poem during his set written about Tony Wilson (the subject of 24 Hour Party People -- the character played by Steve Coogan -- who also appears in John Cooper Clarke's memoir). This poem, "St. Anthony," managed to speak to me even without my having as deep an investment in Wilson, who I know about as little about as I do, say, Terri Hooley (though more than I do about Johnny Green). It was also the subject of a video which played before Garry took the stage. This video in fact features Iggy Pop; if you are contemplating seeing John Cooper Clarke, I would recommend arriving early, to also see Green and Garry. 

Final note: Clarke coughed a few times tonight. I hope he didn't catch something on the plane over...! (His delivery was very enjoyable and fluid, though). 

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