John Cooper Clarke at Thomas De Quincey’s grave (via BBC)
“Are you aware, my man, that people are known to have dropped down dead for timely want of opium?” This, one of the great all-purpose sentences in the English language, has lost none of its utility since it first appeared in Thomas De Quincey’s 19th-century drug memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. If you don’t have a personal valet to try it out on, see how it works on your boss, or when you get to the front of the line at Baja Fresh. Tapping the back of your left wrist for punctuation when you get to the word “timely” drives the point home, I find.
In this episode of the BBC series The Secret Life of Books, John Cooper Clarke, punk poet of Salford and quondam dope fiend, takes viewers on a literary journey to the bottom of a bottle of Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup. Though Clarke doesn’t use Alexander Trocchi’s phrase “cosmonaut of inner space,” I can’t help thinking of it when he pits dopers’ rights to the sacred disorder of their own minds against the depredations of capital:
De Quincey used opium to explore his dramatic inner world. To my mind, he was a visionary in a utilitarian age. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the qualities of vigor, productivity, and strength were valued over opiated idleness. And then there’s De Quincey, living like a secular monk in the tainted monastery of his own mind.
Dr. Clarke makes Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” his own on This Time It’s Personal, his new full-length collaboration with ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Punk poet John Cooper Clarke sings ‘MacArthur Park’ with the Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell