The fiercely funny 66-year-old punk poet from Salford, who performs for the first time at the El Rey Theatre, in May (2nd), shares his love of LA, the Arctic Monkeys and Zorro.
photography: Wolfgang Webster

John, how are you?
I'm at home in Essex. We've all got flu but I've got nothing else to do, so this interview will probably last about five hours. You'll be looking at your watch yawning and I'll be going 'Don't go!'” I'll be fine for the El Rey though, don't you worry, although I'm starting the tour in Las Vegas so anything could happen.

When was the first time you visited Los Angeles?
In 1982. I'd done a couple of shows in San Francisco and Palo Alto but I didn't perform in LA, I just had a look around so that's why this show is so important to me. I love Los Angeles, it's a special place – there's not a day that goes by where you don't see footage of Sunset Boulevard on the TV, so it's good to see the city with your own eyes. I'm particularly fond of the low buildings and lavish fenestrations.

Why do you love it so much?
Romantically, I'm an American. Everything I've ever loved has come from Los Angeles in particular. I love the music and the mythology of the place, going back to the Raymond Chandler books, and then all the way back even further to Zorro and old Spanish California. I was big on Zorro as a child. I still am.

You should move here and join our ex-pat community.
It's too late for me now I'm afraid. At my age I really need socialised medicine!

Good point. You started out as a punk poet in the late 1970's and now you're a bona fide legend. Who do you think will be at your gig?
I did a small gig at La Cita bar in downtown LA before Christmas and thought 30 disgruntled old punks would be there but they were turning people away. There's no age group for my fans. I get anyone from 16 to 95 in my audience and I guess that's a lot to do with being on the GCSE syllabus, being featured on The Sopranos and also being spotted by the likes of the Arctic Monkeys.

Yes, let's talk about how cool you are. Your poem Evidently Chickentown was used as the outro on the penultimate episode of The Sopranos. (click here to view/listen)
I was so proud of that. They did it very much under the radar but I don't care I was honoured to be on it. It was my favorite show on the TV after the Simpsons. My mouthpiece is Homer Simpson, if you want to know what I think, ask him!

And then the Arctic Monkeys turned your poem, I Wanna Be Yours, into a gorgeous ballad.
It was an unbelievable tribute. The poem was always a heartfelt little Valentine in the first place but Alex (Turner) converted it into a tender love ballad by not doing very much, that's why it's so good. He's got a place in LA so if he's around hopefully I'll be popping in for a cup of tea.
photography: Gerald Jenkins

Do you still enjoy performing?
More than ever. It's a sensational job. I love being in a car and I love touring. I've got that beatnik gene. Really, I love arriving somewhere where people are going to say really nice things about me. Who could hate that?

What would you say to anyone who wants a career in poetry?
I would say to them that most poets in history have never been professionals. Even Philip Larkin was a librarian. I'm quite unique that I'm a professional poet. My living standards stand or fall on the ability to write poetry that people like. Also, don't expect to start earning the big money straight away. Nobody outside of a lunatic asylum said, “I need money quick. I know I'll write some poetry!”

You're a national treasure. Are you happy to still be known as a “punk poet”?
I don't mind it really and it's understandable because that's what I was first known as, and you can't fight the mythology. It doesn't keep me awake at night, so you know what, punk poet it is!

John Cooper Clarke appears at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on May 2. Purchase your tickets here. For more US dates visit www.johncooperclarke.com

Big thank you to Goldenvoice for facilitating this interview for Brits in LA
Huge thank you to Lisa Marks for conducting the interview for Brits in LA
Massive thank you to John Cooper Clarke for being interviewed for Brits in LA 


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