Notes On Cope

A post about my favorite, Julian Cope.

He had the most romantic of origins: he moved to a college city to study art but ended up fumbling his way into the world of Liverpool post-punk. And after brushes with pals who would go on to Echo & The Bunnymen and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, he found garden-variety success on the UK charts as a pop idol with Teardrop Explodes. It was an avenue to "do a real British icon but take the piss immediately". Brimming with confidence and totally cynical, he was a perfect popstar. He was, seemingly, already a godhead.

And while the band had the same manager as Tears For Fears and an army of people marketing his records at Mercury, his love of psychedelic music and pop iconography would meld into complete self-sabotage as Teardrop Explodes finally fizzled out in to the pink and purple New Wave Ether. It was a frame of mind that would be perfectly embodied on the cover of his second solo album, Fried. Naked under a giant tortoise shell and staring whimsically at a bright red toy truck, there couldn’t have been a more perfect avatar for an artist wrung dry by the demands of a manufactured image and the almighty major label machine.

The year 1984 was marked by those first two solo records which today carry the approval of critical consenus. The next three years, however, were marked by silence.

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"Failure is not something to be proud of", Cope said in interview regarding his first solo albums and so his next work would prove be a return to the charts with two of his most produced records.

In 1987 we would meet a slightly familiar, but altogether fresh Julian Cope. The venom and swagger that seemed to pour of the bowl-cut front-man in 1981 was back, this time packed into leathers and crawling on a jungle-gym microphone stand.

by Andrew Catlin

by Andrew Catlin

But through the digital reverb and drum triggers lie a flawless batch of punchy, meta-rock songs in Saint Julian and a handful of pretty great pop songs in My Nation Underground (a bomb that he admits to being half-present for). I recommend scooping up both of them in dollar bins, they’re both well worth the price of admission.

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Cope’s Sqwubbsy character protesting the Poll Tax in 1990.

Cope’s Sqwubbsy character protesting the Poll Tax in 1990.

The next Julian Cope that emerged was even more energized and self-assured. While recording b-sides for the maligned My Nation Underground album, he found a creative spark that would lead to two almost totally improvised albums he self-released as bootlegs (Droolian [a benefit for Roky Erickson] and Skellington). He would write two books of memoirs: Head On, about his time in Teardrop Explodes and Repossessed, about his solo years in the 80’s. This led to two sprawling, uncompromising double albums that most fans of The Archdrude consider canon and that Island Records considered worth dropping him over.

The first, Peggy Suicide, centers around ecological desctruction. The second, Jehovahkill, reflects Cope’s weariness of organized religion. Both records might strike you as gratituous in their extended solos and occasional groove but remember this is the guy who literally wrote the book on Krautrock and championed rock-and-roll oddballs like Arthur Lee, Roky Erickson, and Pere Ubu in the Huey Lewis-sanctioned mid-80’s. Just picture the “Saint Julian” character after a lifetime of record collecting and becoming radicalized by John Sinclair’s Guitar Army.

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Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Our hero goes on to become a leading expert in megalithic Europe, by publishing two books on the subject and helming a wonderful and hilarious BBC documentary. He also wrote proflically about music in the books Japrocksampler and Copendium and through his site Head Heritage, itself one of the first music blogs.

OH YEAH, he still makes great music and dresses like an absolute freak.

Corey Cunningham