On dreams, Julian Cope and John Greening

In these dreadful times of international crisis, it’s unsurprising that several people I’ve talked to lately have reported that they’ve been having really out-there dreams, worthy almost of the psychedelic effects in Ken Russell’s Altered States, whose star, William Hurt died yesterday. My elder son told me about a dream he had of giant vampiric lobsters. I’ve been having vivid dreams, too, exacerbated by some virulent bug which has made me achy, heady and snotty since Saturday. This morning, I woke up, strangely, with the tune and words of ‘Lunatic and Fire Pistol’, the closing song of Julian Cope’s first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984), spinning around my head. I suppose that shouldn’t be altogether surprising since it’s an anti-war song, in the mould of Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’ and, more appositely, The Zombies’ ‘Butcher’s Tale’ from their masterpiece Odessey and Oracle (1968), which undoubtedly was among the great 60s psychedelic classics which influenced Cope – as much anything by Love, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Chocolate Watchband, etc. The Peel session version of ‘Lunatic and Fire Pistol’ can be heard here.

Cope(y) was and remains one of the greatest English/British psychedelists. For me, World Shut Your Mouth is up there with The Teardrop Explodes’ second album Wilder as being the highlight of his early career, if not his greatest achievement per se. (A Quietus article here quite rightly debunks the commonly-held view that Wilder was somehow inferior to Kilimanjaro; to me, the latter was a collection of very good pop songs thrown together rather than the cohesive great album-suite which Wilder was. I remembered earlier that I bought Wilder from Our Price on the Uxbridge Road after a QPR game.) As well as being lyrically and melodically superior to his subsequent output, World Shut Your Mouth features the mournful and really rather lovely oboe- and cor anglais-playing of the Raving Beauties’ and Dream Academy’s Kate St John on several tracks including the stand-out ‘Elegant Chaos’, which I would be very happy to have played at my funeral. Incidentally, St John plays a major role on Cope’s [****cliché klaxon alert****] fellow eccentric, literate visionary Van Morrison’s second-greatest album, 1986’s No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, and some of his subsequent lesser albums too. (The less said the better about Morrison’s anti-vaxx and other ramblings of the last year or so.) Both World Shut Your Mouth and Wilder remain very high on my list of all-time favourite albums four decades on.

In the last week or two I’ve been reading various pamphlets for reviewing purposes, though I’m glad to say that that’s been very much more of a pleasure than any kind of chore. I’ve also been working my way through Vapour Trails, John Greening’s 2020 collection of reviews and essays, published by Shoestring Press. A very fine poet himself of course, Greening is illuminating both on poets with whom most of his readers will surely be very familiar and on those with whom they might not be. In my case, he’s made me want to seek out the collected works of Fleur Adcock, Elaine Feinstein and Lotte Kramer, none of whose poetry I know especially well, and to fill the gaps in my collection of Peter Redgrove collections. Greening’s judgements are well-demonstrated with textual evidence and his opinions always seem deeply considered, sound and good-humoured. (I should add that I was delighted to find an excellent essay on Patricia Beer which Greening wrote in 2016 for The Dark Horse focused entirely on different poems from those which I discussed in my essay on Beer for The Friday Poem, but came to broadly the same conclusions about her poetry and outlook.) Whilst I’m on the subject of vapour trails, here is a singular one, another fantastic classic song from yesteryear, 1990 to be precise.

And whilst this time it’s clearly making me go all Smashie and Nicey, I’ve found from experience that being full of germs is not conducive to having the good critical sense required for drafting poems, so I’m thankful that I managed to write some new ones last weekend. Neither is it any good for writing reviews or essays which I must crack on with.

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