Thursday, 16 April 2015

Julian Cope - One Three One

One Three One is so named after the route number of the "only" major road on the Italian island of Sardinia, and as this is Cope's alternate reality where Jim Morrison is still alive, but Van Morrison isn't, partly as a result of Jim Morrison's way with words, we will accept the dramatic licence. The book is the tale of a walking wreck and alternative culture star by the unlikely chosen name of Rock Section and his thoroughly repugnant mates, a bunch of Liverpool FC football hooligans, and their collective disastrous shenanigans at the World Cup of Italia '90. In 2006 Section, in what are inferred to be his final days, returns to Sardinia in order to hopefully find answers to the whys and wherefores of the tragic events that unfolded 16 years earlier when Section and his chemically enhanced posse became the hapless victims of a mass kidnapping by a now incarcerated Dutch hooligan-come-shaman by the name of Judge Barry Herzog. Or at least, that is what this weighty tome is about on the surface.

Rock Section acts as the narrator. Unlike his mates, it seems he is a football hooligan more by association than action, and an 80s indie rock star turned rave-remix DJ to boot, on whom the finer points of being human are utterly wasted, a particularly appropriate choice of adjective. Mr Section is self-serving, nihilistic, and a permanently drugged-up fucker, whose sole purpose in life seems to be the obliteration all traces of humanity from his perma-monged body and soul. This he achieves by constantly ingesting any and all forms of consciousness altering chemicals in unfeasibly vast quantities. If Rock Section's body is a temple, then he obviously takes great delight in repeatedly shitting on its altar. This putrid mess of a man is introduced to us in stomach-churning fashion having fulsomely and noxiously followed through on a fart into his brown leather kecks while sitting in a plane on the way to said Mediterranean island. Sympathetic he most definitely ain't.

Section is obviously based on the author, right down to his Midlands upbringing and his friends' Liverpool roots. It would normally be the case in books of a similar character set up to say Section is an exaggerated version of the author. In Cope's case it is difficult to know where or indeed if the exaggeration begins, in which case "parallel version" is probably a better description. One can only hope that Cope is somewhat less self-absorbed than his fictional reflection! By the book's end Section, having had to cope (heheh) with his time on Sardinia without the assitance of his usual diet of chemicals, has redeemed himself somewhat, via justified revenge on his and his mates' tormentors from 1990 and by the healing power of lurve, baby.

Reading reviews on Amazon, it becomes clear that many of those who struggled with One Three One have never read any of James Joyce's streams of consciousness, or any of the Beats' prose as that is definitely where this rambling tome is coming from, but on far more drugs, both in variety and quantity. Yep, even more drugs than Burroughs. Unfortunately, Jack Kerouac this most certainly is not, although an appreciation of the great drunk would definitely help where One Three One is concerned. It is the opposite of his two autobiogs, Head On and Repossessed, which were the kind of books you'd pick up mid-evening, and put down reluctantly at 1am, as it's work the next day...but sod it there's only a couple of chapters to go, and finish them anyway to arrive at work the next day bleary eyed and irritable. No change there, then! One Three One on the the other hand starts off as hard work, as Cope's clattering and rambling verbiage takes some getting used to, especially if you have never encountered his thoroughly entertaining and out-there reviews in Ur-pagan rock star speak over on his Head Heritage website, where it works far better in a journalistic context. Unlike Kerouac at his best, whose paragraph-long sentences flowed with a poetic beauty, One Three One jerks along like a clapped-out car with a clutch problem, steered by a driver blessed with only a rudimentary sense of direction. However, once the novel has crunched through the gears and settles down and you become accustomed to the scatter-gun language, it is an entertaining if overlong tract.

Back to the narrative - most of Section's mates were themselves involved in the rave scene and lived parallel lives in the music biz alongside their righteously violent existence as Liverpool FC hardcases. The ongoing football theme includes a particularly harrowing chapter of first-hand description of the Hillsborough disaster, and the burning sense of injustice that came out of it. This is particularly poignant now, as the chief police culprit has finally admitted responsibility back in the real world. Of course as is often the way with Liverpool fans, no mention is made of the Heysel disaster. J96? Yes of course, but J39 is just as relevant.

I digress...The imaginary soundtrack to the tale is provided by DJ Jesu Crussu on 89.9 FM Radio, where "bands" that would fit right in to Head Heritage's long list of obscurities in the reviews section blast out whole LP sides at a time of righteous rock'n'roll. In a novel twist (ahem), Cope has constructed a website where you can read descriptions of these fictional bands, and in most cases sample the "work" of the Brit contingent via Bandcamp, mostly for free. The music is basically Cope messing about with synths and beat boxes and anything else lying around in the studio, and is mostly practically unlistenable. It is indeed a shame that "Slag Van Blowdriver" does not actually exist, but on the website one can enjoy the world's "First Indie Football Hooligan" with his only slightly headache-inducing eponymous toy-synth racket bangin' away in the background while you read...or the foreground if you like that kind of thing. It is probably the most palatable "tune" on offer.

I had to laugh when I discovered the only track not being offered for free was all of 28 seconds long, for which you have to pay £1. Unlike the other fictional bands, this "band" has a discography on Bandcamp of three releases, all of which will cost you real money. They are called "Nurse With Mound" - yes, I see what you did there...very funny, Mr C! And, no I didn't buy them, playing them on streaming was quite enough thank you very much.

As well as Rock Section reminiscing about Italia '90 and his mates, those hooligans-turned-rock stars-turned-hooligans again (Happy Mondays parallels, there?), the rather thin plot in the here-and-now is fleshed out with a succession of classic cars, (dis)organised crime, and sundry other devices. A running theme is Section's growing attraction to his travel guide cum chaffeur Anna who acquires the prefix "Blessed" as Section increasingly deifies this picture of Latin beauty. The psychedelic parallel plot diversions involve Neolithic Doorways that facilitate headless time travel back to a world 10,000 years ago where everyone is chemically enhanced by ephedra, a natural amphetamine, and our hero is a pre-history tribal leader...possibly. Flitting between two timeframes, Mr Section has to face all this without his usual supply of drugs, and becomes ever more strung out as the fantastical tale evolves. Actually "unravels" might be a better word.

One of the funniest parts of the book is where Section describes how back in 1990 he avoided the fate of his witless friends and fellow kidnap victims, that is, being buggered by their captor. This our hero achieves because he is lactose intolerant - you'll have to read it to find out how or why! When Cope gets it right he can be a wickedly funny author, but the reader has to hack their way through some dense prose jungle to arrive at the witty bits. The book was edited by his daughter, but I get the impression she dropped her machete about 20 pages in and hoped no-one would notice, least of all her dad.

It says something about Cope's standing as an alt-culture underground icon that a publisher as big as Faber & Faber took this on, as you can bet your last spliff that had this been an unknown author the only way it would ever have seen the light of day would have been via the dark arts of self-publishing. I acquired this as an Xmas present, and frankly I'm glad I did, for had I bought it I would have felt somewhat shortchanged. A definition of the word "gnomic" reads "difficult to understand...enigmatic or ambiguous" and that would have been a far more apt choice than the word "gnostic" featured in the book's subtitle.

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