The art of noise
MUSIC:Julian Cope’s sharp, often funny guide to underground rock homes in on the unknown, unloved and even unreleased
Copendium: An Expedition into the Rock’n’Roll Underwerld, By Julian Cope, Faber and Faber, 721pp, £30
History told as a straight line is almost irresistible. The first World War led to the Versailles Treaty and that led to Hitler and the second World War. Ireland was a poor country and then it became a rich country and then it went back to being a poor country. Sam Phillips discovered Elvis, and The Beatles went to Hamburg.
The straight line is useful; it can clarify. “And” is a great little word. But, often, complexity is flattened and – there we go — tricky questions are ignored or pushed aside. The line becomes official, and attempts at presenting history as something less straight are “alternative”, “extreme”, “daft” or just “unhelpful”. But, nevertheless, Hitler was always on his way; expensive handbags are still available at Brown Thomas; and rock’n’roll would still be with us if Elvis Presley had never walked through the door of Sun Records and if The Beatles had settled in Hamburg and become German.
I mention Elvis and The Beatles because they don’t get mentioned very often in Copendium: An Expedition into the Rock’n’Roll Underwerld.
It’s a huge book, a genuine tome, more than 700 double-columned pages, with discographies and footnotes but, unusually for a book about rock music, no photographs. I’d never heard of many of the bands and individuals that Julian Cope writes about in Copendium, and I still don’t know what they look like. But I now know what they sound like. This is not straight-line, Memphis to Liverpool history. Strictly speaking, it isn’t history at all.
Yet it is. And it’s very interesting.
Julian Cope is, according to his Wikipedia entry, a “rock musician, author, antiquary, musicologist, poet and cultural commentator”, “a recognised authority on Neolithic culture, an outspoken political and cultural activist with a noted and public interest in occultism and paganism”. He could only be English. As the leader of The Teardrop Explodes, he recorded great songs such as Reward and Treason (It’s Just A Story) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has continued to record as a solo artist – his album Jehovakill (1992) is terrific – and has had numerous musical side projects, including Brain Donor and Black Sheep.
Copendium is a collection of album reviews, exactly 10 years’ worth, which Cope wrote for his own Head Heritage website. He homes in on the “unsung”, music that is unknown, unloved, even unreleased. The reviews weren’t written in any chronological order, but that is how they are presented in Copendium, the 1950s through to the 2000s, its one concession to history as a straight line.