“My mission was always intended to be slightly outside the public eye because that makes me appear more interesting than I really am. A lot of people don’t realize that merely by staying away, you can create a myth.”
So says Julian Cope, a guy who once titled an album Too Freud To Rock and Roll, Too Jung To Die and whose list of things he’s done or is doing besides playing music, is probably as long as anybody’s arm. Whether he has been able to create a myth may not be certain yet, but he is certainly running close. Oh, and mythology is definitely one of the things he dabbles in, with dabble being an understatement.
Whether he has been able to create a myth may not be certain yet, but he is certainly running close.
Still, is he interesting at all? Given all the facts (and fiction), he certainly is. Much more than he intentionally tries to downplay himself as. Let’s see – he lead at least three bands (probably more), has a few scores of solo albums, wrote and published a novel, wrote and did not publish (but read publicly) poetry, wrote record reviews (and published them all over), wrote four excellent books dealing with modern music, practiced (and still practices) a number of esoteric arts and sciences, including shamanism, wrote two detailed books on the Megalith era in Britain and Europe, and all the while used and abused a series of substances and opiates about which he recorded a few albums. And he seems to just be starting.
Teardrop Certainly Explodes
It seems that not making it in art school was (maybe still is) a very popular path for making it in music on the British Isles. Syd Barrett, Bryan Ferry, the list goes on. Julian Cope is among those. His art school was in Liverpool in the mid-’70s where he met with a few musically inclined guys like Ian McCulloch, later of Echo & The Bunnymen and Pete Wylie, later of Wah! That combination didn’t work out, and to say it did not end amicably would be an understatement. In retrospect, it always seems that Cope was never a guy who was easy to get along with, so he had to lead his own group.
Teardrop Explodes…will go down in the annals of modern music as a band that had a hand in shaping the post-punk music scene…
Teardrop Explodes was the first one he started and led and it was certainly a success. They will go down in the annals of modern music as a band that had a hand in shaping the post-punk music scene with its modernized pop psychedelia. ”Treason,” from the band’s debut album Kilimanjaro (1980) still stands as one of the seminal tracks of the ’80s.
Besides becoming known for a great singing voice and having a knack for a good song, Cope’s reputation for debauchery and drug abuse had a parallel growth. As well as his reputation for being prone to conflict – like the one with his then label’s owner which broke the band to pieces.
…Cope’s reputation for debauchery and drug abuse had a parallel growth.
The beginning of his solo career was no less controversial. Coming up with a beautiful pop album in World Shut Your Mouth (1984), he managed to divide his audience with a macabre video for “Sunshine Playroom”, directed by the famous rock photographer David Bailey. The drug use went up a notch, so, in a way, following in the footsteps of Syd Barret (one of his idols), he came up with Fried (1984), one of the most evocative albums dealing with drug use. Later on, in 2017, he matched it with Dope on Drugs and Drunken Songs, an album devoted to alcoholism.
Throughout the ’80s and up to the mid-’90s, Cope came up with a series of brilliant, melodic pop-psych albums characterized both by excellent music – be it acoustic (Droolian) or electric (Peggy Suicide) or both (Jehovahkill) – and controversial lyrics (any and all of those). From Saint Julian to Interpreter, Cope did not make one musical misstep.
…he managed to divide his audience with a macabre video for “Sunshine Playroom”, directed by the famous rock photographer David Bailey.
That latter album started his more detailed involvement in deep psychedelic music, drone, and long jams that put him out of the public eye, even with his more devoted fans – a fact that probably had more to do with his hyperactive musical production. From there on, Cope started getting involved in a number of collaborative musical projects. One was the heavy metal/jam-oriented band Brain Donor, and more recently, Black Sheep, which is to present, as he put it, “a musical exploration of what it is to be an outsider in modern Western Culture”. Their album Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse deals with Che Guevara, Yoko Ono, and Carl Jung, among others. By 2013, Cope was on his 29th album, and he hasn’t been any less musically productive five years later, and ten more albums after, he is up to Skellington, an album series already on Volume 3 since April 2018.
It’s Only Words
So goes a line from a Bee Gees song, and don’t be surprised if Julian Cope does some form of a tribute to it at one point or another. But it is words, spoken, and particularly written, that Cope currently holds an even higher reputation for than his musical one.
His interests in all thing esoteric, particularly shamanism and Druid mythology have resulted in two accomplished studies on the Megalith period in Britain and Europe (The Modern Antiquarian and The Megalithic European). He also managed to publish an audio guide of The British Museum (his choices, of course). But words obviously suit Cope well – he has published One Three One: A Time Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel ( believe the title), and four books on modern music, of which at least three are essential reading. Head-On/Repossessed (actually two books in one) is a sort of a musical memoir of the Liverpool punk and post-punk scene, while Krautrocksampler and Japanrocksampler are comprehensive reviews of the German and Japanese rock scenes of the ’70s with Cope’s selection of the essential albums from both scenes.
…it is words, spoken, and particularly written, that Cope currently holds an even higher reputation for than his musical one.
Copendium is a collection of album reviews that Cope has written, usually going down unbeaten paths and it’s coupled with an audio selection of tracks. Doing reviews of ‘unsung’ albums is a tradition Cope transferred to his online site, www.headheritage.co.uk, where he has chat groups on everything from his music to all things Druid.
So Julian Cope goes on, without a sign of stopping or changing the one predictable thing about him, and that is that you should always expect the unpredictable. Substance(s) use and abuse or not.