“Can you see the real me? Can you? Can you!” Daltry’s vocals rattled my cage. But it was the conviction of Townsend that floored me. Although I hadn’t lived Jimmy’s life, throughout Quadrophenia I could feel what he meant. What Townsend meant. But I still couldn’t see the real him. I searched Tommy, Who’s Next and A Quick One. Each track, I stumbled on a myriad of sharp reflections, angled melodies and heart attack rhythms. Always combining to paint pictures with a seamless velocity. Angry, peaceful, torn and smirking landscapes that I could see; irrespective of how detached my physical experiences were from those of the song’s subject. I still couldn’t see the real Townsend. But I felt his every twist and turn.
Ray Davies lured me onto the village green. I fell through the vortex floor with Mr Weller and drifted under Nick Drake’s pink moon. More recently I’ve heard Barrett’s madcap laugh, been singing in the morning with Kevin Ayers and floated on Michael Chapman’s Caddo Lake. Each time getting lost in songs with singular but familiar points of view. All very…”English?” offered a friend. Well. Yes. But what does that mean? Soulful indifference? Untutored wit? The quintessential? It’s hard to express. It’s in the music. The intonation and lilt. Emotional corridors that ring to the echoes of back-street phrasings. Black and white cutouts of peculiar yesterdays. It’s a feeling that can eat boundaries: folk-rock-spiky-psychedelic-man. It’s hard to explain but a perspective that Graham Coxon seems to intuitively understand.
Reviews spanning his six solo albums have erected signposts to hallowed halls of the English vernacular. Listening to Coxon’s acclaimed 2004 album, Happiness In Magazines, the directions are unmistakeable. Like Townsend and Gillmour, Coxon has the ability to weld guitar-playing fingers to the emotional mainline. Riffs, licks and chopping acoustic waves roll with and bite at the meter and intonation of his vocal delivery. And arrangements ebb and snarl with an emotional ferocity that is reminiscent of Ray Davies. In March he released Love Travels At Illegal Speeds. A buzz-cocked urgency fuels the subtle come-ons of its predecessor. Coxon’s intent may have intensified but the emotional backdrops can be achingly familiar, particularly on Flights To The Sea and Just A State Of Mind. I was hoping to find Mr Coxon with an open state of mind. In recent interviews he has come across as relaxed and thoughtful, in contrast to the reticence apparent in previous encounters with the press. But then I remembered a Mojo interview with Dave Gillmour. Towards the end of a stop-start conversation, Gillmour apologised for his reticence, explaining that sometimes, he finds it easier to say what he means when playing. It was a very English apology. Love Travels At Illegal Speeds has been associated with themes of love so I decided on a broad, opening question: what is love?
“What is it?” questions Coxon. “Hmmm. Don’t know. No.” I had intended this as a light-hearted opener, a slight tease. But my timing was all out. Coxon admits to being shattered and looks understandably distracted by my question. Like a naughty schoolboy, I panic. Is it an album about love? “No no,” Coxon replies. The songs I recorded. There were loads. About twenty-odd. They weren’t all about…it’s not really about love though, it’s about other things. Things you misconstrue for it.” On his new album, from a first-person perspective, Coxon skilfully and passionately navigates the treacherous torrents of raw emotion, never drowning in the pity of self-devotion. Not always an easy task. I continue my run of colour-by-number questions. Do Coxon’s albums reflect his emotional state? “Yeah, yeah. I can’t really make it up very easily. I can only really embellish on what I’m feeling and my experiences. So, yeah. It’s more a reflection of how I’m feeling than anything else.”
With an all-mod-con soul, Coxon launches into Love Travels At Illegal Speeds with Standing On My Own Again. It’s his uplifting melancholy that pours through the speakers. But it feels familiar. For someone who confesses to feeling self-conscious at times, it must be difficult to be so emotionally honest? The questions just keep dribbling out. “Not really, no.” states Coxon. “Because it’s such a…they’re things that everyone feels. So it’s not like you have to be ashamed of it. All my favourite music was a bit like that really. It’s like being a nudist, isn’t it? You’re doing something a little bit indiscreet in a way. And against what I would naturally be like, to be able to be comfortable that way.”
Coxon has been practising his indiscretions in London for the last 17 years, a city he says he’s not sure why he lives in any more. Recently he splits his time between London and a house in Kent. Has it had an effect on his outlook? “I think so,” Coxon answers. “Because I thought that I wouldn’t be able to write outside of London. Or I was scared of trying, scared of failing to write. But the last few times I’ve gone out into the countryside, I’ve written two or three songs in a day and that’s great because there is a change in those songs. I’m beginning to think it might be an interesting change. So I’m thinking about using it as the form of my next ideas.” Ideas that may have a more pastoral feel: “I’m doing a lot of chores and riding motorbikes and visiting some friends that are a lot older than me,” continues Coxon. ”And talking to them. Just seeing animals and tress. I’m a lot more into the countryside than I used to be. I never used to really like it very much. But now I, you know, it’s more what this country is about. It’s the countryside. I kind of get angry with this country because it doesn’t look after the countryside as well as it should do. And its culture.”
Coxon ponders thoughtfully and awkwardly around each question. My timing is still shot, so I try to bow out with a breezy number; are the British slowly losing their inhibitions when it comes to the subjects of love and sex? I get a glimpse of Coxon’s state of mind at that point in time: tired, distracted, thoughtful and passionate. “I think there will always be a nudge nudge attitude,” he replies. “There’s always something that English people will really like but feel they’re not allowed to. Because we ain’t French or Italian. We’re not meant to be. You know, everything has its peculiarities, the humour and the language. It should stay that way. Because, you know I like the fact that the Scottish are Scottish and the Welsh are Welsh. I hate all that; we should all be the same British…bollocks. I think the word British should be banned. Because there’s nothing wrong with separate identities. The differences are great. Because we know that everyone’s always going on about how important the similarities are. It’s like the English this and that, the English flag, the bloody, anything English…it’s really silly because we’ve got some of the best folk… just really interesting folk music. You know, there really is some incredible stuff and we should be really proud of it and explore it because there’s an awful lot there for everybody. You know, for people, not just for beards.”
Before I depart, Coxon mischievously makes an apology: “Sorry I’m a bit…spaced.” I left rather dazed and shuffled away with English manners, without realising I had tickets for his performance at The Marcus Garvey. I didn’t quite get to see him. But if you want to see the real Graham Coxon, I’d recommend exploring the enchanting and slanted landscapes sketched into the heart of his solo material.
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- June 13, 2006 / 5:50 pm