Anyone who picks up this book can’t say they weren’t warned in advance….
“One Three One is a Gnostic whodunit that pursues readers’ memories of all previous fiction into a peat bog and impales them with seven-foot long pikes'”
“A total skullfuck of a book”
“The myths and legends of Rock, rock and rocks collide on a freak-strewn highway leaving the reader feeling like a back-seat passenger suffering psychic whiplash.”
All of the above spot-on quotes can be found on the jacket of One Three One, the debut novel by Julian Cope, a genuine epic of 438 pages. It is a work, I suspect, like very few others as it, I would surmise, put all readers through a topsy-turvy emotional and intellectual wringer for at times you will think it contains some of the best and most imaginative prose ever put to paper while there will be nights when you can hardly keep your eyes open such is the struggle to understand what the hell it’s all about and where it’s going to go next.
The novel centres around the exploits of Rock Section, a hit musician from the 80s who just also happens to be a time traveller capable of jumping back to a precious life 10,000 years ago. So far so bizarre.
The gist of the storyline is that Rock has travelled to Sardinia from England in June 2006 in an effort to find out why it was that he and some of his mates ended up being kidnapped when they were part of the football supporters who went to the island to watch matches (and take part in acts of hooliganism) at the 1990 World Cup. One Three One refers to the Strada Statale 131 which is the main motorway running in a north-south direction across the island, with almost all of the action taking place on the road or close by. Crucial to the plot is the fact that the road takes you close to many hidden ancient doorways which enable Rock to jump back and forth between 2006 and 10,000 years previous. And when he did, it more often than seemed to the complete bemusement of this reader taking the story off at huge tangents that make no sense at all.
On many occasions, One Three One reminded me of a Joycean epic….and here’s where I confess that despite at least twenty goes, I’ve yet to finish any of the books written by the much heralded Irish novelist. They are impenetrable, unfathomable and just too difficult for my level of intellect. And if wasn’t for the fact that I am such a fan of Julian Cope as a musician and writer, I would in all likelihood never have finished this book either.
And yet…..there were, as I mentioned earlier, sections of the book that were quite wonderful, not least the stunning puns that are littered throughout its pages. And if nothing else, the twenty-odd pages and two chapters covering the day of the Hillsborough Disaster when 96 people died at a football match through no fault of their own are essential reading. I was moved to tears of sadness and anger.
But overall, these plus points are not enough to say that reading One Three One was an entirely enjoyable or satisfactory experience. It was an almighty relief when I got to the end….which without giving anything away seemed a bit rushed and disjointed given all that had been described in such detail over the previous pages.
I should also mention that the book is full of references to what appear to be imaginary songs by imaginary bands, including those in which Rock Section had found fame. But what won’t come as a surprise given it stems from the amazing brain of Julian Cope, that nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems. The following I think gives a flavour of some of the best things about the novel….
Atlantis? : Formed in 1970 by Sardinian cave anarchists around the guitar talents of fifteen-year-old boy prodigy Gennargentu, Atlantis? was a fierce Mithraic ritualistic music beating bongos and bones in the dust of long-dead humans. This commune band was inspired by the post-war theories of Sardu writer Pedru Réppu, who popularised the belief that their island had once been the Atlantis of legend.
Brits Abroad : Formed with breathtaking audacity in the ecstasy-fuelled opportunism of the Rave Era by social worker and Jungian poet Mick Goodby, Brits Abroads’ world-infamous Number One anthem ‘Last Tango in Paris’ sets off an unholy chain of events central to the plot of One Three One.
MICK GOODBY – vocals, lyrics
ROB DEAN – guitar synth
BRENT GARRETT – bass synth, squeaky dog toy
DEAN GARRETT – tenor synth, squeaky dog toy
(Later KEV NOGGINS – drums)
Dayglo Maradona : Rave band formed by Rock Section, former Low Countries vocalist and hero of One Three One, in an ephedra-fuelled homage to his favourite footballer, Argentinean striker Diego Maradona.
Mick Goodby/Exercise Club : Picking himself up from rock bottom after being kidnapped during Italia ’90 and hermiting at his mother’s thereafter right up to the millennium, poet Mick Goodby makes an accidental comeback through his Exercise Club series of solo CD releases.
Forest of Dean : Formed by former Brits Abroad synthesist Dean Garrett in response to the wretched trajectory of his life, this rinky-dink New Age combo of one released several delicately-clad 10” EPs in the years 1994-2001.
Judge Barry Hertzog : This Dutch border rebel DJ renegade uses his role as the self-proclaimed ‘First Indie Football Hooligan’ to promote a Messiah-like solo music career from atop his DAF armoured car from deep in the woods around the uplands of his beloved Drenthe.
Kit Kat Rappers :Formed under protest by Rave scenesters Gary Have-a-laugh, Stu and Yeh-Yeh, at the behest of compadré Mick Goodby, the Kit Kat Rappers’ story permeates the various plots of One Three One. The later addition into the group of posh rapper Leander Pitt-Rivers Baring-Gould, under the name Full English Breakfast, leads to a large chart hit.
Low Countries : This Liverpool Post-Punk outfit was the place where One Three One hero Rock Section cut his music business teeth, being ‘installed’ in the band as lead singer at age seventeen by their manager/svengali Arthur Tadgell.
Make Fuck : Formed in the southern Sardu foothills of Mt Línas by cave anarchists from nearby Gonnosfanadiga, this famous power trio churns out ‘cavernous crud, only its lupine howling and overdriven bass bringing the remotest clarity to this soupy anarchist testament’ (One Three One, page 114).
Neon Sardinia : These high-living darlings of the 1970s Sardinian art scene – conspicuously wealthy with their Lamborghinis and actress girlfriends – reclaimed for the island many of those ancient traditions and festivals deemed by previous generations to be too heathen and unchristian to hold onto. Ironically, it was precisely these re-enactments and reconstructions that ultimately led to the kidnapping of their synthesist Fabrizio Arra.
FABRIZIO ARRA – vocals, synthesizers
ARTURO VACA – vocals, synthesizers
Nurse With Mound : This Japanese avant-garde duo were formed in Sardinia by visionary Egg with accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Misstra Know-It-All. Their songs range from the angry-man-screaming-at-broken-walkman-style street corner protest of ‘We Apologise For Nothing’ to the multi-layered post-Miles Davis jazz of Mixing Concrète.
EGG – vocals
MISSTRA KNOW-IT-ALL – saxophone, clarinet, turntables, guitar, tuba, samples, synthesizers, cymbal, French horn, cor Anglais, piano, sousaphone, tympani, triangle, bass drum, snare drum, piccolo drum, tapes (cassette, DAT, 15” Studer), violin, contra bass, dwarf cello, music box, telephone, Buddha box, rhythm box, banana box, tambourine, cigar box, Jack-in-the-box, quardplums
Spackhouse Tottu : Formed by Sardinian brothers José and Luis Mackenzie, this pioneering Mediterranean dance act pumped out single after seven-inch single throughout their early career, sampling Krautrock, garage rock and electro punk for their mental two-minute-hate songs. As live DJs, the pair cannibalised Klaus Schulze’s most proto-techno pieces in order to stretch out Rave music into an over-caffeinated cartoon version of the Zeitgeist.
JOSÉ MACKENZIE – turntables, vocals, samples
LUIS MACKENZIE – turntables, vocals, samples
(Later BUGS RABBIT – music director, keyboards)
Spion Kop : Formed specifically to cause a rumpus by Dutch DJ Judge Barry Hertzog with cohort Pit-Yacker MC on dual vocals, Spion Kop managed one smash hit in the form of ‘Das Boot’. Taking a clattery drum and stomping sample from Japanese ’60s beat group The Spiders, Messrs Hertzog and Pit-Yacker screeched their declaration of the Anfield Kop’s pre-eminence in unison and without restraint.
HERTZOG – vocals, samples, FX
PIT-YACKER MC – vocals
Vesuvio : Famously reclusive throughout the 1970s, this Naples-based commune band made their name from their titanic metal self-titled debut, whence came their signature tune – the side-long fifteen-minute epic ‘Pompeii’. Generally a quartet, they were often augmented – live and in the studio – by relatives and family members.
Music as described above has been released and made available within a website associated with the novel and/or on bandcamp, although many of them are now hard to track down. It was thanks to a T(n)VV reader who, having picked up from a previous posting that I was taking on this book, got in touch with details of the novel’s bonkers soundtrack. Indeed, I’d go as far as to describe it as a total skullfuck of a soundtrack so don’t say you haven’t been warned.
mp3 : Brits Abroad – Last Tango In Paris
mp3 : Brits Abroad – Boogie Nights/Takin’ The Rap
mp3 : Dayglo Maradona – Rock Section
mp3 : Forest of Dean – Black Forest of Dean
mp3 : Judge Barry Hertzog – The Border Rebel
mp3 : Mick Goodby – Kick
mp3 : Spackhouse Tottu – The Daemon
mp3 : Spion Kop – Das Boot
Big shout out to Keith. Hugely appreciated.