"We were business partners. That's what Blur became."

From the NME, 19 October 2002. Article by Sylvia Patterson.

Graham Coxon is wearing the biggest smile he has ever worn in the public domain. Certainly, it's a grin NME has never witnessed in over a decade of knowing the man, vaguely, through several interviews with Blur and the odd night-on-the-schmind in Camden. So much so, you find yourself staring at his teeth, not sure you've actually seen them before (good teeth, too, very big).

"Right now," he's saying, sipping a coffee, chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, "I feel like the guy at the end of 'The Shawshank Redemption'. Out of the shit-pipe and plopped into this rain water and it's, 'Uuuh!' Fantastic."

As the man said, "You can get busy livin', or you can get busy dyin'."

"Absolutely. That film is amazing, to see the restraint by which he goes about his business in prison."

And now you're working on your boat by the open sea. Completely free.

"Yeah. That's exactly what I am doing."

Graham, 33, looks fit, slim and well, wearing baggy-arsed jeans, a checked brown shirt, a dark brown suit jacket, two light blue pens clipped onto his pocket, skate-kid amber-gold through his dark brown hair. He looks you straight in the eye with his gigantic chestnut-brown eyes, something he never did before, because he couldn't, as the world's most permanently embarrassed person. We're in a café in Camden Town, home of a million tales called 'Graham From Blur's Gone Mad Again'; the tramp he gave £20 to for dancing in the street ("True, but I don't remember it"); trying to take people's trousers off, possibly gone gay ("I'd just get rather amorous! I did go through a phase of wanting to take my own clothes off, a lot"); carrying a cooked sausage in his pocket ("For one night, I got obsessed by Greek sausages, I threw it at a band and it got thrown back at me"); wearing a denim skirt in public, and on it goes. Last summer, he was socked in the jaw by a butcher on the high street, for attempting to liberate the meat from his stall.

"Fly, drumsticks, run for your life!" he guffaws. "Just being an idiot, really, nothing to be proud of. But I have been hit by a butcher wearing a denim skirt. A lot of people can't say that. People report these things because in a way they celebrate this madness. England loves its eccentrics, especially its weird eccentric off-the-rail rock stars."

But that's all over now. Graham hasn't had a drink since last November, when he checked into The Priory for a month, and hopes never to drink again. A "socially inadequate" person, skewed by "huge amounts of self-doubt", he'd spent a lifetime drinking for artificial confidence. Now, he's kicked the crutch away, no longer able to delude himself, "saying you're doing it for some reason: '(Theatrically) I'm drinking because I need to experience this darkness. That's f***ing killing me.'" He was saved, literally, by his friend Helen and ex-girlfriend Anna (mother of his two-and-a-half year old daughter, Pepper) who "grabbed me, sat me down and said, 'It's time to do something about this.'" It was his second time in rehab after a brief spell the previous March.

"They saw it more as depression than alcohol, so I got away with it that time," he says, in the matter-of-fact way addicts are. "But in November I thought, 'I can't hide from this any more, this bingeing, I can't stop.' I was getting very, very frightened. That I was gonna kill myself. That day when I sat down with my friends, I was in The Priory by four o'clock in the afternoon. Shitting myself."

What pushes a person to that 'it's now or never' limit?

"I've no idea. I have some idea. (Massive pause) When you feel like your soul is black. Or you haven't got a f***ing soul any more. And you look into the future and it's black as well. And you think, 'I don't really wanna live any more.'"

Last year, Graham split up with Anna but they remain good friends ("We're happier apart, it's not easy but deep down we're good people who love our daughter"). They're practically neighbours, and share their time with Pepper equally. Graham's fourth solo LP, 'The Kiss Of Morning', is by several dimensions his most confident and intensely personal; an emotional, frequently beautiful, often demented, folky, bluesy "little sketch-book" detailing loss, regret and hope: "There is light, definitely light, a way out."

The last song, 'Good Times', is an acoustic, piano'n'pedal steel heart-breaker, genuinely moving, a simple song about accepting there were good times and accepting they're gone. It's about Anna, but it could be about Blur. These days Graham is "a total Luddite", records on ancient equipment, no computers, and considers himself an amateur.

"There's no way I would want to be a professional," he says. "Professionalism is a total lie."

For 12 years in Blur, Graham was the accidental pop star, the awkward one, the musically discordant foil to Damon's pop sensibilities: "Playing live, I'd exercise my anger on this pop music. I wanted to endanger it, almost." By 21, he'd achieved his dream, from when he was nine years old, to be in a band, on 'Top Of The Pops'.

"From then on," he says, "the whole of my 20s was wondering what the next dream was. And that was the big problem. I didn't have any dreams except for some peace and stability. And that was impossible."

His 28th birthday, he spent agonising about turning 30.

"You think you're gonna be old, ugly, past it," he says. "I was going, 'I might as well be 30, I can't become 30!' In some ways, the last five years have been about turning 30. It's crazy to me now. And not accepting it caused me a lot of sorrow and frustration. I'm 34 next, for f***'s sake. 40. I'm 40! I'm f***ing 40. I'll be living in a trailer, singing about spuds."

As far back as the early '90s, before Britpop and the success which nearly broke them all, the members of Blur were punching each other in the face, out of their heads, in America.

"It's hugely complicated," says Graham. "Twelve years of all sorts of things. Honesty and communication is very important if you wanna keep a group healthy and Blur never had that. Never."

You put a very good front on it, the lot of you.

"Well, we were having fun, y'know," he muses. "But it became work very quickly. It just does. You sign to a record company and it becomes work. When we were punching each other in the face, it was turning into some mad job and it wasn't funny any more. I was a mad-arsed brat, basically. But I wasn't the only loony drinking a lot around Blur."

A lot of the blame for the current situation has been put on your 'erratic' behaviour.


But you've been erratic before. And the guys always stood by you. So what changed?

"I think they got more... serious about what Blur was in a more professional, commercial way," he says, "and I guess I don't have much respect for professional and commercial. Blur and me shifted. We were always shifting but perhaps that was one shift too far this time."

This May, the long-sober Graham turned up at the studio less than two weeks into recording Blur's seventh album, and was asked to see Blur's manager.

"And I was dismissed from the studio, basically."

You were sacked?

"You could see it as being sacked," he says. "Sacked is a funny word. I guess... dismissed. I was told that they didn't want me in the studio. And that was the end of it. I thought, 'Bloody hell.' It was a bit of a shock. So I got some legal advice. And I'm bloody glad I did. If I'd known this was how they were feeling when I was in the studio, there's no way I would've been there."

You didn't know they felt that way?

"No I didn't. Last time I'd spoken to them it was all smiles and 'See you on Monday.'"

But these are your buddies you grew up with.

"Yeah... y'know... I can't say too much, with the legal stuff. But you know, it's just the truth."

It's inconceivable that they wouldn't talk to you themselves.

"It was to me. I would've preferred that. I think I deserved more. But if that's how they wanted to deal with it, I have to respect that."

The time will come when you're in the same room as them again. Are you dreading it?

"I am a bit. 'Cos it's gonna be embarrassing."

Like being in a room with three ex-wives.

"Yeah. Heh heh. Yeah it is! Oh, I'm glad they're the ex-wives. (Camply) Ex-husbands, actually. It's divorce. It is divorce. It's the same thing as divorce. And all the Blur children are going, 'What's happened to our parents?'"

Do you consider those three to be your friends?


Graham insists that he didn't have a problem with Norman Cook.

"I've got nothing against Norman. Jesus, I thought it was just him and Damon having drunken arguments about dance music, but maybe my shyness was mistaken for some kind of attitude."

Neither did he have a problem with Gorillaz.

"It's just contrived and pointlessly commercial, but then I'm an old fogey."

The new Blur album he says, is "very different, very eclectic, traditional stuff then lots of ideas and suddenly you hear this guitar and it's fantastic. Heh heh! I'm on four songs, but I don't know if they'll be on the album."

He's now looking forward "to seeing Blur live. I've never seen Blur live. Maybe they'll be brilliant without me," he says. "I don't think the story's over with them. They'll carry on. Personnel is now... secondary to what Blur is."

It's tragic, though, after a lifetime, not even to have any friendship.

"Well, they haven't particularly acted like my friend," says Graham, after a lengthy pause. "I don't think they acted as friends would. I probably haven't for years. It's kind of good I don't have to pretend any more. To like... certain people. I think there was a lot of pretending to be friends. I remember Dave said years ago, 'If we weren't in a group together we wouldn't be friends.' We were all (feigns hurt) 'Dave?!' But he's f***ing right."

Were you really never friends? You called Damon your "musical twin".

"Yeah, but in the end we were business partners. Basically. And that's the f***ing truth. That's what Blur became as a band."

Is that what they are?

"I don't see how else it could be."

You wonder why they're bothering. They don't need the money.

"Maybe they do."

They don't have anything to prove, particularly.

"Maybe they do. And I don't feel I have to prove anything to anybody any more. Maybe that was the problem all along."

So you don't actually like these people any more?

"Blur? I really don't know whether I know them any more. It got so complicated. I'm not sure we actually, really, even know each other any more. At all."

Today's Graham has few burdens, feels the breeze of "freedom", boss of his own Transcopic label, delighted that "I don't have to do what record companies tell me." He's bought a home in Kent, somewhere to escape to from Camden. The self-consciousness now manageable.

"I still get it," he says. "I still can't stand cameras being pointed at me. I'm just better. I couldn't look anyone in the eye because I was a shitty person. Now I don't feel like a piece of shit. I'm really happy. Maybe the last time I felt this clear-headed was when I was eight or nine."

He's all excited, now, is Graham. His PR has brought the artwork for 'The Kiss Of Morning', hand-drawn by Graham, a child-like landscape, somewhere in space. He bounds over, picks it up, holds it for the very first time.

"This is the universe, man... a sunny day... trees... light... silver clouds... planets. I like planets... there's a booklet too (also self-illustrated)... a bird with a love letter... a fairy... looking a bit downtrodden? Well, it's carrying a very heavy pencil..."

And what's this here (on the back sleeve, in tiny type): it says 'File under psychiatric'?

"Oh god," he blinks, "they kept that on. It was a little joke. Well, they used to say 'File under psychedelic', in the olden days. Now it's 'File under psychiatric'."
by scummy | 2008-01-25 01:03 | interview


by scummy


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