Graham Coxon Q&A: “I live with a constant buzz of anxiety. I always have done”

The Blur guitarist talks Tony Benn, being trained to be scared, and the contents of John Lennon’s fridge.

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Graham Coxon, 48, is the guitarist in Blur and has released eight albums as a solo artist. He was born in Germany and went to secondary school with Damon Albarn in Colchester, Essex. He once described Britpop as a “grotesque travesty”.

What’s your earliest memory?

Aged around three, looking through a wire fence at a brown and white dog on wheels. My other memories are looking myself in the mirror and thinking “Oh, that’s you.” I still do that.

Who were your childhood heroes?

My heroes stemmed from my toys: Action Man, Steve Austin – I loved The Six Million Dollar Man. My dad was a bit of a hero – he was a bandsman in the army and had short hair and black shiny shoes. He always looked cool. When I was 7 I watched The Ipcress File and Harry Palmer became my hero – that’s when I started to want to be an actor. Music-wise, it was the Beatles all the way through – and then Paul Weller, Pete Townshend and all that lot.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

A few years ago Brian Aldiss’s books made a big impression: The Hand-Reared BoyHothouse, Super-State. When I met Damon he had paperbacks everywhere. He chucked me some DH Lawrence, then Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, and that kicked me off – that and Thérèse Raquin by Zola. I really loved that heavy stuff when I was younger. I was hungry for knowledge. Later, Paul Auster became a hero of mine. New York TrilogyMoon PalaceLeviathan . . . they’re incredible books.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

I like people who are staunch in their beliefs, partly because I don’t have the confidence to be staunch myself. Tony Benn had tons of class and got everything right as far as I can see. All of his rules about tea were spot on, too – never wash out the teapot, etc.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The contents of John Lennon’s fridge, 1967 to 1968. I imagine it was full of LSD, cheese, pickle and milk.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to go to the future I imagined when I was eight – getting in a cigar-shaped car and shooting down a see-through tube to the studio or wherever. When I was a kid I had this fake army belt that I put around a jumper, and then I'd slip a pen on to my belt, and pretend it was the thing to open the doors or a communication device. I did a lot of drawing , mostly of wars between future cities which would usually end in huge explosions with the whole page being coloured in red. I’d happily send these pictures to wherever my dad had been posted. And with Lego I was always making ray guns and communication devices – I must have made tons of iPhones when I was about nine or ten, yonks before Apple existed. Then I started making saxophones out of Lego, just to pose with.

But it’s quite regressive, isn’t it, society? I still dress like I did when I was eight. The whole idea of the future is very exciting to a kid, but could I do without the sky the Earth has? Can I do without the trees that we have here? Could I do with forgetting the culture we have here, the music and the art? It would probably be sucked into some little hard drive you could keep in your wallet. I suppose I’d like to go to a future when all the idiots have, like the dinosaurs, become extinct, and decent people can live in peace and quiet.

What TV show could you not live without?

I spend most evenings from 6pm to 7pm watching the news and letting the fizz of the day leave my body, and I sort of enjoy that. 

Who would paint your portrait?

Frank Auerbach. He’s my favourite painter. Though if I really wanted to look wonderful, maybe I'd go for someone else. A lot of people make pictures of me and put them up on Twitter. Some of them are amazing, and some of them look like a four year old has done them, but they're all fantastic. When I was growing up I was mad about Picasso and Marc Chagall – and there’s a painter called Chaïm Soutine who made some interesting portraits, they were very similar to what I was doing at the North Essex School of Art in Colchester. I do like a bit of Goya too.

What’s your theme tune?

I imagine I’m walking into a boxing arena with a cape on: “I’m Your Man” by Wham! Otherwise, I've always really liked “Flying” by the Beatles – a lovely instrumental.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I’m not sure I got any advice – that’s why I’ve had a somewhat clumsy life. I haven’t really known the value of time. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I procrastinate. Looking back I would explain to myself exactly what addiction is, and that it can happen to anybody: including you. And I would big myself up a bit more. Everybody needs to know, as they’re growing up, that they’re fantastic, and they can do whatever they fucking want, and no one can stop them. They should have the freedom to make their own mistakes, to draw on the walls, to fall on their face –  although  that might be a bit of a paradox, warning people about the dangers of falling on their face but then allowing them to fall on their face.

What single thing would make your life better?

If someone made some incredibly good vegan mature cheddar.

When were you happiest?

I’m happy when I’m allowed to recharge, psychically, when I allow the interference to die down in my head. I live life with a buzz of anxiety, constantly. I always have done.

The Seventies was fraught with all kinds of stuff for me: there were all sorts of worries there. You’re watching all those mad public information films on TV about getting electrocuted or dying on a building site or men saying, “Do you wanna come and see my goldfish?” You're just trained to be fucking scared right from the off. Thanks, world.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d be a postman, and then when I got home, I’d write incredible poetry.

Are we all doomed?

Most of us, yeah. Not all of us. I think some of us will make it out.

Graham Coxon’s soundtrack to the Netflix series “The End of the F***ing World” is out now on digital download

 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist