Vocalist Damon Albarn may be the face of Blur, but guitarist Graham Coxon
was its secret weapon.
Coxon's inventive and versatile playing powered the
influential group through its many incarnations, from its inception as a
faux-Madchester dance band, through its brilliant mid-'90s Britpop albums
"Modern Life is Rubbish" and "Parklife," to its embrace of American indie
rock on 1999's "13."
The guitarist had already begun to branch out with delightfully twisted,
lo-fi solo efforts by the time of "13" -- he founded his own label,
Transcopic, and released "The Sky Is Too High" in 1998 and "The Golden D" in
2000 -- but Blur fans were shocked when he announced his departure in the
midst of recording "Think Tank" in 2002.
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In addition to the inevitable "creative differences," Coxon says that he
wanted to spend time with his then-newborn daughter, and he needed to
distance himself from the band in order to battle his alcoholism. Since the
split, Albarn has become even more successful -- as the driving force behind
Gorillaz, he finally scored the multiplatinum hit that had long eluded Blur
in the United States -- while Coxon has been romanticized as a sort of
troubled reclusive genius a la Syd Barrett or Nick Drake.
"I guess people are right to romanticize -- I do it about other people,"
Coxon says. "The downtrodden and the underdogs need to be able to relate to
people who are doing stuff. I always related to Pete Hammill [of Van der
Graaf Generator] or Nick Drake, someone who is plowing their own sorrow and
has a certain belief in what they do -- someone who has no choice but to do
what they do. That makes the freaks and the weirdos know they are not alone.
"I'm not an easy person; I don't sit easily in this century," the
guitarist adds. "Reality is a pretty weird place for me. I don't dwell too
much in the real, and that was especially true when I was having alcohol
problems. That got very dangerous, and I am lucky to be alive. It made me
take a tremendous step back from everything and reconfigure my priorities."
Clean and sober after a stint in rehab, still devoted to his now
5-year-old daughter and enthusiastically making music on his own, Coxon
denies rumors of a reconciliation with Blur.
"When it stops being good, when it stops being fun, it's a bit like
drinking -- you have to stop," he says of the band. "It wasn't easy. It was
very painful, but I knew that I had to get out of a bad situation and
concentrate more on my mental health and my domestic situation and my
daughter. Father-daughter relationships are important, and the last four
years have been amazing.
"I didn't have a plan," Coxon concludes. "It wasn't like I had this sack
full of songs. But suddenly [after quitting Blur], a weight had been lifted
and my writing seemed to have moved on. I don't know why, but I thought,
'Wow, these songs are really asking me to be well-produced, carefully
recorded and played on the radio!'"
Released in mid-2004, Coxon's fifth album, "Happiness in Magazines," is
as wonderfully idiosyncratic and eclectic as his earlier releases, veering
from the driving Britpop of "Spectacular" to the gonzo blues of "Girl Done
Gone," and from the frantic garage rock of "People of the Earth" to the
beautiful psychedelic pop of "All Over Me." But it is the strongest and most
polished of his solo efforts, benefiting from his collaboration with Stephen
Street, the veteran producer of Blur and the Smiths.
"Stephen forces me to slow down a little bit," Coxon says. "I am a
berserk person in the studio; I jump from bass to guitar to the vocal mike
and back to the drum kit, but he does slow me down, and that is good because
then I get to analyze a little more."
At long last, Coxon also has regained the confidence to return to
touring. He is in the midst of his first solo jaunt through the U.S.,
fronting a five-piece band with what he calls "the classic Manfred Mann's
Earth Band lineup": two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards.
"I thought that as soon as I had written these songs, I should tour
properly, because one day I might regret not doing it," he says.
At the Double Door tonight, Coxon will play to one-tenth the crowd that
greeted Blur on its last American tour, but that doesn't bother him. "The
Graham fans were always a weird subsection of Blur fans, but they were all
the ones I thought were really cool," he says, laughing.
As for the differences between his solo material and the songs he brought
to Blur, he maintains that he applies the standards to his own music that he
brought to his partnership with Albarn.
"My stuff has a particular kind of wit or cheekiness or melancholy to
it," he says. "It's kind of consistently Graham-ish. It just has to be
successfully communicating what I'm feeling, and that is good enough for
REASONS TO LIVE
After the Oscars, a lot of press coverage was accorded the gift bags
given to presenters and nominees. Among the contents: cashmere pajama
bottoms, mink eyelashes, a gourmet coffee maker, an ultra-thin mobile phone,
a bottle of exclusive olive oil, a red leather cosmetics case and vouchers
for free vacations and gourmet dinners.
Estimated value, according to the London Guardian: $150,000.
Based on the notion that the freebies say something about the event, I
thought I'd catalog the contents of the gift bag -- a sturdy canvas tote
decorated with cartoon art by Robyn Hitchcock -- presented to each
registrant at last week's annual South by Southwest music conference. They
An 8-pound pile of assorted alternative weeklies and glossy music
Two books of matches and a combination cigarette lighter/bottle opener.
Thirty-six assorted brochures, pamphlets and fliers advertising music
services and products and a dozen promotional CDs.
A guitar pick, a set of ear plugs and a card entitling the bearer to one
A "Hangover Survival Kit" packaged in an oversize screw-open "pill
capsule" adorned with a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck;
contents: two antacid tablets, two pain-relief tablets and, inexplicably,
one moist towelette.
An embossed card with the contact info for MusiCares, the social
outreach program of Grammy sponsors the Recording Academy which, among other
things, helps musicians without health insurance pay for a trip to rehab --
in case the Hangover Survival Kit fails.
Estimated value (I did the math):