Things are Gonna Get Worse

By John Cooper Clarke

What me worry? I should care,
Shit for brains, wire for hair,
I’ve seen the future and I ain’t there,
Things are gonna get worse.

Velcro slippers and a spandex wasteband,
Washed up on Planet Wasteland,
Zipped up like a nylon spaceman,
Things are gonna get worse.

Things are gonna get worse, nurse,
Things are gonna get rotten.
Make that hearse reverse, nurse,
I’m trying to remember everything that I’ve forgotten.

Things are gonna get worse nurse,
things are gonna get crappy,
colour me perverse nurse,
bad news always makes me happy.

Things are gonna get worse nurse,
things are gonna get dismal,
smite me with a curse nurse,
make it something real abysmal

Things are gonna get worse nurse
I ain’t optimistic
I’ve got a mouth like a purse nurse
and a bungalow smelling of piss and biscuits

things are gonna get worse nurse,
murder by statistics,
take me back to the first verse,
the last ones just too pessimistic

Euthanasia – that sounds good,
An Alpine neutral neighbourhood,
Then back to Britain, all dressed in wood,
Things are gonna get worse.

Commentary by Will Hoare

Salfordian performance poet, John Cooper Clarke, came to in the late seventies at the height of the punk era. Referred to as a ‘punk poet’ Clarke would often support at concerts for bands such as Sex Pistols and Joy Division. His notability for such performances resulted in Clarke recording several albums where his poetry was mixed to music by producer Martin Hannet.

Cooper-Clarke wrote Things are Gonna get Worse in 2008 a year prior to turning sixty. The poem focuses on the depressing reality of growing old whilst satirising the tribulations that come with it. When performing the poem Clarke often warm up his crowd by making jokes which introduce the theme of the poem for example ‘there are three advantages to Alzheimer’s, number one, you can hide your own Easter eggs, number two, you get to meet new people every day, number three, you can hide your own Easter eggs’. This satirical view of senility sets up the poem that is to follow and in some ways prepares the audience for the thematic black humour that is involved in Clarkes work. The poem and the humour which the poem generates is exemplified its value as a performance. Clarke’s poetry can be easily enjoyed through reading alone however its value as a performance is significantly superior. Clarke enjoys entertaining many different shows throughout the UK each year and has done for the last thirty years, the fact that he still has a following willing to pay to see him perform shows illustrates his the poems importance as a performance.

In the poem Clarke manages to tightrope the fine line between pessimism and depression, his hyperbolically cynical outlook on growing old gives cause for humour and enjoyment. He opens up describing a clichéd image of a decrepit pensioner ‘Velcro slippers and a spandex waste band,Washed up on Planet Wasteland,Zipped up like a nylon spaceman, Things are gonna get worse’. He continues saying ‘make that hearse reverse’ in some ways asking to be young again and ‘I’m trying to remember everything that i’ve forgotten’ which is again focussing on the memory loss and senility that comes with old age.

The poems specific structure adds to its effectiveness as a performance, through the opening of the poem in the first few stanzas Clarke uses a simple rhyme scheme of ‘abcb’, a rhyme scheme which is ironically most commonly used in nursery rhymes, in contrast to the geriatric theme that runs in poem. This rhyme scheme works hand in hand with an iambic trimeter format giving a flowing rhythm to the poem complimenting its function as spoken word. As the poem continues however and Clarke speeds up his speech the rhyme scheme alters slightly as the stanzas adopt a more traditional tetrameter form.

The dark comedic tone of the poem overpowers its pessimistic and gloomy context, offering to the audience a tongue in-cheek depiction or alternative to growing old. In videos of the performance we can even see that one of the biggest laughs from the audience comes following a stanza, which makes light of euthanasia. ‘Euthanasia that sounds good, an alpine neutral neighbourhood, then back to Britain all dressed in wood’, his expression and talent as a performer means that he is able to reference what is in everyday life a fairly dark subject however with a sense of hyperbolic irony which reduces it to a more amusing notion.

Throughout the poem the speaker continuously refers to some sort of ‘nurse’ ‘colour me perverse nurse, bad news always makes me happy’. It is not fully explained in the poem but we can however make assumptions that Clarke could be referring to a nurse in a retirement home therefore taking on the persona of a satirically cantankerous pensioner who is ranting in a clichéd nonsensical manner. The speaker even exclaims ‘smite me with a curse nurse make it something real abysmal’ suggesting somewhat of a sincere disregard for his own wellbeing. Suggesting that Clarke is the basis of the poem signifies that he is in many ways foreshadowing his own future referring to ‘a bungalow smelling of piss and biscuits’ a crude but recognisable association with the elderly.

Clarke uses his pessimistic intellect to portray the dark and depressing reality of life and getting old, his talent as a performer however manages to turn this miserable reality in to a form of comical uplifting entertainment.

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