Those dastardly Bunnymen

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Repossessed: Shamanic Depressions in Tamworth & London (1983-89) by Julian Cope Thorsons £12.99

Repossessed: Shamanic Depressions in Tamworth & London (1983-89) by Julian Cope Thorsons £12.99

Published in a single volume with Head-on, Cope's 1994 account of the desperate egotism, self-destructive tendencies and creative rivalries which fuelled his band The Teardrop Explodes and their post-punk, Liverpool Scene contemporaries (principally, Echo and the Bunnymen), this sequel is a very different beast. Where Head-on described the clambering rise and catastrophic implosion of a near-great rock 'n' roll star and his band, Repossessed is set in the limbo which followed. This is the story of what took place in Cope's head once the parade had passed him by - once his head was almost all he had left. It's a tribute to the fearless self-obsession of the writer which, since The Modern Antiquarian, his guide to the prehistoric sites of Britain, he's principally become, that these diaries of a recluse are still energetically enjoyable.

The principal tension of this book is the sense of a vast, essentially benevolent ego describing the world according to his own insular logic, even as that world terrifies him to the point of catatonic dread. "I felt that I'd been given the name for a reason ... I had to cope", he decides at one point, typically searching for portents. But for long periods, Julian could not cope at all. Instead, his life in the 1980s is revealed as a quest for truthfulness and growth sometimes conducted on little more than thin air. Tamworth, the Midlands village he grew up in, was where Cope and his wifeto-be Dorian went to escape the fall-out of The Teardrop Explodes' demise. But the comfort of being so near innocent memories quickly removed any will to return to the fray. Instead, with a sort of enthusiastic irony which almost covers the despair of his actions, Cope describes how a world once defined by tours and stardom quickly shrank almost to nothing. Convinced fans might be hiding in his garden, equally fearful they might not be, he and Dorian shoved furniture against their front door, pulled their cocoon (some would say straitjacket) tight. He became a sort of micro-pop star, remembered only by teenage Tamworth neighbours. It's as if Elvis had retired not to Graceland but to his mother's shack, and only the kids he grew up with still honoured him - a sort of private, provincial memory of fame, of a small-town escape that failed. For all the episodes of claustrophobic absurdity he describes, it's hard not to sympathise with this regression. It's just the interlude Elvis and other rock casualties must have wished for, after all. And, even in this idyll, there's a surreal steel to Cope that stops complete collapse.

"Way down some obscure corridor in my soul, my own sense of uniqueness still remained powerfully intact," he writes. "I decided that I should deal with the decay of my existence in my own way."

His principal method of reconnection to the world, of course, was music. Ignored by a hostile record company, he gingerly eased himself back into work, like a crash victim learning to walk. The most notorious episode of his solo career, slashing his stomach with a broken mike-stand at his first London gig, is remembered as a calculated attempt at self-mythologising at the close of a dull show; the cover of his flop album Fried - Cope naked under a turtle-shell, staring at a toy bus - was the product of more awry logic. The cumulative affect was to make Cope's reputation even more freakish than his reality, to reduce him to an object of contempt.

There were more successful, wild tours to a frothing Japan, and a deceptive return to stardom (the hit single "World Shut Your Mouth"). But, even as he describes them, they feel like a sideshow. Whether on stage or at home, Repossessed's drama, as its title suggests, is essentially that of a man trying to refind the self-belief which rock 'n' roll once gave him. It's telling that, as the shadows tentatively lift from his life at the end of the 1980s, the inspiration which reconnects him to his muse is a writer, the great rock journalist Lester Bangs. His response is to decide that rock 'n' roll isn't limited to music, and to hasten the writing of Head-on. His most cohesive records and renewed respect were still to come, beyond this book's timeframe. But the seeds of a unique literary life had been laid.

There are pages in Repossessed, as in all Cope's work, where focus fades, and no rounded point is made. There are passages of bile, too, towards rivals like hated Bunnymen leader Ian McCulloch, which suggest that this is not the most reliable memoir. But as the outpouring of an extreme, inspirational voice - its coughs and splutters resolutely included - music's loss is reconfirmed as literature's unexpected gain.