:: Article

Dennis Cooper Does Drugs

By Stewart Home.

(First published in Headpress 17, Summer 1998)

THE POLO BAR on Bishopsgate is open twenty-four hours a day. The coffee is variable, so I usually order tea. I arranged to meet Dennis Cooper in this particular café because it is conveniently close to Liverpool Street station and three Jack The Ripper murder sites. Dennis is a Los Angeles based novelist whose cult fiction explores his obsessional interests in young boys, sex, murder, turds and bad pop music. Cooper’s latest novel Guide (Serpent’s Tail) contains a sexually explicit sequence featuring a thinly fictionalised version of Blur bassist Alex James. Cooper agreed to meet me if I’d plug the writing of his current boyfriend Michael Tolson, a twenty year old junkie from Pittsburgh. Michael is looking for someone to publish his novel Crap Hound – more about that later.

As he stumbled into the café wearing an old jacket over a white t-shirt, a pair of cords and Timberlands, Dennis looked like he fronted an indie band, specifically The Fall. However, from the way he stared in fascination at a coffee stain on our table it quickly became apparent that Cooper didn’t share Fall singer Mark E. Smith’s penchant for booze. For a moment I’d thought Cooper was drunk but his boyfriend quickly corrected this erroneous impression. “Dennis is tripping,” Michael explained. Several minutes after I’d asked if I should order coffee, Cooper mumbled “Cool.” I took this to mean yes. Michael managed to pour coffee down his throat – Dennis spilled the beverage down the front of his white T-shirt. At this point I decided to cancel an order for egg and chips. The café’s staff appeared relieved as I coughed up the readies for the stuff we’d consumed and split.

It’s weird to think that someone as spaced out as Dennis could get it together to write a novel. I asked him about this as we ambled down Artillery Row towards the site of Jack The Ripper’s Dorset Street murder, now a multi-storey car park. My attempt to conduct an interview on the hoof was anything but satisfactory since whenever I put a question to Cooper I was lucky if I got a mono-syllabic response. When we arrived at the murder site I described the carve-up of Marie Kelly in graphic detail. Dennis didn’t seem interested – his attention was absorbed by a grease-stained Kentucky Fried Chicken box he’d plucked from the gutter. “Awesome” Dennis enthused as he turned this piece of litter over in his hands. Hoping for a better reaction elsewhere, I led Dennis and Michael up to Hanbury Street where Annie Chapman had been found lying on her back, hacked to pieces.

Dennis remained unmoved by the Jack The Ripper murders. He’d removed several bones from the discarded Kentucky Fried Chicken box and was subjecting them to a rigorous examination. This culminated in Cooper crunching the bones between his teeth. When I suggested we visit the site of another Ripper atrocity, Michael explained that Dennis was only interested in the murder of young boys and found hetero sex crime boring. Cooper was completely fried and there was no way he’d give me a coherent interview, so I put him in a taxi and told the driver to take him to Joshua Compston’s flat on the Kingsmead Estate in Homerton. Compston was a Brit Art wannabe and two time loser, so I assumed he’d know the exact location of the notorious rent boy murder that took place very close to his pad a few years back. Young boys aren’t my thing, but I was left standing at the corner of Hanbury and Commercial Street with Michael as Cooper’s taxi zoomed off.

“You can fuck me for the price of a fix,” Michael announced once Dennis had disappeared into the London traffic.
“I’m straight,” I explained.
“You’re on another planet,” Michael shot back.

The kid might have been a permanent emotional wreck, but he was sharp in the semi-educated manner of a teenage runaway who’d dropped out of school after reading a dozen William Burroughs books. Eventually we came to an agreement – I’d pay Michael £15 to have sex with a girl. Finding the girl wasn’t difficult. Sabrina was wearing white shoes, dirty Levis, a matted sweater and her tangled black hair was a mess. Her beat was Commercial Street and her price was £20. We took a cab to a derelict property on Old Street. I’d acquired a set of keys to the building from a friend in need of a score. In the taxi Michael pulled a copy of his novel from a bag and handed it to me. This was useful since it gave me something to read as he shagged Sabrina. I didn’t want to watch them get it on. Keeping Michael sweet was simply a way of staying tight with Dennis.

When Sabrina undressed I could see that her sallow skin matched Michael’s junkie pallor. I focused my attention on the opening of Tolson’s manuscript: “I’d concealed myself in a doorway to do some investigative research by observing the punters going into Huysmans, a porno store in Hollywood. To help pass the time I fondled my parts. Eventually I clocked cult novelist Dennis Cooper scuttling inside. He was carrying a large box filled with old paedophile magazines. I instantly came in my pants. Twenty minutes passed before Cooper was out on the street again. I’d already come so the only way I could express my tremendous excitement was by shitting myself. A crack hooker standing nearby pulled a face and stomped off down the street complaining about scum lowering the tone of the neighbourhood. Striding across the road towards the object of my lust, I savoured the delicious sensation of excrement oozing between my legs.”

The novel turned out to be a parochial beat effort. Imagine William Burroughs plagiarised by a porno hack who spends their spare time reading Harold Robbins and fantasising about making it with rock stars. I threw the manuscript down, placed seven five pounds notes on top of it and slipped out of the building while Michael was still grinding away on top of Sabrina. I’ve heard that somehow Dennis Cooper made it back to LA and is writing for the American rock press. I’ve no idea what happened to his boyfriend.

Stewart Home is the internationally-acclaimed author of Red London, 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess (Canongate, 2002), Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton (Do-Not Press, 2004) and Tainted Love (Virgin Books, 2005), among others.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, January 1st, 2000.