Next month I will release my first book of poems. It’s called The Death of Music Journalism – it’s available to pre-order from now and yesterday I shared the cover image on my Facebook page. I mentioned that it was by my good friend the artist Matthew Couper. But what I didn’t get to say was that we’re not just good friends on Facebook. Matt and I have known each other since we were four years old.
Apart from close family members I haven’t known anyone else that long.
We met at kindergarten – went through primary, intermediate, and high school together. And then when I moved to Wellington he was in Whanganui and there is a gang of us that have stayed friends since high school. Matt would visit us in Wellington before moving down for a spell. He’s been in Las Vegas for most of the last decade.
One thing I love about our friendship is that Matt was always drawing and painting. And I was always writing. And we have always known that about each other. Always respected and understood that. Sure, we were both in the same hockey team for a while. And we often found ourselves bored at the same gig or elated by music in fact. Drunk in bars too. And obsessed with many of the same cultural icons (John Waters, Robert Crumb, Robert Johnson, Daniel Johnston, Bill Callahan). But he was always the art guy. I was always the writing guy. We always knew and loved that. We have collaborated before. I guess. I’ve written a couple of essays for catalogues of his work – you can read one here. A reaction to a specific work as much as anything.
Matt was on one of the earliest episodes of my podcast – and so if you listen to that you’ll get bits of ‘our’ story, how we know each other, and how long we’ve known each other, as well as his story as a professional artist.
I am unashamedly a huge fan of Matt’s artwork, his practice. I always have been. We own several of his works – I’ve been lucky to have been gifted some (a wedding present, even a 21st birthday present way back in the day…) and I’ve bought some of his work too. I’m in awe of not just his ability but his ethic. His dedication.
When my volume of poetry was commissioned, I had a Skype meeting with the publishers to discuss delivery and logistics, what with the Lockdown in place at the time. And it took me about 25 seconds to suggest Matt as the cover artist. I had no Plan B. I would accept no substitutes. I really wasn’t planning on entertaining any other options.
He took about 25 seconds to answer yes. And when we Skyped to talk about it he sketched out the idea almost immediately. He sent me this working sketch within minutes of that first chat. From there we exchanged a few ideas in messages. The publisher was very keen for Bowie the dog to be added.
You can see in the next sketch the idea was almost completely sorted.
I’m so lucky to know Matt and can’t believe how great this cover image turned out – even though he was my first and only choice, the logical person to get what I’m about and what my poems are about and to do the best job representing that. I sent him the manuscript for the book – not at all expecting him to read the works or to necessarily need to, but it had to be on offer, part of the process.
He sent me a very kind message saying he was doing his best to create a picture that would support my poems. He liked the words. We’re friends. We’re fans of each other. We’re solid support. But he really liked the words and hoped his picture would fit in and help to sell the product, to support the ideas.
Have I said already that I can’t believe how great this is?
You go through life making a few really special friends. We all have different relationships now and different ways of making relationships. This picture – Matt sent me the original painting which I’ll frame and add to the collection – speaks to me on many levels. It’s a fun signifier for the book (he asked what I wanted on my t-shirt, I suggested Bukowski because why not address elephants if they’re in rooms) but it also speaks profoundly to my friendship with Matt, to how deeply he knows me and knows what I’m about, and, mostly what I am on about; how we connect not only with each other but with the work that we are both doing. Now, for so many years, we are miles apart geographically but we are there responding to each other’s messages with sly one word replies and the emojis and gifs pile up and the meaning of these dumb gags would be lost on anyone else a lot of the time. But we’re there. With each other. Always. We know what we’re on about.