Kid Creole and the Coconuts frontman August Darnell, the sharp-suited singer of ‘I’m A Wonderful Thing Baby’ and ‘Annie I’m Not Your Daddy’, talks about obsessive ironing, anti-social tendencies and trying it on with his girlfriend.
My Monday depends on where I am. If I wake up at my girlfriend Gemma’s apartment in London then I know that day means me waking up early. She sleeps about 10 hours. I sleep 5 hours. Usually I’ll be watching old movies on TCM until the wee hours, like 2 in the morning. I’ll be up by 7 though. So I’ll try to rouse her for some early morning festivities. Failing at these festivities, I will then wander down to the kitchen and fix a bowl of Frosties, sometimes Sugar Puffs; anything sweet because I need the energy. I don’t use whole milk because Gemma has told me that it’ll kill me. I believe her because she looks a lot better than I do. She’s a dancer. I’m not a tea or coffee man. I don’t cook. I’ve been threatening to learn for the last 20 years but still haven’t. If I’m pushing the boat out I might extend breakfast to a piece of toast. At about 7:30 I’ll turn CNN on – definitely not Sky – to check out what is happening in the world. I don’t watch the terrestrial channels. I’m not into stuff like Richard & Judy. I don’t need the gossip. I’ll put the volume up just enough to wake Gemma. Then I’ll read Time Magazine to catch up on the news or maybe a book. I’m not reading anything at the moment because I just finished a depressing but brilliant book called We Need To Talk About Kevin. Sometimes though I just like to stay in bed and dream that my girlfriend is waking up early.
Gemma will normally get up at about 10 and then she’ll go out jogging. She tries to convince me to go with her: sometimes I will and sometimes I won’t. I live in Sweden now but when I lived in Kensington we used to run along the river and into Battersea Park. I’m a city boy but I love parks. That shit turns me on. It’s very romantic. I like to go on a bicycle ride sometimes instead of jogging. I recently had three bicycles stolen from outside Gemma’s new place in Kentish Town – all three at once. Believe it or not – contrary to the myth – I don’t wear the hat, zoot suit or two-tone shoes when I’m jogging or on the bike. I dress as any other fool does. I should point out that park activities are not done in the winter. Only in the spring and summer.
I consider myself extremely fortunate not to have to punch a clock. As long as there isn’t a show that day, I can do anything I want. I have total freedom. I can relax any day of the week – except when I have show. When there’s a show on, it makes up for all that relaxing. It is so frantic, hectic and ridiculous. We need a war plan to get the band together for a show because everyone is all over the place: some live in Denmark, some in London and some in New York. In the old days the whole band was based in New York. It was easy. But now it’s such hard work getting up at 4 in the morning to catch a plane to go rehearse. Why do I still do it? I might not enjoy what it takes to get the band on that stage but once we’re up there I love it. When Kid Creole and the Coconuts started I was already 29 years old. I remember seeing a concert of an old timer and I said to my girlfriend at the time, ‘I’ll never be on the road when I’m that age! By the time I’m 50 I want to be on a tropical island. Forget that shit!’ But here I am in my mid 50s and I’m still doing it. I can’t stop it. You take that shit away from me and you’ve got a sad man.
If I’ve got a show in the evening I have to get up and start reviewing my lyrics first thing in the morning. As I’ve gotten older I can’t remember a goddamn word. Writing it doesn’t mean that you automatically remember it. It doesn’t work that way. I also have to start preparing my costume. Making sure I’ve got the right hat, the right suit. It’s a hell of a coordination job. It is a Herculean task! I never trust anyone else to do it for me. I love clothing as much as I love old movies on TCM. In fact, I got that love from watching Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and John Garfield. They all looked so sharp all the time. Of course, I never realised as a youngster that they had a whole costume department to help them. I didn’t have shit! I can never leave the house in a hurry. Gemma makes fun of me because I take longer than her to get ready. I get annoyed if the crease in my pants isn’t razor sharp. I have to get out the iron. I’m obsessive. I’ve taken it too far. But as I’ve got older I’m nowhere near as crazy as I used to be. Gemma will go off to the gym before lunch but I’m not into that. I’ll stay at home and watch an old film and try and get another idea for an outfit. When she comes back she’ll fix something to eat or we’ll go out. We do a whole lot of dining out.
Gemma likes to go out in the evening; she’s gregarious and has a lot of friends. I have very few friends. I didn’t have many to begin with in New York and then I was on the road for so many years. It’s hard to make real friends on tour. Gemma likes to go out to the pub and have a good time. I don’t drink or smoke. I am basically anti-social which is something people don’t know because they see me on stage loving to perform. My idea of a good night is sitting at home watching a film. To my girlfriend, that is the most boring thing in the universe. I enjoy her enjoying the company of her friends. Sometimes I’ll go with her and she’ll say, ‘I’d rather you’re not here because you look miserable.’ 20 years ago I got a kick out of going to clubs because I’d go to pick up women. That was my thrill. Now I’ve got my girl, I don’t really need to go out. I’ll hit the emails in the evening. It takes me at least an hour to go through them. That’s how I run my business now: I get gigs that way; I update my website. I make sure I’m off the computer by the time she gets home. I used to find it very difficult to switch off at night. Now it is the easiest thing in the world. I’ve mellowed a lot.
I like a bath in the evening. I just lie there and shrivel up. I hate cold bathrooms. That’s one of my pet peeves; the other is traffic. Traffic is the reason I left New York in the mid 90s: my doctor was four blocks away from where I used to live on Central Park South. I had to go see him one day. It was raining so I didn’t want to walk because I love my clothes and I didn’t have an umbrella so I got a cab. It took me an hour to get there! In Sweden you can be on the road for three hours and if you see two other cars its rush hour! Usually I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of guy but if I get stuck in a traffic jam the ugly side of August Darnell comes out. I can think of better ways to spend my time than being stuck in traffic. Like watching TCM with my slippers on.
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As a long time fan it is great to see you blog!
When will you gig in Sweden next time?
It's so great that you watch TCM until the wee hours. I often think of Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places and other great A.D. works when I catch a von Sternberg or even Orson Welles (and many others, of course) on TCM. Thank goodness TCM offers up plenty to inspire you! Look forward to the new CD!! Fun/informative blog entry. Thank you for sharing.
I know you must get this question a lot, but whatever happened to Corey?
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