Wilko Johnson was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and even though the cult guitarist from 1970s will die from the disease, he says he’s on a high as if he’s looking forward to it.
“Why didn’t we think of this 20 years ago?” he told Reuters, at home a few miles from his Canvey Island birthplace, near where the Thames estuary opens into the English Channel.
It is the kind of joke, accompanied by a devilish laugh, that makes death far easier to talk about than expected.
Johnson, 65, will happily tell you that learning last month that the end of his life is probably less than a year away has not all been negative, with an almost “euphoric” feeling keeping some of his darker traits seem totally in check.
“It makes you feel so alive,” he said. “Just walking down the street, man, everything looks really intense. Any little thing you look at, it almost gives you a kind of childlike consciousness.”
Johnson said that even though he suffers from depression and “everything,” he doesn’t worry about it anymore and “all that stuff whatever it was I used to worry about – it doesn’t matter. What’s gone, what is and what will be, do not matter.”
But what he fears is not death but getting sick. The concerts lined up for February and March depend on his health.
“I’m not going on stage sick. I’m not going to have someone pushing me around in a wheelchair. They’d have to push fast,” said Johnson, whose stage presence is frenetic.
Johnson’s initial heyday was in the early 1970s when Dr Feelgood was bashing out driving R&B rock in pubs and clubs while others such as Pink Floyd and David Bowie grabbed the headlines with prog and glitter.
With a distinctly geeky pudding-bowl haircut and a manic stare, Johnson became renowned for strutting like a musical automaton in front of lead singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994, also of cancer.