He upstage Michael Jackson. He wears funny clothes. He gives new meaning to the word "fop".
He's JARVIS COCKER and he's coming to Australia
JARVIS COCKER IS TOO SCARED TO talk. There's 80,000 people standing shin-deep in mud, hanging on his every angular move as his band eases into the long, tense intro to "The Fear". It's Glastonbury 1998, and Pulp's Sunday night headlining slot has been billed with only slightly less fanfare than the return of Halley's Comet.
"This is like the completion of a huge circle for us", Cocker tells the unwashed throng once Pulp have conquered all before them with "Do You Remember the First Time?". It's a loaded title under the circumstances, and so is the lead track from the band's sixth album, This is Hardcore. "YOU are hardcore," Cocker yells as the music swells again in dark, malevolent waves, "cause you're still standing here".
Cheers all round. But spending three days in a stinking quagmire is peanuts compared to the rollercoaster of celebrity hell Jarvis Cocker has endured since he last commanded the main stage at Worthy Farm in Somerset. "I was very nervous about playing Glastonbury again 'cause the last one had been such a defining moment," says the lanky northerner in his manager's office in West London a week later.
"When we played in '95 we went on at very short notice replacing the Stone Roses; 'Common People' had been out for a month and that was the start of our ascent to a certain amount of fame in this country. Then lots of other things happened. "We managed to get another record done and we went back to Glastonbury and played it. In my darker moods I thought well, maybe this is gonna be the end then."
Pulp's 34-year-old singer and lyricist has had more than his share of dark moods, by all accounts, since his legendary sabotage of Michael Jackson's performance at the Brit Awards in February 1996. Jumping on stage and wiggling his bottom at the King of Pop made him an overnight folk here and major tabloid target in the UK. After 15 years in the indie wilderness, Different Class had become the Sheffield group's first number one album but their leader's freak celebrity overshadowed that achievement tenfold.
"You know when you make one of this snap decisions and you have to live with it for the rest of your life?" he asks with a sigh, recalling the Jacko fiasco like a bad dream. "It was my own fault. That kind of made me a household name in this country - and just because I'd done something daft that lasted about 30 seconds. It was definitely an unwelcome distraction. All the fame and celebrity should be a side-effect of the fact that you produce something that's valid in some way. I just realised I needed to back off. I didn't want to inhabit that shitty world."
The shit storm dragged shag-and-tell exes out of the past and paparazzi out of every hedge. Plagued with rumours of hard drug abuse, Cocker attempted to go underground for much of '96 and '97, emerging this year with keyboard player Candida Doyle, bassist Steve Mackey, drummer Nick Banks, guitarist Mark Webber and the brilliantly noir opus, This is Hardcore. Steeped in paranoia and cheap porn, party-pooping and better comments on parental failures and modern manhood, the album was a far cry from the sharp, upbeat social melodramas which put Different Class into the big league.
In this country a lot of people tended to resent us for not making another record that sounded like Different Class, as if we were being bait…..churlish," Cocker says, eye lids fluttering behind mauve-tinted '70s specs. "But that formulaic approach doesn't appeal to me at all. I couldn't live with myself. The trouble is, if you become aware of the fact that people know who you are, that can sometimes make you bait self-conscious and you worry about people's expectations. You have to get beyond that and back on an instinctive level. Otherwise you produce rubbish."
Stores abound of tense band relations during the making of This is Hardcore. Original guitarist Russell Senior left before sessions began, and Cocker allegedly had to fight to release complex, commercially-dubious singles "Help the Aged" and the title track. While he admits to feeling stung by their lack of chart success, he insists the album's ultimate value is more optimistic than the sum of its parts.
"I hope it's about reconciliation, by the end. It's just saying all this shit has happened, we've faced it, we've talked about it, now let's say goodbye to it. That's the important thing. Things go wrong in people's lives. The dangerous thing is when you allow it to keep happening and it ruins your life.
"The revolution now has occurred," the reluctant hero concludes with a smirk. "I can't be sure whether I'm going to go uphill or downhill from here but that particular episode is closed. What happened to us in those two or threes years, that feeling of confusion, including something you wanted for a long time and realising it brought a certain irritation with it. I hope in the end it's a liberating thing because you get a clearer picture of what things are worth aspiring to and what aren't."
- MICHAEL DWYER
Pulp will reunite in London to work on new material before their first tour of Australia in September.
The Pulp frontman takes a stairlift to heaven as he reflects on post-coital guilt and post-Britpop blues.
Did you deliberately intend This Is Hardcore to be less commercially successful than Different Class?
"You can't second guess people. You don't know why they're into you in the first place, and by the time you've made another record they might have lost interest. You have to do the thing that feels right to you and trust the fact that, because you're a member of the human race, too, it will feel right to somebody else."
It's also your bleakest record yet. Have Pulp jumped aboard the Serious Rock bandwagon?
"I think inevitably it would end up a bit darker, but that's natural, not some grafted-on, let's-go-serious thing. Maybe it's disillusionment; the so-called Britpop explosion was quite exciting at the time, but the dust settled and you realised nothing particularly had changed. That becomes the establishment, so people react against it and want something different."
Your sex songs used to be about feverish anticipation - now they're full of post-orgasmic self-loathing. Is this how you feel after sex?
"It's just an empty feeling. Maybe because, if you're a man, something has come out of you, so in a way you are a bit emptier physically. There is a hollowness at that point which you kind of feel guilty about. All those things about the man rolling over and falling asleep, that's exactly what you want to do. It's programmed into you, but I don't know why."
Perhaps because, in prehistoric times, the man falling asleep made it more likely that he would stay to protect the mother and child?
"That's not a bad theory. Yeah, I'll buy into that."
Speaking of which, do you plan to have children - like your fellow Pulpsters, Nick and Steve?
"No. I never consider anything like that. For all the other animals on the face of the earth, that's why they're there, so to go against that seems to be going against nature. But that's never bothered me in the past."
The afterlife looks pretty groovy in the 'Help The Aged' video ...
"We had loads of trouble with that video because we weren't allowed to mention death; we'd got the Stannah Stairlift people involved, and they didn't want their product associated with taking people off to heaven. So we had to pretend that they were going to this other planet, but they were actually passing over to the other side.
"I'm sure Stannah stairlifts don't actually kill people. They move too slow to run people over."
Any thoughts on Chumbawamba's water-chucking incident at this year's Brits?
"I watched it on telly and I was really glad I didn't go. It did me in a bit when Ben Elton said, 'Who's gonna do the Jarvis this year?' or something. Not that it was any great service to mankind, what I did, but it was a kind of spontaneous gesture, I wasn't trying to inaugurate the Jarvis Cocker Award For Immature Behaviour."
Pulp once vowed to split up at the end of the millennium. Is this a serious deadline?
"There was that one, but there was another time we got asked in a fan club magazine and I said something like July 16, 1995. We've gone way past that so I don't know, it's just whether it seems worthwhile and not too embarrassing."
How do you feel about having your double on show at Rock Circus?
"It's a weird experience looking at yourself from outside. In physical terms, there are now actually two versions of me - the same build and everything. It did me in at first, but then I thought it's quite a relief that there was a public one on show in an appropriately named place, and then there's a real one who does other things that nobody knows about. Suddenly then it made it more comfortable for me. So it's quite good, I might even send it out on tour next time - just get the arm to move up and down."
What about being impersonated on Stars In Their Eyes?
"I should have been flattered but I wasn't. The embarrassing thing was it was quite accurate. Again, it's that thing of feeling pinned down, somebody else getting all your moves off pat. Lots of people have made comments about my movements onstage and I can see why people find them amusing, but the bottom line is I can't help it - I can't dance properly so I just do what I do. People are gonna laugh but I haven't got an alternative if I didn't accept that, if I thought I was fucking Jon Bon Jovi or something, I would be fooling myself. I am the lanky streak of piss and I can't help it."
You seem to have turned your back on superstardom ...
"Maybe there's nothing too bad in that. Having seen what the mainstream does and what it's like, I think it's all right to invent your own space and just live in that. That's why I liked that film, To Die For. I loved that line, 'What's the point in doing something if nobody's watching?' That mentality's rife, that somehow things are more valid if there's an audience than if you just do them for the sake of it. And it's a load of rubbish."
A comforting thought for Pulp in their post-fame period?
"Cheers! Are we already there ...?"
Susan asks: "I have read in the Select that not every Pulp member likes every Pulp song. Isn't that frustrating?"
Candida says: It is but being in Pulp there is a lot of frustrating things. Everyone has a different track that they won't like but it doesn't mean they won't play it live.
Steve says: If we all liked the same songs and music then it wouldn't lead to much. Because some kind of friction leads to something interesting being created.
Annie asks: "What did you think of the Radio 1 documentary on you?"
Candida says: I'm quite impressed with it,
Steve says: The first half was a history I've heard one time too many. But it was nice to hear from some people who are long lost.
Ziggy asks: "Does it freak you out when people get hysterical at your gigs?"
Candida says: It's quite funny really. I feel sorry for them because there are a lot of bodies being dragged out of the crowd and that can be scary.
Steve says: It'd freak me out more if people were apathetic.
Steve asks: "Having only recently managed to locate myself on the F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.LI.V.E video, are there any major tour dates including Brixton in the near future?"
Steve says: We're playing Finsbury Park on the 25th July. And all the bands that day will be chosen by Pulp in the same way they were at Chelmsford last year.
tony p asks: "Are you and Jarvis going to make any more films together?"
Steve says: Jarvis is making a film right now. It's related to the subject matter of 'This Is Hardcore'. It's not got a rating yet.
Rosie asks: "Have you seen Titanic? And if so then do you think it deserved all the Oscars it got?"
Candida says: I've seen two films of the making of it and I'd like to go and see it as it looks really interesting.
Steve says: I think Kate Winslett was quite brave to tell people to stop worrying about her weight. Although I wouldn't wear short skirts if I was her.
Sooz asks: "Where is Jarvis today, what's he up to?"
Candida says: He's not in this room but he's somewhere, maybe sleeping.
Steve says: We had a party last night, for the release of our album. So it's a quiet day today.
susan asks: "What did you think of Jarvis as a statue at Picadilly Rock Circus?"
Candida says: I've not seen it.
Steve says: One day at the studio a box arrived and when Jarvis opened it there was his head inside it. He wasn't too pleased. Two years later it probably looks quite flattering.
susan asks: "Steve, is it true that you are a sort of leader of the band, doing all the arrangements and so on?"
Steve says: No, Jarvis tends to lead in that respect. But as with all our other albums, everyone contributed to the writing of the songs.
Manon asks: "Your videos are getting better with each song. Especially the one for This is Hardcore - it's a beauty. Who comes up with the ideas for the videos?"
Steve says: This one was written solely by a video director, which is a first. But as usual we interfered all the way. I think we all agree it's the best one. But we'll probably still be paying for it in 50 years.
Plunger asks: "What household appliance do you find the most useful?"
Candida says: Washing up bowl at the moment. Hoovers are quite good but I rarely use them.
Steve says: It would have to be a telephone, I'm afraid. Although I never answer mine unless I know the number that's ringing.
Roland asks: "What's the new album like? Are you very proud of it?"
Candida says: I'm proud of it!
Steve says: I'm proud of it and it took a year and half to make it but I think you should listen to it yourself because you shouldn't believe anyone in a band and what they say, don't you think?
bianca asks: "What is 'This Is Hardcore' about?"
Steve says: I think on a simplistic level it was inspired by Jarvis watching porn films whilst on tour in hotels, when he had nothing better to do. But really it's all about what's left when there's nothing else to hide. It's more a song about Jarvis' state of mind.
Andrew asks: "Is it true that there's a song on the new album in which Jarvis says he's Jesus?"
Candida says: He says he's not Jesus.
Nick says: He just has the same initials.
Steve says: Someone said to Jarvis that men have a crisis at the age of 33 because they measure themselves against the achievements of Jesus. And fail miserably.
Polythene Pam asks: "Are Pulp so cool cos you're from Sheffield...or is it more than that?!"
Steve says: If people think you're cool it's someone else's decision not your own, No-one in this band would be allowed to think such a thing otherwise they'd be
sacked. Being self conscious is a kiss of death.
Simon asks: "Do you think becoming famous makes you not like common people anymore?"
Candida says: It does, as in you get money. You might become things but you can't really say you're like you were before you were famous.
Steve says: It doesn't mean your ideals have to change.
Ted asks: "I read that you could have easily made another "Different Class" but decided on a change and simply binned all that type of material, will we ever get to hear it or has it gone forever?"
Candida says: I might have said something like that but you'll never get to hear it.
Steve says: We do quite often use parts of songs from the past, if we're having particularly bad moments of creativity.
beeb: "Nick's finished his sandwich and now he's gone!"
Liam asks: "I think that Common People is one of the seminal songs of the 90s. Do you think Pulp'll have the same impact in the millenium?"
Steve says: I don't think Pulp will be around in the millennium, but at least we've written a song about the millennium which I hope they'll dance to on the night.
Candida says: I don't think we could ever repeat the thing that happened around the release of Common People.
Steve says: I think the new century should be a time for change. So if we're here we should be contributing to that.
Sydney Morning Herald - 18 Sep 1998
After 18 years Pulp's Jarvis Cocker has seen anonymity and fame - and Michael Jackson up close and personal. He's stayed sane. Mostly. The trick, he tells MARK MORDUE, is to "Just keep moving ... " Jarvis Cocker wanders through London's Tower Books and Records like a spy in a foreign country. Close by, music fans are harvesting the racks of pop releases, among them the extraordinary 18-year legacy of his band Pulp.
"You must feel like you're running the gauntlet," I whisper. "It's OK," he says crisply, "as long as you keep moving."
The lead singer has acquired a taste for the disappearing act. Aged 35, he's staging a contradictory battle with stardom, from the very core of his being through to the icy soundtracks and acoustic regrets that characterise Pulp's latest CD, This Is Hardcore.
Hit him with a direct question about fame, however, and he'll state that he is "barely at the mezzanine level". Pulp are a British phenomenon.
Originally we'd arranged to meet at Bungees, a London cellar cafe, but it turns out to be closed. Cocker is disappointed - the area it is in reminds him of his past as an art school student in the late '80s. We move to a wine bar, where he keeps fidgeting with his watch until he confesses that the American writer, Ken Kesey (famed for One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and his antics leading the Merry Pranksters), is doing a book signing down at Tower. "Do you want to come?" he asks.
Interviewing Cocker you encounter his diffident intelligence, a humility mixed with self-loathing and a certain indefinable will. He has cycled to our meeting (cycling is admittedly de rigueur with London groovers right now) and once we check out Kesey, he ends up giving me three hours of his time. When Cocker does encounter the odd fan on our walk through the city and in the store itself, he quietly extends the conversations. He's at pains to be like them.
Cocker himself is something of the ultimate fan. He slaughtered all comers on Pop Quiz and aside from a fascination for Kesey and '60s obscurities, he maintains an avid interest in the culture around him, from fronting a new Channel 4 series on "outside artists" to fossicking around the city for books and CDs. He's declared a moratorium on reading magazines - "it got so bad I'd have opinions on films without ever seeing them" - and is making efforts "to read more novels. I'm about 50 pages into Irvine Welsh's Filth but it's too early to say what I think. I've also got a copy of [F. Scott Fitzgerald's] This Side of Paradise by my bed. A friend says it's perfect for me," he says, raising his eyebrows.
The oily brown hair, the sallow skin, the burgundy polyester of his matching shirt and slacks, the slightly hunched posture of a man used to diminishing his own height ... he's cool in the way that all suburban dreamers are when they've managed to transform themselves into something exotic and uncertain. At heart, there's the polite Sheffield lad with permanently damaged eyesight from a meningitis attack when he was five, the young man who didn't lose his virginity until he was nearly 20.
It is hard to recall this is the same strutting creature who dazzled an open-air crowd of 20,000 in North London recently, parading like a cross between a refined Iggy Pop and a strange, venal bird.
"Being on stage is about the only exercise I get," he says dryly.
Poor sales and uncertain critical responses for This Is Hardcore and a pair of stunning, if uneasily beautiful, singles (Help The Aged and the chilling title track) have been cited as benchmarks for the death of the Britpop phenomenon. But Cocker was "gutted" by the popular rejection of This Is Hardcore as a single, probably the most ambitious gesture of his recording career.
This Is Hardcore is a dark, epic world away from the almost vaudevillean, kitchen-sink wit of 1994's His 'N' Hers and 1996's Different Class. Its alienated sex fantasies, fears about aging and droll confessions don't fit the pop mould at all. And yet it is this material that the band - Nick Banks (drums), Candida Doyle (keyboards), Steve Mackey (bass), Mark Webber (guitar, keyboards) and Richard Hawley (a guest guitarist from The Longpigs) - attack with a devouring intensity in the live arena. And although one can immediately sense a quantum leap between most of the pre-Hardcore material and the orchestral, marooned density of songs such as Seductive Barry, it is clear that, for Pulp, this is the way to go.
"Pop music traditionally deals with young flash things but pop music itself is middle-aged," Cocker says. "I just want to find a way of being an adult without it being boring. I don't want to continue acting like a teenager for the rest of my life because I can't hack it, you know."
This Is Hardcore may sound bleak, but it combines all the glamour, sophistication and decadence of Pulp's major influences: Roxy Music, The Walker Brothers, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, glam rock and John Barry's James Bond movie-theme urbanity and drama. Or, as Cocker sings: "This is our music from a bachelor den, the sound of loneliness turned up to ten."
It's been a long trip to the lizard lounge. Pulp actually made their first album, It, in Sheffield in 1980 and did a live- to-air for DJ John Peel when Cocker was only 17. It would be quite a while (and several albums) before success came their way again.
Frustrated with his band's progress, Cocker left Sheffield for art school in London. But the urge for making music never went away. "I heard the other day that crocodiles can slow their heartbeat down to three times a minute if they're conserving energy. That was kind of like what we [Pulp] were doing - we weren't actually dead, we just looked like we were."
With his National Health Service specs and geeky cool, Cocker made his name as "the Mike Leigh of Britpop", securing hit after hit from the mid-'90s with songs about hiding in a cupboard to watch his girlfriend's sister having sex (Babies); losing your virginity (Do You Remember The First Time?); taking drugs at a rave (Sorted For E's and Wizz); and the tale of a northern lad being seduced by a female art student interested in some lower-class experiences (Common People). The last song virtually became the anthem of 1996.
"Common People transformed things for us in this country. It seemed to enter the public imagination," Cocker says.
This Is Hardcore is an about-face, a blow against that "imagination" and any possibility that Jarvis Cocker could continue in the role of Britpop's quirky jester, the man who waved his arse to Michael Jackson on stage at the 1996 Brit Awards.
Of fame, he would later tell Time Out magazine: "It would be great to walk into a club like John Travolta does in Saturday Night Fever and have everyone give you a high five and yelp 'hello', but the reality is some pissed-up bloke going, 'How's your mate Michael Jackson, eh?'"
It brought other dubious rewards, too. A 1996 Sunday tabloid kiss-and-tell expos of a fling he had with a make-up girl. Of this he says, "You really have to keep it locked away. You don't want to do a Clinton, do you?" Even more painfully, a tabloid newspaper in Australia tracked down his estranged father in Darwin. Cocker hadn't seen or heard from his father since he was seven. They offered to pay Cocker's air fare to visit him. Cocker quietly declined.
It's an awkward subject. "I only met my father face-to-face this year for the first time. It's a personal thing. Something that can only be worked out by the two of us. The papers only cloud the issue," he says, before holding each word like a blow, "it's ... not ... right." To add to the events of the two years leading up to This Is Hardcore, Cocker also broke up with his long-term girlfriend. He is now single. Again, there's that sense of Cocker being hit by his own words as he speaks.
"It's not the best thing to happen to you if you want to keep the relationship together ... to be successful." Help The Aged and A Little Soul were inspired by his encounter with his father. In the latter, Cocker sings: You see your mother and me, we never got along that well/I'd love to help you but everybody's telling me you look like me/I've had one, two, three, four shots of happiness/
I look like a big man, but I've only got a little soul.
"I know it's boring," he says, hating the moaning rock star image as much as recent depictions of him as "a porn- fixated heroin addict". "But you do get a distorted view of what life's about, chasing this thing called success. When you get it you have to ask, 'Is this it?' There's a loss of innocence.
"Pornography seemed like an appropriate comparison. Because it takes all the romance out of romance. It's like there's always a forward urge in people's lives to go deeper. That when you get there it's going to be better." He talks about the process of reflection, the way "you accumulate a lot of stuff, then sit in a room and instead of taking more stuff in, you dredge it out. It's like you get too cluttered.
"Your 20s are a period of exploration, finding out who you are. But you do have to cut back on experience. And find some kind of order instead of leaving stuff strewn about everywhere. When you are young you don't understand that. Secretly at the back of your mind, you're quite pleased to go through trauma. It gives you something to write about. You might even see something noble in it. But as you get older it just f - - - s you up. It does you in.
"I hate the consumer-based society," he says. "Everything is based on consumption, using something and throwing it away. It's no surprise divorce rates are rising. People do the same with relationships." The restlessness that burns away in him found some respite in his work for Channel 4. "I first read about outside artists in a book by Roger Cardinal when I was a student. It's stuff made by people who've never had any training: people who are in institutions or people who are isolated, usually.
"They're pleased that people look at their stuff. But that's not the reason they made it. It's more that they feel compelled. They say they had a dream, or that God made them do it. In the me, me, me world of popstardom, who has that attitude? "
What . . . Pulp
Where . . . Enmore Theatre
When . . . September 28, 29, 30
by Mark Mordue