JARVIS COCKER FEATURE
Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker. pop music‘s archetypal misfit, is shimmying into the role of sex symbol.
t might just be me. but there‘s this uneasy
feeling around that pop is being snatched
from those who do it best. Are the days
behind us when pop and rock provided a
refuge to misfits. outcasts and malcontents
— the ones who were never picked for the team'.’ The dreamers. the distant. the sexually ambiguous. the flamboyant. the introverted. even the downright unstable . . . is there a place for the loners and outsiders now. the ones whose insights were always the sharpest?
To get all curmudgeonly fora moment. I date it from the point sport and music started their unholy alliance. bringing us eventually to a state of affairs where the music scene turned into a cosy continuation of the politics of the playground. where "l‘hink you can beat us to Number One? Come on. then. if you think you‘re hard enough’ is considered the year‘s most stimulating sentiment.
With mags like Lora/ml on his side. 1995‘s composite pop star is the well-adjusted. straight white male whos always got his mates. his footie. his crass chat-up lines and his belligerent lip.
Jarvis (Tockcr is. by all reliable accounts. a straight. white male. but he‘s a queer fish: the sort for whom pop isn‘t just a refuge but the only option. When you see Pulp on stage. or on TV. Jarvis wearing those ()xfam clothes and illustrating the songs with those bizarre. over- the-top actions. it‘s worth remembering he never wanted to be different. Six-l’oot-l'our and gangly with it. he is possibly the only human being in the history of Sheffield ever forced to wear lederhosen to school. A childhood bottt of meningitis left him with the bottle-thick glasses he occasionally sports today.
The man doesn‘t look altogether well. but in the last few months Jarvis’s spindly frame has adorned the cover of style-bible The Face. llis ironically sucked-in cheeks adorn bedroom walls. He‘s become something of a sex symbol.
Jarvis is remarkable because he didn’t have the raw material to begin with. but has made himself sexy by sheer force of will. He‘s been described as having ‘the deadpan wit of Alan Bennett and the raw sexuality of Barry White'. which. taken literally. would mean he's the most
fully-rounded and highly-evolved member of
the human race to date.
He‘s intelligent. articulate. very funny. somewhat removed from it all. and perhaps the sheer brass neck of seriously putting forward a spindly frame as a desirable commodity — while flaunting his vulnerability like a stump — counts for a lot of his appeal.
Alastair Mabbott explains why.
Just listen to his ‘all right’ or ‘yeah' interjections on songs like ‘Babies‘ or ‘(‘ommon People‘. They sound ridiculous
coming from someone as gangly as Jarvis. But it‘s cool. lle's cool. ()n his own terms.
The Blur/()asis' stand-off has perhaps obscured the fact that Pulp shot to Number 'l'wo with ‘(‘ommon People‘. so we‘re not talking
Jarvis is remarkable because he didn’t have the raw material to begin with, but has made himself sexy by
sheer force of will.
about The Wedding Present. or Morrissey. whose singles traditionally scrape into the Top 'l‘wenty for a week before dropping back out. We‘re talking actual pop stardom here. It must be like having the last laugh. Or one of the sweeter forms of revenge.
The fact Pulp‘s reference points date largely from the 7(ls has nothing to do. he says. with the kitsch value of the decade taste forgot. Jarvis‘s tongue might spend much of its time firmly lodged in his check. but he hates to think people look on Pulp as a cleverjoke. He won‘t have the words kitsch and camp applied to his group in his presence. ;\'o. his fascination with that decade has far more to do with the fact that it marked his adolescence — a time when new emotions were felt so intensely. and frustration and curiosity were the driving forces of life.
Correspondiiigly. he bears a personal grudge against the 80s. He reached his twenties during that decade. a period that should have been ‘an era ofexploration‘ stymied by the imposition of ‘Victorian values‘. And that’s rc :lly not what
you need when you‘re a growing Jarvis Cocker. Because. frankly. we only really think about one thing where Jarvis is concerned: sex.
Jarvis writes about sex superbly. Like Morrissey. he touches on the traumas of adolescence. but Morrissey could only ever look in on matters sexual from the outside — perhaps that‘s what Jarvis meant when he said he ‘spotted a gap in the market‘. He understands its potency. its awkwardness. its silliness. the way it impinges on other aspects of our lives. the confusion it causes. He notes with interest how inanimate objects have become imbued with sexual significance. both in his own life and in society in general.
.»'\pparently. the forthcoming album backpedals. but it’s not so long since Cocker & (‘o made the half—hour short [)0 You Remember The First Time to coincide with the single of the same name. in which Pulp roped in various celebrities to recount the occasions they lost their virginity. Jarvis on sex is like watching somebody examining a jar with a particularly intriguing insect inside it. but his fascination stops short of voyeurism when it becomes apparent that his own impulses and experiences are under the microscope too.
Pulp music shimmers with the charge of a singer connecting with an audience who know exactly what he’s singing about. At best, it’s an ecstatic rush because Pulp remember and understand the kind of songs we unselfconsciously loved in our teens. By the same token. Jarvis behaves the way we always wanted pop stars to behave on telly: sending the whole shebang up with a steadfast sense of mission. Hosting Top Of The Pops with the distaste the whole enterprise warrants. Doing Pop Quiz pissed — and triumphing. Or, perhaps best of all. reciting the lyric of John Miles’ ‘Music‘ in its entirety as his nominee’s speech at last year’s Mercury Music Awards without cracking. None more lugubrious.
All of which has been noticed by TV producers. who have taken to inviting Jarvis on their shows with such frequency that the danger of media slagdom awaits. It would be too bad to see him filling the shoes of the late Peter Cook on chat shows. asde on to provide a bit of danger. the promise of the unexpected. Sadder still to see him accept the role and be defused, defanged. camped—up and assimilated by the mainstream conformity he’s providing a real alternative to at the moment.
I’u/p play Barrow/and, Glasgow on Sunday I October:
The List 22 Sept-5 Oct 1995 7