Jarvis Cocker Mishapes, Mistakes, Misfit.
Published Feb 19, 2007For a man that once compared his distaste for fame to a nut allergy, Jarvis Cocker has certainly struggled to stay out of the spotlight. Though it took him 15 years to acquire such an allergy, for over a decade now Jarvis has always been around whether hes tried to be or not. In the mid to late 90s he was the dapper poster boy for Britpop, a sex symbol, and a hero to many, be it only for a minute or two, for courageously deflating Michael Jacksons ego. However, to the fans that have stuck with him throughout the musical transitions, the bizarre career path and the occasional hiatus, Jarvis Cocker is first and foremost an exquisite songwriter. Though certainly a stranger to prolificacy writing nine albums in 28 years the fly on the wall perspective hes given listeners has produced many inspired nights of activity in the bedroom and on the dance floor. A storyteller with an extraordinary imagination, hes allowed us into his brilliantly malformed mind to see him explore the measures involved in a quick game of adultery, experience the painful reality of growing old and tell us why we should be afraid of portly children. Hes always been a freak, of a different class and hardcore, in a manner of speaking, but as hes looking to prove on his first proper album in five years, Jarvis is simply Jarvis. And hes unlike anyone out there.
1963 to 1975
Jarvis Branson Cocker is born on September 19, 1963 in Sheffield, England to a bohemian art student mother and a musician father. Fellow Sheffield musician Joe Cocker and friend of Jarviss father babysits for Jarvis on occasions, but there is no blood relation. Jarvis battles a serious bout of meningitis at the age of five, which damages his eyesight and renders him to sport the dreaded, oversized National Health spectacles which will eventually become a signature style trademark. His father abandons the family and heads to Australia two years later, leaving Jarvis with his mother and sister Saskia. Fashion claims him as an early victim, as his uncle sends him leather lederhosen from Germany, which his mother forces him to wear. "I went to school looking like an extra from Heidi. It was mortifying, he tells Vox in 1995. Needless to say, with his pale skin, long hair and tall, lanky body, he becomes an outcast at school, thus beginning his life as an introspective misfit.
1976 to 1982
Two middle-aged men in a van kidnap Jarvis after he grudgingly agrees to a lift, a result of his mother telling him to be more sociable. The men try to sexually assault him, but according to Cocker he outwits the kidnappers with his sarcasm. Jarvis takes an instant liking to the burgeoning punk rock movement. "Punk was a very important thing to happen to you at 13. Without it Id probably have become a Led Zeppelin fan and gone to university, he later tells journalist Stuart Maconie. He forms a band called Arabicus Pulp at school, enlisting classmates as his band members without clearly informing them of his intentions. "I think we were in an economics class in school, and the teacher was trying to tell us about stocks and shares, and it was a commodity. I think it was something to do with coffee you get Arabica beans or something. And I thought that sounded good. But then the Arabicus bit was a bit too stupid, so we got rid of that, he informs Self Service in 2003. The chemistry department, who provide special effects by setting fire to magnesium ribbon, assists a performance at school. He begins to see the glamour in rock stardom and passes on pursuing academia. Pulp play their first proper concert in 1980 at the Rotherham Arts Centre, arriving in a grocers van. He recalls the experience with Park Life in 1996, admitting, "We turned up in a mobile grocers van we all got out smelling of potatoes. He visits John Peel at a road show in Sheffield and gives the legendary DJ a demo of Pulps music. Peel invites them to play a "session (which they do with homemade equipment), signalling the first real accomplishment for the band. However, nothing comes of the opportunity and everyone in the band quits to attend university except Jarvis. In a 1993 interview with Select he reveals, "one of the group, his dad was a teacher. He over-reacted and threw his dinner at him. In the end, the rest just went their own way. Pulp was just me and I had to find a new band. He finds work, scrubbing crabs for an alcoholic fishmonger; "I used to go home smelling of fish. Scarred me for life, he says Kylie Minogue when he interviews her for Top of the Pops Magazine in 1995. Jarvis loses his virginity at 19, only because he wants to lose it as a teenager. (He will later reminisce on it in "Do You Remember the First Time.)
1983 to 1984
A new line-up is recruited that includes future member of the Mission, keyboardist Simon Hinkler. Despite recording Pulps debut, mini-album It for Velvel Records, this version of Pulp doesnt last. It does little to attract attention and struggles thanks to some awkwardly romantic lyrics and a sound that mirrors much of what is popular at the time (i.e. the Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen). He describes the album to MOJO Collections in 2002 as "an attempt to create the sound of Leonard Cohen: having the drums as quiet as possible without actually being inaudible, and the distant female backing singers and a lot of acoustic guitar a complete rip-off, basically. But it caused very little excitement in the musical world. To keep his focus on music, Jarvis goes on the dole (thats British for welfare). "The dole certainly had an effect on shaping Pulp. In Sheffield, in the early 80s, anybody who wanted to do something vaguely creative, or just pretended that they wanted to do something vaguely creative but really wanted to doss, would just go straight on the dole after school, he explains to Volume in 1994. Violinist/guitarist Russell Senior joins the band and quickly becomes Jarviss collaborator.
1985 to 1987
Pulp enlist more members including keyboardist Candida Doyle and immediately take on a darker songwriting approach. They sign to the Fire label and release a handful of singles. Jarvis catches a lucky break when he falls out of a window trying to impress a girl. He fractures his pelvis, injures his wrist and foot, and spends the next two months in the hospital contemplating the bands future. He still manages to perform, but in a wheelchair. "All of our fans seemed to be mentally unbalanced. The Smiths were just taking off so of course I was jealous of him getting successful because they were in a faintly similar vein to us compared to all the other stuff around then... Club Tropicana and Gary Numan singing, I am a fucking robot. Anyway, I just felt completely out of step with everything. And this all culminated in me falling out of that window, he tells Select in 1993. The band record Freaks, an eerie album that explores dark themes such as paranoia and claustrophobia. In a 2002 interview with MOJO Jarvis explains, "I werent so happy at the time. I cant listen to it now because it was hard to record things back then. It was the winter Id fallen out of the window I was stuck in a wheelchair and my mothers watching Lovejoy. So it had a certain grim humour. Again, the album fails to make any kind of mark and the band go on hiatus. They temporarily split during a video shoot for "They Suffocate At Night, leaving Cocker and Senior as the only lasting members (Doyle takes a year off). When they return to action after even more line-up changes, drummer Nick Banks and bassist Anthony Genn join Jarvis, Senior and Doyle, making up what will become the quintessential Pulp cast for the next decade.
1988 to 1993
Jarvis moves to London and begins studying film at St. Martins College, a school he name-drops in a forthcoming hit single. Genn flips out "because he'd taken loads of acid, and become a born-again Christian, and hes replaced by Steve Mackey. The acid house craze has a significant effect on them, as they begin dropping E regularly at raves and incorporate the current dance music trends into Pulps shapeless sound. The band leave Fire, but record Separations, an album that represents their constant partying and a significant musical shift. Unfortunately, when the album is finished in 1989 theres no one to release it and its shelved for three years until they crawl back to Fire. Cocker reminisces to MOJO years later, admitting "Separations was written in about 87, got recorded in 89 and didn't get released until '92. Going back to Fire was silly really. Nobody wanted to release us, so I thought if we don't do a record we're not going to exist, so... suck Satan's cock. But the trouble was the actual sucking of the cock was put off for three years. On the verge of giving up music to pursue film, NME awards "My Legendary Girlfriend single of the week honours, a creative turning point in their career. Britain undergoes a change in popular music, and provocative, androgynous acts like Manic Street Preachers and Suede begin a glam revolution in the spirit of David Bowie and Roxy Music two decades earlier. Pulp leave Fire once and for all and briefly sign to Gift, releasing a string of singles. "O.U., "Razzamatazz and "Babies all show a newfound confidence in Cockers songwriting, while showcasing the bands new glam/disco pop style. Island Records comes a knocking after hearing "Babies and Pulp sign a major label deal. They issue Pulpintro, a compilation of their Gift singles, to sustain interest while they record. The term "Britpop surfaces, arguably through Blurs Modern Life is Rubbish, and begins to burrow its way into the presss everyday life; Pulp are instantly dumped into the scene despite their claims of being something more sophisticated. Bassist Steve Mackey confronts accusations of Pulps pretentiousness in the Melody Maker: "We never wanted to be pompous. There must be ways to sound grand without being pompous. Otherwise, it's a bit like Squeeze or something; everyday stories of everyday folk, in a nice pub-rockish manner, which is very worthy and dull. You have to make it a bit grandiose.
His n Hers is released to critical acclaim and goes straight in at number nine in the UK charts. Produced by Ed Buller and featuring drummer Nick Banks playing the fire extinguisher on "Davids Last Summer, the album distinctly stands out from the rest of Pulps albums so much so that the members frequently classify it as their first real album. Like an otherworldly 70s discotheque radiating libidinous vibes, the album joins Suedes debut in bringing an openly sexual candour to Britains vast musical landscape. Jarvis is instantly heralded as a champion "sexpert thanks to his vivid lyrical storytelling: surveying sex in a wardrobe, recalling the awkward deflowering, afternoon booty calls and glove fetishes. In Melody Maker he describes his lyrical approach, saying, "I havent got a sexual obsession, really. But when people have sex in songs, it's done in a glossy way, or in a Prince way: I can shag 24 women in a single night. But never in a realistic way, like I came after 30 seconds. So I just wanted to write about it in a matter-of-fact manner. I know people don't do it that much really. Well, maybe they do. But English people have to make sex into a joke. I wouldn't want it to be as open as in Sweden, where it's, Okay, I like dogs, and we have a good time... He begins attracting attention thanks to his striking look and demeanour on television appearances and in the music press, which includes gracing the covers of NME and Melody Maker. The band record "Common People and premiere the song at the Reading Festival, where it receives rapturous applause. His n Hers is nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, but the band are not victorious this time. "To be honest, we could've done with the money much more than M People, Jarvis tells Q. An invitation to tour North America with Blur is accepted. As well as performing on Top of the Pops, Jarvis is also invited to co-host, where he repeatedly ridicules the acts appearing on stage and hides a sign saying "I Hate Wet Wet Wet inside his jacket, which he reveals at the right moment. Suddenly hes an unexpected national hero and sex symbol in the mainstream. Pulp begin recording a follow-up album with Chris Thomas.
Britpop is in full swing and begins sweeping the nation. Upstart bands begin popping up left and centre, basing their shtick on more popular and established acts. Pulp finds followers in My Life Story, Marion and Orlando. Greater London Radio hail Jarvis as "the first pop star of the 21st century and The Observer labels him "Pops Mr. Sex, but Jarvis remains humble, deeming himself "Woody Allen in platform heels. "Common People is released in May and reaches number two in the singles chart, making it their biggest success yet. Jarvis tells various magazines the story behind the song, about a rich girl he met in f
On February 19, during a "messianic Michael Jackson performance of "Earth Song (where the singer is surrounded by young children) at the Brit Awards, Jarvis runs on stage with friend Peter Mansell, lifts up his jacket and wiggles his bum in front of the cameras. According to Scotland Yard, during the incident an 11-year-old boy was punched, another received a cut ear and a third was pushed off stage. As a result, Jarvis is arrested but released on bail without any charges. The papers immediately dub the event "Jarvisgate and it dominates conversation in the press and at water coolers for weeks. Jackson admits that he felt "sickened, saddened, shocked, upset, cheated and angry by the incident. Jarvis responds by saying, "My actions were are form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing. I just ran on the stage and showed off. I didn't make any physical contact with anyone as far as I recall. I certainly didn't push anyone offstage. I find it very insulting to be accused of assaulting children. All I was trying to do was make a point and do something that lots of other people would have loved to have done if only they'd dared. He later tells NME, "That was when it all went wrong for me. It was my own fault obviously for drawing attention to myself in such a way. I don't really want it engraved on me tombstone that I was the person who waggled his arse at Michael Jackson. I don't consider it the zenith of my artistic achievement. The incident boosts both Jarvis and Pulps profile, and Different Class shifts 50,000 copies the day after. Different Class beats out Oasis and Manic Street Preachers to win the Mercury Music Prize. Russell Senior leaves the band after 14 years, deciding its no longer "cool to be in Pulp.
1997 to 1998
Britpop dies a horrible death. Rumours circulate that Jarvis is addicted to heroin, suffering from a case of writers block, and has been struck down by a nervous breakdown. Only the latter is proven to be true. Single "Help the Aged is released, signalling a new matured direction for Pulp. Pulp release This Is Hardcore in March and it goes straight to number one. Again produced by Chris Thomas, the album is a 180-degree turn for the band from Different Classs jubilant nature. Critics receive the album positively, but the themes of pornography, paranoia, fear of death and getting old fail to connect with the fair-weather fans. Jarvis tells NME: "I wanted to do something different, but not so different that people couldn't tell it was us. We had to change because, with Different Class, we finally got to say what we'd been trying to say for ages, so repeating ourselves would just be boring. It wasn't that we wanted to show we're really deep and strange, we just wanted to set ourselves a bit of a challenge to not bland out and take the safe route, which often happens with successful bands. Years later he tells NME that "its the most successful rendition of the sound of failure ever put to tape and in Q he confesses, "I was really fucked up, so that was the sound of it. It tries to be poppy but then it dissolves into this... it's like a bottle of curdled milk. The album earns a third Mercury Music Prize nomination, but they (embarrassingly) lose out to Gomez. Jarvis hires Gareth Dickinson, a student that imitated him on TV contest Stars in Their Eyes, to impersonate him on stage during some gigs. Jarvis begins stepping out with indie film "it girl Chloe Sevigny, but the relationship doesnt last.
1999 to 2001
Jarvis hosts a television documentary for Channel Four on obscure art called Journeys to the Outside. He and Steve begin DJing, and found the Desperate Sound System, as well as a club night called Desperate. They also begin remixing for the likes of Death in Vegas and Black Box Recorder. Jarvis appears on Da Ali G Show and performs a hilarious hip-hop duet of "Help the Aged with Sacha Baron Cohens character, who describes Cocker as looking like "a kiddie fiddler while asking him why he tried to bum Michael Jackson. Jarvis plans to direct a film based on Harland Millers book Slow Down Arthur, Stick to 30, about a David Bowie impersonator in 80s England, but nothing transpires. Pulp begin recording with Chris Thomas again, but after recording nearly a full album they scrap the entire recording session. The band are asked by their hero, legendary crooner and recluse Scott Walker to play the Meltdown Festival he is curating in London. The band then ask Walker to produce their next album, a collaboration that creates a lot of anticipation and endless potential. We Love Life is released in October 2001 to confused reactions. An even bigger digression than Hardcore, the albums lush textures feel barren compared to their previous three efforts, largely due to Walkers inexperience as a producer. Jarviss chosen subject matter is a bizarre fondness for nature that reveals he is mellowing with age. He tells Q: "I never took any notice of nature when I was a kid. I thought we'd all be living on space stations or floating metropolises by now. But after This Is Hardcore, which was a very alienated record, it was time to go back to simpler things, like this, the natural world. I think anyone who listens to the album will know it's us within the first 20 seconds when my shitty voice comes in.
2002 to 2005
Jarvis becomes a familiar face on television; first he wins a celebrity edition of Stars in Their Eyes, impersonating Australian pop legend Rolf Harris in full beard and wardrobe in exchange for a set of look-alikes to star in Pulps hilarious video for "Bad Cover Version; then he makes an unexpected appearance in a BT (British Telecom) ad, hanging from the top of a lamppost. He explains to Snug that its "part of me new macho image. Hanging 25 foot above the ground, doing my own stunts. Jarvis marries Camille Bidault-Waddington, a stylist that worked on This Is Hardcores photo shoot and they move to Paris. He will later tell The Times: "Moving to Paris has allowed me to indulge my furtiveness. Not for any sinister reason, I might add. I just find that that's where I get my ideas from. Pulp end their deal with Island and seal their fate with Hits in November, featuring a brand new track "Last Day of the Miners Strike. Along with former Longpigs guitarist and solo artist (as well as part-time Pulp member) Richard Hawley, Jarvis forms Relaxed Muscle, an enigmatic electroclash act featuring the pair as aliases in disguise (Jarvis dresses in skeleton garb complete with face paint). They sign to Rough Trade and issue the album A Heavy Night with . The album is clearly a bit of fun, and a poke at current musical trends, but its also surprisingly listenable and even a good tongue-in-cheek dance record. In an interview with The Independent, the duo reveal their concept. "For the purposes of Relaxed Muscle, I'm Darren Spooner and Richard's Wayne Marsden, which is the name of a kid who bullied me at school. As far as I'm concerned they're just a band from Doncaster. I wanted to do something off-the-cuff, just for the laugh. I thought it was funny that everyone hated it, says Jarvis. Richard adds: "I was pissing myself at Jarvis doing these karate chops on balsa wood. That sums him up, actually. We rehearse, seriously, and he turns up with pieces of balsawood and a bottle made out of sugar to smash over his head. With little interest in his and Hawleys side project, Jarvis begins a string of collaborations with electro bubblegum producer Richard X, electronic act the Lovers, Nancy Sinatra, Marianne Faithfull, and takes part in a tribute to Leonard Cohen, captured in the film Leonard Cohen: Im Your Man. Jarvis is asked to write music for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire alongside members of Radiohead, Add (N) to X and Pulp bassist Steve Mackey. He tells BBC 6 Music: "The main thing that I've done recently is to write some songs for the Harry Potter film, but that's just a shameless effort to try and ingratiate myself with kids. As a band, they star in the film as the Weird Sisters and perform at a school dance. Unfortunately, this fabulous cameo is spoiled when a barely breathing Winnipeg-based folk band named the Wyrd Sisters file a lawsuit against all parties involved with the films fictitious band. (The lawsuit is eventually tossed out of court and the Winnipegians are forced to cover all of the legal costs.) His son Albert is born and Jarvis announces in a statement that hes going into hibernation: "I consider myself to be in semi-retirement: living in Paris as a family man who occasionally DJs is better than releasing crap records. Ultimate Live, a DVD featuring concerts from 1995 and 98 is released. Pulp are largely credited for influencing the new crop of bands in Sheffield. The city becomes the UKs newest musical hotspot with the rise of indie sensations like Arctic Monkeys and the Long Blondes.
NME votes Different Class as the sixth greatest British album ever, while His n Hers follows at 46. Jarvis continues his collaboration streak, contributing a track to the Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys compilation. He also records a cover of Serge Gainsbourgs "I Just Came to Tell You That I'm Going along with Kid Loco, and co-writes Charlotte Gainsbourgs comeback album 5:55. Still continuing his partnership with Mackey, the pair compile their influences and favourite tracks for their volume of the DJ mix series The Trip on Family Records. Pulps three finest albums His n Hers, Different Class and This Is Hardcore are beautifully reissued in two-disc packages by Island, featuring all of the b-sides from the singles, live tracks, demos and remixes, as well as exclusive liner notes written by Jarvis. On his MySpace page to which hes exclaimed, "I never had so many friends in my life Jarvis releases his first solo song, a political manifesto entitled "Running the World, which features a cheeky chorus of "Cunts are still running the world. The song creates buzz for his debut solo album, Jarvis, which is released in November on Rough Trade in the UK. (The record is currently without North American distribution.) The album signifies a new but hesitant start for the guy formerly known as "the fifth most famous man in Britain. He tells The Age: "I really hated the idea of doing a solo record. It sounded so wanky and self-indulgent. When someone says solo project to me, the first thing I think about is somebody masturbating. The second thing I think is the musical equivalent of that, which is some kind of self-indulgent tripe that they couldn't get away with doing unless they were in a successful band. Joined by Hawley on guitar, Mackey on bass and Fat Truckers drummer Ross Orton, Jarvis tackles everything from finding common ground between Disney and porn to the fascination with being killed by fat children. The surrealism of such concepts, however, is complemented by elegant and diverse arrangements that reveal his charming singular vision. Most of all, Jarvis solidifies the fact that the man, the musician and to an extent, the showman everyone fell for a decade ago is back for our enjoyment once again. [Thanks to Giles at acrylicafternoons.com for his generosity.]
The Essential Pulp
His n Hers
After 16 years of wandering in obscurity, Jarvis and company finally taste success with this highly stylised model of neo-glam. An oversexed raconteur takes you through a series of erotic, awkward and hilariously fastidious tales while spinning around in a 70s discotheque. Spending years trying to fit into some kind of scene, suddenly Pulp were truly like none other.
Their masterpiece, this offering to a Britpop-mad world transformed Pulp into a bona fide chart-topping act. Thanks to the universal delight of "Common People and the antics of their gregarious front-man, it also made them world famous and won the Mercury Prize. Unquestionably, this is the best album of Britpops short but fruitful lifespan.
This Is Hardcore
To many, this is where Pulp lost the plot. Despair over growing old, seedy pornographic addictions and a song about cleaning up after dinner, it was a radical comedown from Different Classs triumphant party. But peel back the wrinkly skin and youll hear a band with remarkable dexterity deciding to move on and grow up. An under-appreciated classic.