Jarvis Cocker waited a long time to get famous. When he got there he thought all his problems were over. In fact they were only just beginning
Jarvis on hearing the first question
"Well, I'm just going to have to light a cigarette and think about that one, aren't?"
Jarvis making an entrance
Jarvis Cocker, the ribald, cerebral entertainer from Sheffield in Yorkshire who once shook something pretty fundamental in the shaky face of Michael Jackson, makes a deadpan entrance into the wine bar, sort of across himself, looking as if he wants everyone to notice him but no one to make any sort of fuss. He contrives, as is his wont, to look like a cross between a listless terrorist and an ancient puppet, cruel and cuddly all at once. He's carrying two bulging carrier bags stuffed with books and papers. He might well have just found these in the road.
Jarvis Cocker, the peculiar bugger, looking vaguely harassed, vaguely startled and an absolute expert at finding the more human ways to cope with ennui, has produced yet another successful entrance. No one in the wine bar stares or anything, everyone is very skilled at pretending not to notice him, just as he would want. But in a way, they're all applauding. Applauding Mr Beanpole.
And, in an indifferent way, he is taking a bow, without looking anybody in the eye. Then he finds a table where he can take off his extraordinary costume and settle down to have a glass of red wine and a low-tar cigarette.
Jarvis on being Jarvis
"I've always been Jarvis. I don't know why my mother thought it up. I should ask her really. It was a terrible cross to bear when I was at school, 'cos our school was pretty normal. Everyone was called John or Andrew. But then that's part of what you do if you want to become a pop star. You have to take things that are potentially a handicap and exaggerate them so much that in the end they become a selling point. Look at Prince. He's just a little short-arse really. And I'm just a Jarvis."
Jarvis on his mother
"My father left home when I was seven, so I can't remember much about him. My mother was quite a forceful person and was always trying to get me to come out of my shell. She got married young because I was on the way and I think she felt that she'd missed out on lots of things that she wanted me to experience. She would always say, 'Why don't you go hitchhiking across France?' She got me a job in the fish market 'cos she thought I was too much of a shrinking violet. She thought it would be good for me to be with the rough market boys. I quite liked it actually. We used to go on this annual fish market trip to Blackpool and stuff like that and just be really stupid. I never did go hitchhiking across France, though."
Jarvis on his father (one)
"This is a theory that I've come up with over the past few weeks... maybe because of my father leaving when I was young, and all the fathers round my way did a similar thing, it was as if they were all sat in the pub one night and they all decided to fuck off at once. With my father leaving, maybe that made me think that I didn't want to travel in a straight line or anything. I decided to act in a more exaggerated kind of way because I didn't want to take life seriously. It seemed to me that if you took your life too seriously, like me father, then you ended up in the kind of mess that I wasn't prepared to be involved in. The rigmarole of day-to-day life seemed to go nowhere. Which is kind of a contradiction in terms considering as I've ended up writing about that kind of everyday life. Maybe I'm fascinated with the everyday because I've never been able to do it. I'm not very everyday. Living a normal life, you know, normal as in just routine, doesn't appeal to me. So in a way it's exotic for me. It's strange and it's that strangeness I'm drawn to writing about."
Jarvis on dreams
"I've wanted to be in a pop group since I was nine. Maybe I thought it would be like being in a gang. I was always hankering after it. I suppose I thought that if I was in a pop group, I wouldn't have to make an effort getting girls. They would just flock around me. Which is stupid. I used to think lots of stupid things."
Jarvis on lifestyle
I remember seeing a World In Action on the Playboy empire in the early Seventies, and it had a marked effect on me. There was this bloke flying around the world playing chess surrounded by shagpile carpets. I thought, yeah, that looks all right. The reality of it is something far darker and much more self-deluding. You don't see that when you're young, though, do you?"
Jarvis on trauma
"It's much more traumatic for me to have to go to the supermarket and pick out the food for a week than it is for me to go on a stage. Because I know how it works to go on a stage. I know what you do. It's what I've done the most in my life. That's another thing that occurred to me the other day. I've been doing this pop thing for half my life. Seventeen years. I'm bloody 34 years old..."'
Jarvis and time
Jarvis Cocker, the thin man who looks as if he's spent a lot of his life kicking his heels and shrugging and assessing and muttering and stooping and rummaging around and getting nowhere and reckoning and camouflaging and noting and sorting and sighing, is a little late for this appointment. It's safe to say that in many ways, and it takes many forms, Jarvis Cocker, the light pessimist, the dark optimist, who's as blunt as he is sharp, has an unusual sense of timing. He's just behind time. And just beyond it. You'd conclude that it is time that has so angled his body and rounded his shoulders.
Jarvis on being 34
"I'm still doing what I'm doing now and I'm 34. By that age me father had married me mother got divorced and fucked off. I'm still doing this essentially adolescent thing. And sometimes I think I should have just knuckled down and got old in the everyday way and sometimes I think you know I'm part of some new kind of adulthood. I bloody hope there's a new of way of growing old without sinking away..."
Jarvis on TV (one)
"Television always lets you down, doesn't it? It's like when you go to a party, about two o'clock in the morning, everyone starts talking about The Double Deckers or something like that. But then if you ever get to see one of those programmes again they're really disappointing. You spend all that time, all your youth, thinking it was all rather good, and it's a bit crushing really when they're repeated and you see how crap they actually were. What a waste of time.
Jarvis on TV (two)
"I'm hoping to move into like a post-television period."
Jarvis on TV (three)
"As you get older you realise how TV shows you things but doesn't give you any understanding of things. And you end up getting people like myself who are jaded without having any reason to be jaded. You feel that you've seen it all. You haven't though. I think I've now learnt that real life is more interesting than TV. Well, that's summat, innit? Another statement of the bleeding obvious."
Jarvis on the blindingly obvious
"I'm very good at stating the blindingly obvious. A lot of what I sing about, and talk about in interviews, they're really obvious things. But then, the obvious can often be overlooked."
Jarvis on the dole
"I always assume that I'll live to be pretty old. Seventy, 80. Then you're allowed to be really crotchety. I haven't got much excuse now. I can remember feeling really old when I was about 21 or 22. I was stuck in this relationship that just refused to die and all of my friends had gone to university and the bloke I was living with had gone on holiday and I was just stuck in Sheffield for a fortnight and then I realised that I couldn't think of anyone I could go around and visit. So I spent a fortnight in this house on my own and I'm on the dole and I thought to myself, well, I'll be on the dole and then the dole will turn into the pension and that will be my life. Then I'll die. Actually I'm hoping that the dole experience will be good preparation for old age. Eking out an existence with not much money and fuck all to do with your time. Except watch the television."
Jarvis and form
The wine bar looks a little too good, too French, to be true considering that it's down a side street just 100 yards from London's Cambridge Circus. The atmosphere of the place, the clutter, the music, the customers, the fact there are people inside speaking French, that the waitress is palpably pissed off that you cannot correctly pronounce the name of the wine you order, fixes the place as somewhere in the south of France, possibly sometime in the early Seventies. Jarvis Cocker, the well known individual, has chosen Le Beaujolais Wine Bar as a rendezvous, acting as if it makes perfect eccentric sense that this French tourist trap set in the heart of London is the kind of place he prefers to meet in.
In some ways the place, with all its wonky charm and hustly bustle, seems to have tumbled right out of Jarvis's fantasy, out of some crummy sex 'n' spy film he saw in the early Seventies. It's so old fashioned and stuck in time, but it has its own ingrained sense of dusty, aloof style. Just like Jarvis, the suave, cultured cad who's always working hard and with such self-consciousness to be sensitive to the civilising influences of the day, or the day before.
Jarvis on his father (two)
"It's hard to work out why I wanted to be so famous in the first place, and what that need has been compensating for. I think if you aspire to fame you are trying to compensate for something that is missing in your life. Or you're trying to prove a point to someone. Maybe now I'm beginning to realise that you don't have to spend all your time over-compensating. You can just accept your faults and maybe you're not that bad after all. You know what I mean? I always felt that I was inferior. Not very worthwhile. I didn't think I had all that much to give. I've got no practical skills. I can't do any magic tricks or anything."
Jarvis on girlfriends
I remember that it took me ages to get a girlfriend and when I finally got one I couldn't handle it 'cos I thought in a stupid way that's it, no problems now, I've got a girlfriend. But the actual hard work comes with trying to keep it together and make it interesting. And it's the same thing with fame, even though I should have learnt my lesson by the time fame finally came. But I still thought - great, all my problems are over, everything starts now. But in the end I was still left with my shitty personality, but in a new context."
Jarvis on his feminine side
"That was just an accident really, because of my father leaving and my uncle dying there was no father figure around when I grew up. I happened to learn everything about sex and relationships from eavesdropping on my mother and her friends. Everything was the feminine take on things. Which is no help at all really when you start to go out with girls. You're too sensitive. I'd rather have been a brute and ignorant rather than realising what a cunt I was being."
Jarvis on his 29-inch waist
"It's not 29 inches any more."
Jarvis on men
"I like them when they're skinny. I think men are better looking when they're thin. Perhaps it's because they look like girls then. I've never had a homosexual relationship. It just never appealed. Maybe homosexuality is something I'll get into in my middle age. I've just never had the inclination. Maybe I should have done."
Jarvis on being asked if he's a weakly, hypochondriacal kind of guy
"Naah, I'm hard as, me..."
Jarvis and making it
Jarvis Cocker, the dysfunctional family entertainer with a fringe on top and a cheery sneer down below, takes off his Balaclava to reveal dung-coloured hair that creeps in different directions from his body, and a quite famous head, the kind of head that makes heads turn in not-so-polite society. The head of Jarvis wasn't always so famous, and it, famously, does have the look of a head that had a long time to wait to be famous. It's full of features but looks as if they might have worn away if fame hadn't swooped along to frame this head as oddly appealing. His face looks as though it was suddenly stopped in the middle of a slow anonymous change.
Fame caught him vaguely awares. Thatcher's Britain had defeated his dreams. The same sort of flat-packed change in the air that has led us to New Labour and Cool Britannia, the need for newness however secondhand, and freshness however tightly packaged, sort of swept him into power. The dotty trouble-making qualities, arch hedonism, topsy-turvy chic, social interest, working-class wariness and ropy intellectual frankness that had previously doomed him to obscurity were, in a sudden, gradual kind of way, exactly what made him a flawed and self-deprecating icon for the new world. The new world where everyone under the age of 50 and over the age of ten knew what it was to be hip in a comfortable sort of way, and where a new generation fancied a bit of punk spirit but without the, you know, spit and wildness. A new world that needed a few new heroes to tell them where they were, where they'd been, if not quite where they were going.
Jarvis Cocker, the un-hoity-toity wit who knows a few things about passionate boredom, a character formed by TV, radio, film and magazines, a culture fanatic steeped in the camp and warped lore of the Sixties and Seventies, a raving autodidact, a lonely freakish boy who just wanted some friends, a classic English oddball, became a new hero for the knowing Nineties by doing exactly the kind of retroactive, subtle and cantankerous things that not long before had exiled him.
Jarvis on fame (one)
"Yeah, it was exciting becoming famous and all that stuff, in a way. I would have thought that I would have been quite prepared for it having waited such a long time. But that made it worse because I'd had plenty of time to build up the illusion of what I thought it would be like. And then, you know, it wasn't like the illusion that I'd always had. And I wanted the illusion, not the reality. Oh, you know what it's like, and this is the bugger, but when anyone gets famous all they do is start to moan about it. They say things like, oh, I can't go to the chippy anymore."
Jarvis on fame (two)
"You think it'll be great going to clubs and everyone knowing you and being really cool, yeah, nice one Jarvis, see ya later, but in reality it's going into pubs and people saying things like, how's your mate Michael Jackson getting on then?"
Jarvis on fame (three)
"And I still wanted to write songs like I used to, observing things around me. But what was around me was my fame. And I didn't want to start writing whiny songs all about the pressure of fame."
Jarvis on fame (four)
"It's like I always say, if you do something long enough, you'll eventually be in sync. It's like the watch that's right twice a day. Eventually, I was right. And then I guess I'll be wrong again."
Jarvis on fame (five)
"You have to resist the thought that you are something because of fame. You are in the end just saying the kind of things you would be saying anyway. The things you've been saying all along. You've not suddenly become this fabulous sexy aesthetic being."
Jarvis on fame (six)
"I always felt that my kind of thing should be in the mainstream. So when all that started to happen in 1995 it was like some kind of revolution. Punk had finally caught up, or everything had caught up with punk, you know, things could be different. Instead of Phil Collins playing at the Sheffield Arena there was us supporting Oasis... but the trouble is, I've felt since that the mainstream has a debilitating effect on everything, a diluting effect. Maybe if things appeal to a lot of people it blands things out. What I wanted, like it said on the back of our last record, was, we don't want no trouble we just want the right to be different. That's what I thought the mainstream could be. Lots of people doing their own thing and being allowed to say their piece. But the mainstream can never be a wide band of different things. It must by its very nature be homogeneous. It brings everything down to its level. It claims you."
Jarvis on image
I never subscribed to the David Bowie/Aladdin Sane split persona kind of thing. I always wanted the on-stage me to be pretty much as I am, and it is aspects of me slightly more amplified. But then, because more people know that louder on-stage version of me, then I have to make it a bit louder, so it doesn't get boring, and then that's the one people know, that's the version that's on TV and in the magazines, and in a way it becomes more real than the actual real me. And that version of me is now embodied in the wax figure of myself standing in Rock Circus in London."
Jarvis on Mickey Mouse
"That's the joke of it all. We're getting to the crux of it now. You imagine when you're young that becoming famous will make you completely free. And in a way it actually makes you less free. If you fuck somebody, for instance, the chances are it's going to be in the papers the next day. So even though you have more opportunities to fuck around like you dreamed of when you were young, you're best advised not to do it. And if people do want to fuck you, well, how do you know it's you, the actual you, that they want to fuck. They might just want to fuck your image. They're not fucking you. They're fucking Mickey Mouse. And then they're making money out of selling the story that they've fucked Mickey Mouse. I don't want to be fucking Mickey Mouse."
Jarvis and song
Jarvis Cocker, the anxious master of self-absorption, the solipsistic lounge singer who has brought a valiant new torpidity to show business, has finally made a new album with his group, Pulp. He finds himself, with warmth and reluctance, spending the day doing interviews to think aloud and maybe find out, as he talks, what this new album, This Is Hard Core, is actually all about. He says that he finds interviews an interesting way to dredge up what the songs are saying, because when they were written, he wasn't really sure. He was just involved in the writing of them, not necessarily the meaning. So as he talks, he finds out whether the album is strong and coherent, and maybe finds out whether other people like it. This worries him much more than he lets on, and he lets on a little. Is it still Pulp time? Is it still Jarvis Cocker time? Or has the Sony retro white-cube digital clock of fashion, and style, flipped on?
He lights another cigarette and anybody sitting nearby would see how long and narrow his fingers are. Which makes you consider his disconcertingly cute nostrils and his timid yet fruity little mouth. But only for a moment.
The songs Jarvis wrote in the Eighties were just about his more smashed Northern self, the bloodless sound of underprivilege. The songs he wrote in the Nineties were about losing his self in the lost city of London. And quite enjoying it, what with one craven thing and another. The spy had earned a whole new bunch of privileges. The new set of songs is around about how he lost himself to fame and then how he found himself out, and then found himself again, as lost as ever, but on his own terms. It's the soundtrack to a kind of breakdown, and a kind of recovery. It's a phobic extravaganza.
No one tells pop stories as stoically and funnily, as defiantly and casually, as Jarvis Cocker. Not many pop singers are as maundering and meandering, and who else can be as blissful as when noting the remissions of coping. There's a great deal of fun to be had hearing how he mixes the edgy and the tranquil as he reports back to the real world how hot and cold it is to plunge, overnight after 15 years, from total obscurity to popular adoration.
Jarvis on This Is Hard Core which is as ramshackle as ever but somehow also beautifully organised
"I didn't want to make a mean-spirited album. Obviously, I felt that there were parts of fame that I found distasteful but I thought there would be something very mean about me saying, oh, you don't want to aspire to fame, it's shit, you stay in your job at Sainsbury's stacking shelves. Be content with that. It's horrible here being famous. So even though on a selfish level there was a lot I had to get out of my system, on a basic therapeutic level, I hope I've managed to do it without being too negative and cynical. It starts out very dark with The Fear, which is about these panic attacks you've no doubt read that I was getting. I would think that I was going to die. But then it lightens up.
"I wasn't sure that I actually had a life any more to write about that wasn't just a cliché. I want it to be that people can hear the songs and relate them to their own lives. That's very important to me. And the life I've been leading over the past two-and-a-half years has not been the kind most people experience. But most people will quite rightly think, well, what's the problem? So you stay in hotels all the time. Great. I wish I could! Shut up you little git. I was losing control. But, you know, I had to experience it. It was offered to me. I couldn't turn into an anorak person and say, nope, I'm not interested. So I tried it and became one of those people with the red shiny nose you see in the press in party photographs. I could have gone all the way quite easily. Luckily I had friends who gave me some perspective on it all. So I was saved, but then I didn't really know whether I wanted to write about all that shit. So I wasn't sure that I even wanted to make another record."
Jarvis on failure
"Well, if it doesn't do well I'd have to go back on the dole, I suppose. We haven't got that much money because of bad business deals in the past. I'm not a millionaire. I'm not even half a millionaire."
Jarvis on being told that Pulp's music does have this tendency to sound like a Northern Boomtown Rats or a posh Sham 69 or a scruffy Tin Machine or all the albums David Bowle ever made except Tin Machine smeared together
"Get out of here..."
Jarvis on why the song Seductive Barry is nearly nine minutes long
"Well, it's a song about sex, innit, so it had to be long. Sex can sometimes last up to nine minutes. Sometimes even longer."
Jarvis on children
"It's something I've thought about recently but it's not something I'll do while I'm still in a group. You might end up writing a song like 'Beautiful Boy', which I could never live with."
Jarvis on New Labour
"When it was coming up to the election I was getting all these calls from New Labour asking me to rock the vote and that kind of shit. I've always voted Labour and wanted them to get in, even though they're pretty dismal now, but I couldn't do it. It just didn't seem appropriate for someone who deals in what I deal with to get up and stand behind that. They even tracked me down to America. I went away to America to get away from things and to think about whether I even wanted to make another record or whether I just wanted to piss off out of it and do something else. And I was staying under an assumed name in the middle of nowhere and I get this phone call at ten in the morning. It was Olivia from New Labour. Can we count on your support? No fucking way."
Jarvis on Britpop (1962-1998)
"The only theory I can come up with as to why we have the best music here is because among creative people there is this natural distaste for the establishment and because the establishment in this country is so pukey people here have to invent something for themselves that is positive. If things were more interesting and children got on with their parents and it was a nicer society to live in then people wouldn't need to invent these little subcultures for themselves. The only good thing about Britain is all the alternatives to the established society. The subcultures are something to be proud of in this country. The mainstream stuff is pretty atrocious."
Jarvis on Englishness (bad)
"Peter Greenaway is the most horrible example of Englishness 'cos his films are completely passionless. That dry and... castrated... preciseness. Which is how a lot of foreigners characterise us. And there is that cold thing in us. I can be like that. I try and counter it."
Jarvis on Englishness (good)
"I like the World Service. I really despise the fact that they've put a soap opera on to the World Service."
Jarvis on the year 2000
"I imagine that there will be a sense of anticlimax. You'll wake up on the first day of 2000, and you won't be wearing a white nylon spacesuit with a zip up the side and you'll have a hell of a hangover."
Jarvis on his girlfriend
"She works in mental health. I guess she brings her work home with her. She's not interested in music, so that's good. I don't bother playing her our music. She's not impressed with what I do. She doesn't like me being famous because she thinks that unsavoury people get involved. And she's right. I can't tell you her name. I've got to keep some things private. I have though, haven't I?"
Jarvis and getting the joke
Jarvis Cocker, the experimental entertainer, the philosopher of misfortune, a man enthralled by his ridiculous memory, who's struggled to feel at ease with his own streaky ill-at-ease-ness, very rarely smiles and laughs even less. Certainly in public smiles are kept to a tight minimum. He doesn't want to give too much away. The straight face is at the heart of his pop art. When he does smile, or even laugh, it's a choice sight. It's like rock bending. Or is he about to sneeze? It's almost as much of a shock as if Buster Keaton was in front of you, forced to smile by circumstances other than politeness. I think it's safe to say that Jarvis Cocker, the pop singer with the appetite for the grits and quiddities of human psychology, smiles more inwardly than he does externally. When he does, it's as if he has to turn his face inside out. You can almost hear him creak.
Jarvis on: What's it all about Jarvis?
"Without wanting to sound trite, I would say that the basic message of This Is Hard Core is - be careful what you hanker after, it may come true and it won't be quite what you expected. And what the hard core is, it's the hard core of who you are, because in the end that's all you've got. And after everything that's happened to me, the life before fame, and then the fame, what's left of me, what carries on after the fun and games, is the hard core of who I actually am. And there's not a lot I can do about this hard core. Even if I don't particularly like what's left. I have to get used to it."
Jarvis and spending an hour and a half in a delightfully seedy wine bar with yet another journalist
The interview begins. Jarvis Cocker, the crooked pop star with a crooked smile and a crooked outlook, prepares to light up, inhale, and, of course, pose.
I ask the first question...