JARVIS COCKER as THE JUNKSHOP ROMANTIC
STEVE MACKEY as THE PLAYBOY
RUSSELL SENIOR as THE ALIEN
CANDIDA DOYLE as THE CARE BEAR KID
NICK BANKS as THE PIE-MUNCHER
From the late Seventies right up to the early Nineties, Sheffield's Pulp were critical faves whose bizarre sex-obsessed space-pop eluded commercial success. Then in 1994, their His 'n' Hers LP sold 100,000 copies, went Top 10 and almost won the Mercury Prize. Meanwhile, frontman Jarvis Cocker became Britain's unlikeliest sex symbol and all-round multi-media pundit. With their fantastic new single 'Common People' released this week, we meet the brilliant Pulp as they prepare to ascend to the next level of fame and acclaim.
He's Chris Evans' favourite artist. Greater London Radio has called him "the first pop star of the 21st century". This writer reckons he's Eric Morecambe meets James Bond. And he's described himself as "Woody Alien in platform heels". Ladies and Gentlemen, Jarvis Branson Cocker, the human stick insect in Oxfam gladrags rechristened "Pop's Mr Sex" by The Observer's "Life" magazine, has just entered the building. And tripped over some camera cable.
As stumbles go, it's pretty clumsy. Although Jarvis doesn't exactly tumble arse over tit onto the Maker photographer's studio floor, it's a trip nonetheless, a full-scale fumble of the feet, a semi-somersault. Not that Cocker seems to care. He doesn't bother to check whether the nosy bastard journalist has witnessed his miniature fall from grace, he just regains his balance and heads towards the studio table where several platefuls of sweets and sandwiches await.
The trip is all. In it, we can locate the sublime/corblimey essence of Pulp, the most modern of modern pop bands, fronted by Jarvis Cocker, the ordinary man with the extraordinary talent, the sex god with the sex problems, the klutz-icon whose Cool Quotient is raised precisely because he doesn't mind looking uncool. Thought: Jarvis Cocker has the same initials as Jesus Christ and Jimmy Corkhill.
Fact: on the night of this interview, he is spied in a quiet corner of a Menswear after-show party with a gorgeous young girl, legs akimbo, facing him on his lap, her skirt around her waist, his crotch against hers, the pair, oblivious to the drinking/drugging hordes (basically the entire population of The Good Mixer relocated to London W1), thrusting and grunting like extras from "Confessions Of A Britpop Idol".
Theory: the British public is obsessed with sex, especially public sex, at which Jarvis Cocker is (becoming) an expert. Ergo, the British public is (becoming) obsessed with Jarvis Cocker, who, after 15 years in the shadows, is Going Public with Pulp's synthetically treated, dramatically arranged, indecently graphic pop songs about public - and private and magical and mundane - sex.
"I was speaking to our A&R man and he was asking me about our new songs," starts Jarvis Cocker, his pipecleaner-thin crimson body (crimson jacket, crimson corduroy slacks - a very Pulp word, that, slacks) leaning back in a grey swivel office chair in a small, darkened studio next to Pat Pope's own massive photo complex. "So I told him, and he said, 'They're all still about sex, aren't they?' And I said, 'Well, you know, I've got a one-track mind. I'm interested in sex. I like it. It's something which gets me excited. That's why I write about it. What do you want me to write about- knitting?"'
A Pulp feature without sex would be like a Barry White feature without sex or a Spiritualized feature without drugs or a Snoop Doggy Dogg feature without guns or a Shaun Ryder feature without sex and drugs and guns, or a Paul Weller feature without loads of tedious meandering bollocks about old blues and soul records. But a Pulp feature - or, for that matter, a Pulp song - doesn't have to be solely about sex. It's just that, for Pulp, as it is for Jarvis Cocker, as it is (let's be honest) for us, sex is the axis around which all their/his/our other obsessions orbit.
So, yes, a Pulp feature or a Pulp song could be about knitting, just as it could be about fairgrounds or babies or joyriders or pink gloves or lipgloss or underwear. But really, once you've rubbed at the surface and scrubbed away the details of Pulp's beautiful tales of banal lives, you're left with sex, in all its gory glory. I'm not sorry about this. Neither's Jarvis Cocker.
"Is there anything in the world more interesting than sex?" the thinking woman's crumpet with the thick-rimmed spectacles repeats my loaded/"Loaded" question in his inimitably rich, deep South Yorkshire voice. "No, I don't suppose there is. Eating and reproducing are the two major motives that make animals want to do things. And I don't think it's that different with people, except that people have the ability to think about it, and have morals about it. I always thought of sex as something quite transcendental," he continues, leaning forward now. "Not that l'm into tantric sex, or whatever, but in the way that it transcends... In a world where religion isn't such a massive guiding force, sex is, along with drugs, the closest we ever get to a transcendental feeling. Especially the moment of orgasm." Oo-er, Jarvis Cock-er.
Think of the seedy voyeurism of "Babies" (from "His 'n' Hers") where the kid watches his friend's sister going at it hammer-and-tongs through a gap in a wardrobe door; of the tawdry perversions of "Sheffield: Sex City" from "Pulpintro" ("I just had to make love to all the cracks in the pavement and the shop doorways"); or the smutty ambiguity of "Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)" from "Masters Of The Universe" ("There's a hole in your heart / And one between your legs / You've never had to wonder which one he's going to fill"): Pulpsex is never the hygienic coupling you see in films, the seamless, juiceless, sexless, unproblematic sex we're all supposed to have as adults.
Jarvis Cocker is the only white pop artist currently addressing the subject of sex in an explicit manner. Historically, white pop sex has either been good clean fun (The Beatles, The Beach Boys) or its darker side has just been hinted at (The Who, The Rolling Stones) or it has been the course of much angst (New Order, The Smiths).
Today, of course, sex is dealt with in numerous black genres such as rap, house and swingbeat, only there the sex is the mechanically precise variety, all domineering men and submissive women, gleaming musculature and cool biological fusion and fission. Pulpsex is rather more fumbling and fallible than that. It takes place between streets, not between the sheets.
"I like that sort of thing," admits Jarvis. "It's good for sex to be an event, not always taking place in the same venue. It's better to go on tour, as it were. It's more exciting. Not that I'm one of those people who has to think that they're going to be discovered at any moment shagging in an alleyway, or whatever."
"Anyway," he refers back to the bump 'n' grind style of contemporary sensual poetry, "that's where most pop writing about sex falls down. It becomes like a parody of a man trying to portray himself as God's gift to women, as the greatest stud alive."
Could a white man ever get away with a line like Barry White's "Take off your brassiere, my dear"?
"No, they'd get the piss taken out of them, and rightly so."
As Pulp's popularity increases, so too does Jarvis Cocker's ability to reduce female admirers to paroxysms of pleasure at the sight of his beanpole academic frame or the sound of his lugubrious, deadpan, baritone. Thing is, they're half surrendering to Jarvis, the post-modern Englebert Humperdink (he sends them), and half laughing at themselves for doing so (is he sending himself up?). There is a similarly narrow line in Pulp's songs between the silly and the serious. Could Jarv sing a song about sex with a straight face, or does he usually feel the need to be self-deprecating about it?
"Well," he smiles, "there is always that temptation where sex is concerned to hide the IQ, to pretend you didn't really mean what you said, which is a cop-out. You have to risk looking a bit daft."
Jarvis didn't lose his virginity until he was 19, and he was apparently celibate for several years when he moved down to London from Sheffield at the age of 25 to study film at St Martin's College Of Art. For years, his frustrated lust for lust fuelled his muse. Now he's got a live-in lover, Sarah, who may or may not be the saucy girl from the Menswear party and works in a mental health centre. ("I DJ'ed there once," Jarvis tells me. "I played them lots of Madness records".) Although like all of us he's struggling to keep his coitus explosively interesting while in a steady relationship ("I don't think you can have both at once. Do you know what I mean?" Oh, but I do), he is surely having at least more regular, if not more successful, sex. Is there a direct correlation between Jarvis Having Successful Sex and Jarvis No Longer Being Able To Write Successfully About Sex?
"It depends how you measure success at sex," he says. "There isn't a score card in operation, or anything." I dunno, I got a standing ovation from my girlfriend the other night. "I wouldn't say I was having more successful sex now," Jarvis ignores me. "I might be having more sex but I don't know if it's more successful." But if it was? "Then I'd probably stop writing altogether and concentrate on shagging! If it was that good. I mean," expands Jarvis, grandly, "there is a theory that states that people create Art because they're sublimating their sexual desires in some way, or they have certain feelings of dissatisfaction which drive them to achieve certain things. So if you were really satisfied with sex and life in general, you'd probably just give up creating and concentrate on enjoying yourself."
There are few signs of a satisfied Jarvis Cocker on "Common People", Pulp's anthemic, gigantic new single whose relentlessly intense rhythm and motorik pace recall the demonic, supersonic, electronic mo-mo-momentum of Eno-era Roxy Music, and whose juggernaut keyboard riff and vitriolic sex-geek lyric smack of Elvis Costello at his most deliciously malicious (circa "Lipstick Vogue"). The narrator of this staggering piece of synthesised pop invective relates the story of a girl who wants to slum it for a while by moving into a scuzzy neighbourhood, shopping in scummy grocers and sleeping with common people like...
"Sex was never really on the cards, to be honest," says the working-class boy from Intake, Sheffield of the real life incident recalled in "Common People", in which a student from a wealthy Greek family who Jarvis met at St Martin's College outlined her plans to take a brief, vicarious holiday in other people's misery, via El Jarvo himself.
"That was just a bit of poetic license. I only knew her for a matter of weeks, and I only spoke to her a few times, but it stuck in my mind what she was saying, that she wanted to sleep with 'common people like me'."
Did she actually use that line?
"Oh no. She never actually said that to me. It was one of the things that I found quite strange when I moved to London," digresses Jarvis, reminiscing about his formative years as a fully paid-up member of the Weird Teen Club, about his days wearing lederhosen and looking like a bit-part from "The Sound Of Music".
"Because when I lived in Sheffield I was always getting flack off football fans, stuff like, 'F***ing poof'. I was always considered a bit effete. Then suddenly I came down here and, because I spoke with this northern accent, I had this air of slight earthliness. I liked that, because I'd never had it before."
"So yeah," Jarvis returns to the inverted snob-protagonist of "Common People", "maybe she did consider me a bit common." Isn't that Pulp in a nutshell: a blend of the earthly and the effete, the coarse and the camp?
"Maybe, I don't know. That's your job to say that." So you were a bit posh up in Sheffield, and you're a bit rough in London? "Yeah, maybe. Yeah."
Does Jarvis, the alienated wunderkind who has been in Pulp for over half his life, feel more comfortable back home or down here?
"I was thinking about that when we played with Oasis at the Sheffield Arena show, actually," he says, fiddling with a loose fingernail. "At the do afterwards there were loads of people from Manchester and I really enjoyed being there, because I've not socialised in the north for a long time. I've found I get on easier with northerners that I do with people that I meet down here."
Can we extrapolate from this that, perusing a list of his peers, Jarvis would be more at ease with, for example, Oasis that he would, say, Blur?
"I've got more in common with Oasis, yeah. When it comes to something like civilised conversation."
Civilised conversation? Oasis?
"Why not? In fact, the first time I ever spoke to them was when we were all in America and we were trying to get into their show in San Francisco. And we got a message saying, 'You can all come in as long as Jarvis comes onto the bus and talks to us.' So I went on and talked. They were really friendly. Unfortunately, I was in a really depressed state - it was my birthday and I was feeling a bit maudlin - and they probably thought I was a right moron."
Jarvis Cocker meets the brothers Gallagher. The mind truly boggles at this summit encounter between such diametrically opposed aesthetic schools of consciousness. I suppose Noel and Liam were busy swapping lurid tales of birds and booze while poor Jarv was left to ruminate on the shabby nature of existence, or something.
Am I right?
"Not really, no," Jarv casually leaps out of his seat to deposit a bit of nail in the studio bin. "The only real difference," he says, plonking himself back down on his swivel chair, "was that they were talking about shagging birds and I was thinking about shagging birds."
PULPSEX (COME AGAIN)
The B-side of "Common People" is "Underwear" (a very, very Pulp word that, underwear), a brief encounter between a fully clothed boy and a semi-naked girl. Says Jarvis Cocker, the Morrissey With A Groin™: "It's about how, once you've taken somebody's clothes off, it's hard to put them back on and leave and say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't actually mean that.'"
Forgive me for being so literal, but I was wondering... "Do I wear underwear? I didn't used to, but do now, I hate boxer shorts, they're crap. I don't see the point of them - there's no support. If you run, it's all flopping about. I prefer the trunks type - not with the legging, but kind of like Y-fronts. You can get them from Marks & Spencer in three-packs. I have tangas as well, but they're disgusting - you know, those really tiny ones."
Is Jarv into "sexy" women's underwear? "No, I hate all that Ann Summers, supposedly erotic lingerie where it's like, black polyester satin with synthetic red trim and synthetic lace."
Does he ever stop himself from having un-PC thoughts? Sexist ones, for example? "Not really. I was brought up in a completely female-dominated environment," he backtracks to his childhood - his father left home when he was seven, and he was brought up by his strict mother, who, suitably tragicomically, would hit him with a plastic hairbrush, only to replace it with a wooden one when it broke. "So it would be difficult for me... I mean, I do think there are differences between men and women. But I like that. I'm not particularly into homogeneity. Vive le difference!"
Are we finally allowed to admit, post-"Loaded", to admiring the female form? "Well, it's a lot nicer to look at than the male form, isn't it? And I think women would agree with that as well. The shape is more balanced, it's got nice curves, and you've got the breasts which balance the bottom part..."
Hey! This is a family paper. What about men? "You can have good-looking men as well, I suppose. It's just that a women's sexual parts are nicer than a man's"
Do you have conventionally male tastes in women? "Yeah, I think I have. Actually, there's a shop I keep meaning to go to which has just opened up in Soho which sells more kind of... demurely sexual things - they're not in-your-face sexy. I love to see... I don't get that much of a chance, you know, but I love to see..."
Apparently Nick Cave, Mr Dark Knight Of The Soul, gets turned on by busty secretary types. "I know what you're saying, yeah - towny lassies. Yeah, they're alright, them."
I must say, this is all a bit of a surprise, Jarvis. Just before, you were talking about homogeneity... "I don't even like the milk." ...and I was wondering: do you realise a lot of people reckon you're androgynous? "I wouldn't say I was. It's just that, well, there's no way I could be macho. It's just a physical fact. I couldn't pull it off."
Huh-huh. He said 'pull it off'.
"No, I'm not androgynous. I just like taking care of my appearance. Not that I'm in to designer labels, or anything. 'Oh, you're wearing Versace tonight.' I just like well-made clothes. And I'm not bothered what other people wear, either. You often get people coming up to you who just tell you about their eyeliner, and that's boring. I don't think people should be allowed to look interesting if they're actually boring. They should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act."
Sorry for prying but, to paraphrase a well-known pronouncement, are you a heterosexual who's never had a homosexual experience? "Yeah, yeah. I'm as straight as a dye. I mean, it's not anything to be proud of, it's just that I've never had the inclination. I can appreciate that some men look nice, but I don't feel any kind of attraction towards them."
Turns out Jarvis Cocker is a bit of an Iron John sort on the quiet. Not that you'd tell at first sight, of course: he makes Kate Moss look like Hattie Jacques.
Can thin men be lads? "Yeah. Candida's [Pulp keyboardist] boyfriend's thinner than me, and he's got very laddish tendencies." There you go, then. "It can be quite funny, that laddish thing," Jarv goes on. "Like the lads at school - they were always doing stupid things like sprayings 'Welcome To Colditz' on the school wall, or like, when my sister was about 15 and she was walking back from the chip shop eating some chips, and this gang of lads were going, 'Oi, do you want a sausage with them chips, love?' It's just daft."
I've just realised: Jarvis Cocker is the kid from "Kes", 25 years on.
There is more to Pulp than Jarvis Cocker, though. Without Pulp, Jarvis would make a credible space-age Frank Sinatra, crooning torch songs against some cheesy orchestral backdrop on the Rialto circuit, or appearing on the "Des O' Connor" show like some kind of diseased, anorexic lounge lizard in full second-hand regalia, a surreally suave cabaret turn for the Camden set.
But it's the other four members of Pulp who give Jarvis Cocker's glum bus-stop love stories and X-rated anecdotes an appropriately glam epic soundtrack, who give his comic bark a cosmic backing, who help achieve the perfect union of accessibility and experimentation.
Nick Banks (percussion), Russell Senior (guitar) and Steve Mackey (bass) make up the Morodorised/motorised rhythm section, while Candida Doyle supplies the battery of Farfisa Organs, arcane Stylophones and assorted synth relics which give Pulp their unique Seventies/Nineties sound, a smashing clash of the kitsch and the colossal, the tacky and the titanic.
What are Pulp? Pulp are: Acrylic acid. Dralon disco. Terylene techno. Formica funk. Or, to put it another way, Pulp are: Kraftwerk play Tindersticks - how else to define Pulp's shuddering depiction of Jarvis' sad bedsit melodramas? (in fact, Pulp love Kraftwerk, and Jarvis, now a fully qualified film-maker, has made videos for Tindersticks.)
But who are Pulp? And are the really as reptilian-strange as they look? The Four Other Members Of Pulp take it in turns to join me in the grim interview room to draw rough sketches in the air of their bandmates.
Nick Banks is first. "Russell always seems like the sensible one, the one who wears a shirt and tie," says the 30-year-old drummer. "He's very straight-laced, but it's like he's so straight, he's strange. If you see what I mean.
"Candida  is pretty strange as well. Especially when she gets giggly and drunk, which is usually on champagne these days," he adds, doing his best Noel Coward impression. Nick, another of Pulp's Venusian-next-door types tells me that, while none of Pulp are married, they are all in steady relationships, and that Russell lives with his girlfriend and their two kids in Sheffield. Nick and Russell still live in Sheffield, while Jarvis, Steve and Candida have all moved to London.
Banks also tells me that, whenever Pulp are on tour, he shares a room with Russell, apparently the excuse for all manner of sinister activities.
"He [Russell] takes to running round the room with no clothes on. Why? God knows. He runs a bath, and you'd think he'd then go in the bathroom. But no. He has to take all his clothes off, then start running the bath, and he'll be running round the room getting his things together. And I'll be there trying to watch 'Sportsnight', or something. lt's not a pretty sight."
Steve Mackey- Pulp's dashing 29-year-old ladykiller who shares a flat with Justin from Elastica and is a dead ringer for Alex James from Blur verifies this when he says, "You just don't enter the room when Nick and Russell are in there. You stay away. I've looked in at times and there's, like, pants down, breasts showing, all sorts."
It soon transpires that Banks has been fairly intimate with Jarvis Cocker as well.
"I went camping with Jarvis a few years back," he recalls, preparing to shatter some illusions, "and it really pissed it down, and there were eight of us, and we were all piled into this caravan, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. And l'm on the floor one night, and I look up, and there's Jarvis' bollocks in front of my face! And he's trying to lower himself onto his sleeping bag! And l'm, like, gerroff! Get'em out me way! Eurgh. Horrible. A terrible sight. A vision of hell. He doesn't wear much underwear, you see, so it was balls out for the lads. Frightening. It'll haunt me for the rest of me life, that."
Does it bemuse Nick that this "vision of hell" is, along with Damon Albarn, Liam Gallagher and Brett Anderson, one of the four most desired frontmen in British (indie) pop?
"Not bemuse. I find it quite funny, really, cos he's tall, he's thin, he's gangly, he's not athletic and he hasn't got all that great co-ordination... it's funny for people to see him as this sexual being when I've seen him trip up on the carpet so many times. It's nice that he can triumph over adversity and give hope to people."
Russell Senior, who is 34 but acts even older, tells me about forthcoming Pulp tracks "Pencil Skirt" ("Conventional Pulp fodder"), "Mile End" ("It's an alternative view of Blur's East End, the dark side of 'Parklife'") and "Monday Morning" ("it's bluebeat/ska - it sounds dreadful, but it's well within the boundaries of acceptable taste"). And he thinks Pulp, not Oasis, are the Rolling Stones to Blur's Beatles. "We're not kitsch," he states, flatly, "that's just the way Jarvis dresses. There's a dark, almost satanic edge to Pulp that I've always thought was quite Stones-y"
Russell is resigned to JC's dominance over Pulp in '95: "We used to be perceived more as a group, whereas it's all Jarv these days."
If there was a Pulp cartoon (set in some decrepit urban futurescope, all lurid neon reds and vivid emergency greens), it would be Russell who'd get the job of outlining the characters. In fact, some years back there was a Pulpzine with its very own Pulp caricatures.
Remembers Russell, "Nick was the pie-munching, beer-swilling, televised football kind of guy. Candida was in the toy shop, or on a multi-coloured cloud with the 'Care Bears'. Steve was the playboy with his cigars and women. Jarvis was all jumble sales and junk, space-hoppers and suspender belts. And I was the hardline, stern, don't-suffer-fools-gladly type."
Candida is last to enter the interview chamber. She isn't in a particularly fluffy-bunny-ish kind of mood today, having just chipped a tooth on some jelly babies, but she does reveal she's keen to make loads of money from Pulp, or at least enough to pay her 'leccy bill (she recently got cut off). She also says that being recognised in shops and travelling in limos "makes me feel like l'm drunk or on drugs, like l'm in an unreal world, kind of dizzy."
It'll get dizzier. Especially since "Common People" is going to be this years "Girls And Boys". And especially since Jarvis Cocker, who is already this year's eccentric media plaything, has presented "Top Of The Pops" and appeared on the cover of the "Top Of The Pops" magazine with Kylie Minogue as well as on "Pop Quiz", "The Brits" and "The Big Breakfast" (who had a "Jarvis Day"!), all in the last few months alone.
As Jarvis gets chauffeured to central London via his home in Ladbroke Grove (Hard Cash = Street Name), where he will pick up some singles (Duran Duran, A-Ha, Dollar, ELO, KC & The Sunshine Band, Soft Cell, Barry White, Hot Chocolate, Freeez, The Bluetones - Jarvis, I love you) to play on the Lamacq and Whiley show later on, I join him on the car's squashy black leather back seat and wonder whether success will make a failure of him. You know, Culture Of Despair, and all that.
"No, I can't imagine that I would," is the former assistant fishmonger's reply to my enquiry: would he ever Do A Kurt Or Richey? "Because I've done other things, I know there's always a way out, another world. I always say, 'Go and be a gardener, or something - there are other things apart from music that you can do.'" Right now, Jarvis is having too good a time to do get depressed. Like appearing on every TV show under the sun...
"It's important to go on those things and not be a cheesemaster," he announces, dryly, as the Ford Granada glides through the mid-afternoon traffic. "I mean, people say, 'Why don't you go on with your cock out and say f*** off and do a dump', but that's immature and stupid. That kind of rebellious behaviour just isn't rebellious any more."
Or presenting awards on the Brits... "In those situations, you do seek solace in drink. There were all these people in these Portakabins backstage like Elton John and Sting. I went to the toilet and suddenly realised I was pissing next to Tom Jones! He had his cock out in the little urinal next to me."
Jarvis says he's not likely to surround himself with bodyguards like Prince did at the Brits ('What kind of danger are you in at a place like that? I mean, Terence Trent D'Arby's hardly going to Ninja you, is he?"), even though he got beaten up quite badly in Islington last Christmas. Generally, he's rather delighted that, after 15 years of playing the lead role in his own sordid tales of sleazy low-rent romance, Pulp are getting some reward.
"I suppose if you have a certain amount of success, you feel like you've had a kind of kitemark on you," he says as the car pulls up outside Broadcasting House and he prepares to dedicate his theme song, Dennis "Minder" Waterman's "I Could Be So Good For You", to the entire British nation "Do you know what I mean? Because I always used to feel like a marginal character, kind of stuck on the sidelines. And now I feel like, finally, I'm fit for human consumption."