Knickers Cocker Glory!
Words: John Robinson, Photographer: Kevin Westenberg
Taken from the New Musical Express, 17 August 1996

Shudder! At the bizarre sexual encounters...
Reel! At the naught-ee stage antics...
Bluster! At the tight-fitting polyester garments...
Be very astounded indeed! At the sheer infamy of JARVIS COCKER... The Man Who Waggled His Pants At Jacko ( all tabloids). We meet the Pulp frontman limbering up for another large dollop of notoriety.

Slicing the air with his index finger, The Spy draws a circle round his face and enunciates slowly. "I'm in Poooolp," he says, while the guards look on blankly and continue to block his path. Just another hazard of the job for The Spy. Just another undercover mission. Lucky that things are already in hand.

The Pulp crew have already done their bit, after all. The word has been passed faultlessly across Belgium, from one end of the Werchter Festival to the other, where it reaches the Canadian songthrush as she reclines in her Portacabin in the late afternoon. And that message is not good. She has been informed, via a circuitous route, that a gentleman she has not yet met - but she will, she will - intends to join her onstage this afternoon to 'pay his respects'. That gentleman's name is Mr Jarvis Cocker. The Spy. And he specialises in revenge. He has received some information, the songthrush is dismayed to learn, and this afternoon, for this matter of moral qualm, she will be punished. Mr Cocker will disturb, irrevocably for her, the calm of the European festival circuit, for he is an irresponsible man. This is bad. This is very bad indeed.

And it was all going so well, too. Galactic career trajectory, major feistiness, leather trousers. Now all she can see in front of her is humiliation and the unsolicited intrusion into her performance of pop's most articulate buttocks. Yes, for Ms Alanis Morissette, this is shaping up to be a bad day. The game is ironic Canadian songwriter versus Sheffield pop troubadour, and you've got to fancy the spry Yorkshireman's chances. Agile in a confined space and wizard of the pointed hand, he is surely a match for the lankhaired promoter of fellatio in cinemas.

The Pulp crew sit back to admire their handiwork and grin. Oh, she's definitely worried he's going to do his Jacko bit. Very worried indeed. But showtime approaches, and Jarvis must wait for his moment. And there he goes! Out of the trap, the spindly writer of suburban dramas belts out from the side of the stage and runs out towards the crowd. He beats one security man! He's beaten two! He eludes a floundering swipe from she-with-one-hand-famously-in-pocket! His legendary grace taking him into the hearts of his hosts, he turns away from them, bends over, lifts his jacket flap and displays - and what a display that is - the finest seat, the most famous pair, the most famously intrusive... "Nah," snorts Jarvis, as the invasion of another stage disappears into the ether.

A problem? A hitch in the plan? "We were up for supporting her in America," drawls Jarvis languidly, "then apparently, after the Michael Jackson thing, she wouldn't even consider it. She thought that was a really 'terrible thing to do'. But I wouldn't give her the satisfaction of going on her stage. That," he states flatly, "would imply she was important in some way." Jarvis Cocker, architect of the most finely wrought gesture in the history of the human behind, lights a cigarette and sighs as only a man haunted by the precipitous actions of his arse can. It has brought him more fame than he can handle, more attention than he'd like and it has scared Manis Morissette. And how did this happen?

Mr Cocker. Could you enlighten us as to what exactly what you were doing on the night of February 19, 1996?

Today's Jarvis Cocker is dressed in a post-gig romper suit, is a little on the paranoid side and sees the world through Michael Jackson shades. He scaled the city walls, you see. Snatched some precious moments of intimacy to wiggle in the messiah's enclave and, since then, the shades have been on, colouring what he sees around him, making it all a little uncomfortable. They cast a new light over his recent American tour, because he wasn't sure whether at each concert there would be "mad fans with automatic weapons". They have made him a little more selfconscious and they've shifted the emphasis. He's no longer the TV pundit, the voyeur, the songwriter, the wit, but The Michael Jackson Guy; a villain on the Costa del Camden with the newspapers in hot pursuit. He has spawned a monster.

And the funny thing is, reckons Jarvis, this year was never really meant to be up to much for Pulp. They weren't going to be paranoid like so many other bands, weren't going to do much, weren't going to worry about the population of Pulpworld, but were going to dig in and settle down. Last year was when, for the first time ever, Pulp were totally 'in sync with the times', but this year? There would be no triumphant Glastonbury, no 'Common People'; this was 'build defence round your property year', a time for keeping your head down and taking stock.

Anyway, just look around you. This isn't a year for outsiders, this is the year of Men Behaving Badly, of Chris Evans, of Ocean Colour Scene - easy-going lads, not twitchers or misfits but still, even they were touched when Jarvis stormed the gates of the Ridiculous Palace. Jarvis was interrogated by the police in the dressing room of Neil Morrissey and Martin Clunes ("They were some of the first people there afterwards. They were quite funny, actually."), while Chris Evans was the first to broadcast the close-up footage of the incident on TFI Friday, to prove that Jarvis had not, as the tabloids insisted, stamped on any schoolchildren. And Jarvis is grateful.

He wasn't even thinking about what he was doing very much at the time. But with each graceful step, Jarvis was unwittingly spinning his life into a progressively more exalted orbit. Away from privacy, towards a slightly hunted restlessness, becoming - although he didn't yet know it - a man whose legend was growing faster than the facts of his life could hold it back. Jarvis Cocker. Intruder. Destructive fool. Pop terrorist. So now he is watched with the scrutiny reserved for the truly notorious. And there is 'the B-word', a euphemism of bassist Steve Mackey's devising, that is to be uttered with equal parts high amusement and muted despair whenever 'The Michael Jackson Thing', or 'The events at this year's prestigious Brit Awards' prove a little too unwieldy. Jarvis sighs when he hears the B-word, but is not deterred from thinking of an original observation.

And that may have been part of the problem: because life is dull if you don't do something different. What you've got to do, after all, is Do Your Bit. "I'm not ashamed of what I did," Jarvis begins. "I've always hated it when bands get famous and they bottle it and kind of bland out; they'll go and shake Alanis Morissette's hand or go and talk to the head of Sony Records and pretend to be mates with them, because they've been accepted into this showbusiness fraternity. I've always thought that when you get into a position of privilege, you should abuse it rather than toady along with what's going on. That's why I did it. You've just got to guard against selling out, really."

You weren't just pissed, then? "That was the ironic thing about it, really. I was in this room with the police, and they brought in this music business lawyer who looked like a... very raddled version of Tim Brooke-Taylor, and he was so pissed he couldn't make sense. "He was meant to be advising me on what to say and do and he was just f---ed. It's a big music business thing and a big excuse for them to slap each other on the back and get really pissed, so I was far more sober than him."

Did you regret it in the morning? "The next day... it's like when you get really pissed and wake up and think, 'God, I can't believe I did that'. It was like that. The thing is, I'm not really a person who does things like that. In most situations, rather than be an instigator of events, I'll react to whatever's going on. So I must really have hated it. It's not like, at the drop of a hat I'd go and show me bollocks to the world."

But now you're a national hero. "National hero?" hisses Jarvis, as the profound implications of what he did weigh heavily on his shoulders. "Hmmmmm. It's just that you do something, you think about it for maybe ten seconds, and then you have to live with it for the rest of your life, y'know? I don't really want it engraved on me tombstone that I was the person who waggled his arse at Michael Jackson." Jarvis pauses, and reflects. "I don't consider it the zenith of my artistic achievement."

Jarvis was walking along the street the other day when he was reminded just how far this has all gone. He's walking home and then he notices there's someone coming towards him - it's a policeman. "Here we go, then," thinks Jarvis. "'What are you doing? Where do you live?'" And sure enough, the policeman touches him on the shoulder and then... "He shook me hand and said, 'Well done'," Jarvis grins. "I thought he was going to nick me for something."

Before he had time to work out a plan, The Spy realised he'd been double crossed. Until now he had been safe; had stuck to his suburban patch, snooped in the council houses, pried through the net curtains and occasionally writhed on the crackling afternoon sheets. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it and, as the management knew, Cocker was the best. He recorded scrupulously what happened to him. The places, the discomforts, the grass verges, his progress from fumblings in municipal parks to being a vengeful sackmeister on 24-hour call. These were real people, and this was his own life. He wouldn't make it public for a while, not 'til the relationships had died and the links been severed but, in the end, it would all come out. And what's more, he had a purpose behind what he was doing.

He was an irresponsible - but charming - man and, when he noticed what was happening, he didn't like it one bit. It was just one indiscretion! Need they hound him for it forever? The Jackson incident had proved too much, and now The Spy... was being spied upon. "All the stuff I write about is taken from me own life anyway," explains Jarvis, "and I justify it to myself, that you're not just telling stories about your life, you're turning it into something else, into songs and stuff. Whereas they..." And Jarvis is not a big fan of They. "...were just taking things I'd done in me life for titillation, like 'Oo-err, Missus, Barbara Windsor. So and so shagged so and so. IN'T IT FOONEH?'."

It didn't used to be quite like this. There was a time when the only 'pop stars' recognised by tabloid newspapers were Elton, Eric and Phil; and so, when they came for Liam, Noel, Damon and Jarvis, it was a shock. And in the last six months, it's become unbearable. As The Spy quickly realised, this was the sort of thing that could radically change your life. "There was a time when I was quite paranoid about going out," he explains. "Not really getting hassled and stuff but, even if people don't say anything to you, you can still see them nudging each other going, 'Oh, 'e's 'ere', and it's just like, 'I just fancied a drink, really'. But I don't complain about it, because I used to do it myself if someone famous walked in. It's like what people say if there's a disaster or something: 'I never thought it would happen to me.'"

You don't get people putting 'Thriller' on the jukebox,then? Jarvis brightens. "Oh, I like that one. I'd be getting up and dancing. I considered that to be the point at which he was losing it, but he was still alright. He was bad when he was 'Bad'. That's when he'd really f---ed it."

The real trouble, evidently, is that when you get to be this famous, anything you crave is pretty much granted to you. And this is when fame can really affect your life. "I have been affected by it, I know," says Jarvis. "But it's that thing of believing your own publicity. You have to realise that you're still the same person. You can kind of lose it, because people let you get away with murder, 'cos you're a famous person. So, if you're not careful, you can turn into a really horrible person, just because you can take advantage of people all the time. They'll give you more than an inch. They'll give you 12ft, and let you get away with more than that."

So do the band knock you back? "You have to do it yourself," explains Jarvis. "There's no way you can have someone there, like your mother or someone, telling you to 'calm down' or sumat. You have to exercise self-discipline, you have to decide what's important and what's worth chucking away. And I've never liked being responsible. I've always striven to be as irresponsible as I possibly can, so it's difficult to discipline yourself."

So you take a few drugs, shag a few birds, and suddenly you're targeted by the tabliods as Mr Gangly Bird-Shagging-Drug-Taking-Stamp-On-Children... "And you get all these photographers following you around," Jarvis growls, "and they've all got the same excuse: 'Oh, I've got a wife and family to support'. I say, 'Well, then support them by being something other than a shitsucker.' I hate tabloid newspapers. They're scum. They try and paint it as though they're guardians of the nation's morals, when all the people that work for those papers are the most immoral people you'll ever come across."

The wrath of Jarvis is a terrible thing. Neither conducted at high volume, nor with an accompanying set of hand gestures, its tone is a sort of withering, poisonous boredom with the functions of the popular press. He may well have a specific incident in mind. It was the News Of The World that she went to. And what pretty make-up girl Sarah Reygate, 30, admitted to the moral high guardians of this newspaper was that she had slept with "puny Pulp brat" Jarvis Cocker. Jarvis was not moved. He simply answered that he was a pop star. Sleeping with people, he said candidly, was what pop stars did. "If they get a reaction out of you, then it's good press for them," he explains. "But you can't, because then they've got a story. They just keep going. So the only reason I try to be candid is that I know there's no point doing the other thing, because if you let them know they've got to you, they'll just go in and twist the knife a bit more. So you've got to be not arsed about it, which is difficult, but the only way you can handle it."

Has that episode made you more suspicious of women? Jarvis chuckles. "I've always thought I got on better with women that I did with men. But I suppose that incident has made me more suspicious of women, or their motives, at least. I didn't even get a percentage. She got, I dunno about 20 grand for her story, and I never saw any of it. She could at least have cut me in." Do you not need any sort of stable relationship, then? "I dunno," says Jarvis, and lights another cigarette. "It all depends on the situation you're in. Sounds a very hackneyed thing to say, but when you're in a relationship, then other things seem a bit more attractive, then when you're not in one, the more you crave something to rely on."

"Unfortunately," Jarvis announces, "men get erections, you see. And people have so little direction in their lives, if your cock points in a certain direction, then you follow it, because at least it's a kind of imperative." And you are prey to that? "Everyone is, aren't they?" exclaims Jarvis rhetorically. "You can't argue with a hard-on can you?"

As the media hounds patrol his house, Jarvis faces a dilemma. To keep his head down, or to sod the consequences. To toe the line, or run amok. To watch his back or to be... irresponsible. He likes irresponsible, and he does it well. There has to be a plan, though: and the motive isn't just purely hedonistic. What Jarvis has, is a way of seeing things and a power to make things happen to alter them; a way of knowing what is right and wrong and ultimately knowing what is the Right Thing To Do. And to have infiltrated the enemy's camp, to be on the inside, it just encourages him more.

Because when you're settled, Jarvis reckons, you're pretty much dead. It might sound a bit morbid, but what most people do, he realised, is to live their lives getting to a state where they don't have to think any more. What you should be doing is striving after something, but not quite getting it. He had this idea, you see, that when he was a pop star he would be able to get anything he wanted just by snapping his fingers. He wouldn't have to drive anywhere, someone would drive him. If he wanted a girl, snap, she'd be there. "Then I realised that if you had a life like that it would completely bore you to death, because you'd never have to think about anything." So the plan is 'irresponsible'. But if he applied it to drugs, couldn't it be completely self-destructive?

"It could be," ponders Jarvis, "I'm not really into getting out of it for the sake of it. There are times when if you've been really busy for ages you think: 'I deserve to get off me head now, because I've only got two days off, so I'm allowed to go out with me mates and do whatever I want. But it's like the Michael Jackson thing, I wouldn't do it at the drop of a hat. I'm not really into that Keith Moon thing of smashing up hotel rooms and driving a Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool."

Did you take a lot more drugs after the Michael Jackson thing? "No, not really. It was the same thing that happened to me life, really. When people recognise you more, they'll really notice if you're off your head. You have to be careful about these things as well, because of all that stuff with the papers an when they tried to plant drugs on us, or when you get a reporter going up to you and saying: 'D'you fancy a line in the toilets?', so they can get it on tape. Like the Brit Awards before this last one, I was completely smashed, but nobody noticed, because I wasn't Sting. But if Sting had walked in and gone 'F--- you, ya f---in' c---s' then run over and spewed in a plant pot, then everybody would be writing about it."

"But because I was just some minor celebrity in an indie band, people just thought, 'Oh, that lanky git over there is looking a bit out of it'. Whereas if I go to places now, people are probably going to notice, so that makes me more... that's the irony of it: as you get away with it, you're meant to be able to get away with that behaviour, but I don't think you can, because people are always on the lookout for it. I'm not into self-gratification. Obviously you get more opportunities for it but you've got to have a goal in mind." And Jarvis, of course, has a plan.

The sum total of what Jarvis Cocker knows about the towns of Chelmsford and Warrington, where he will shortly play two monstrously large celebrations of Pulp's music can be summarised as follows. Warrington: "It's where they make Vladivar vodka. I remember the advert." Chelmsford: "Er... no, sorry. I've drawn a blank." He's not quite sure why they're going there exactly, but if you go to two ends of the country, at least you avoid playing in the Midlands. "Because you really don't want to be big in the Black Country, do you?"

It is the two-day National Assembly of Pulpworld - an event. Two occasions not for the reliving of former glories at Glastonbury, because that would be a bit sad, but definitely a lot better than playing at a conventional festival, because that would have been an anti-climax. There will be Elastica, there will be Gary Numan and there will be everything the Pulp fan could possibly need. "Everyone's going to get a blanket and some johnnies," confirms Jarvis. What it is symbolically, as well, is The Revenge Of The Misfit; an invasion by the articulate, the quixotically attired, the somewhat nervous and the futurists in Farah trousers, into a year dominated by men who believe both in Paul Weller and in rubbing sticks together to make fire. It's old, but it's traditional. And this is the outsiders gathered together. Outside.

"Well, I hope so," says Jarvis, in contemplation of the Noelrock menace. "I've been out of the country for a bit, but it does seem to have gone a bit trad rock. A bit real ale. It's like listening to Capital Gold all the time. Obviously you can learn from the past, but to try and imitate Roger Chapman's vocal style when he was in Family (ie, sounding like the bloke from Ocean Colour Scene - Real Music Ed) doesn't seem worth it to me." After a time when there were suddenly loads of good bands, it was always going to happen, reckons Jarvis: things fragment, then people regroup in camps. "Though I don't know what camp we're in," he says, puzzled. He thinks for a moment. "Probably just the camp camp."

But what will bring the misfits out in their slightly bashful glory are the songs. Once he got the idea, the theme for 'Different Class', writing the words for the album, says Jarvis, was "a piece of piss". The frustrations, the anger, the sex... once he knew it was going to be about recontextualising your experiences when you move to a different city, they just came out in a brandy-fuelled haze. Things have changed, though. It's not just the brandy ("Given it up. It was sending me funny."), but a meteoric shift in fortunes. He is Jarvis. He is one of the three most famous men in pop. He is The Michael Jackson Guy... so how can he possibly write outsider anthems any more?

For the beginnings of an answer, we travel to America. Picture the English pop group in a field, surrounded by the lowest common denominator of the Lollapalooza nation. "We played this one festival in Boston, and it just made me realise that we'd never get popular in America," begins Jarvis chirpily. "There's all these kids there with their baseball caps and shorts cut just above the knee, and we were playing on this stage where we had to share our area with this skateboard half-pipe thing. So while we're playing, there's people doing f---ing stunts on skateboards, and people on their BMX bikes, doing a f---ing wheelie... So you've got to go, 'Eh, look at this, this is much more interesting than someone doing a f---ing wheelie!..." Jarvis sighs. "You know what they're like. It took us 15 years to get famous in England, so I don't think we've got a cat in hell's chance there, to be honest. I'm not going to start wearing a plaid shirt and cut-off shorts."

Pulp came home again and started writing songs. Or rather, they started writing some new tunes, because the-words come last and, to be honest again, Jarvis hasn't got a clue what he wants to write songs about at the moment. "It's like when you're at school: you only do your homework on Sunday night at about four in the morning, because you've got to hand it in the next day. I'll avoid the issue for as long as I can." Do you think you'll write songs about what's happened to you recently? "Well, eventually I'll have to," grins Jarvis, "because I'll have run out of anything else to write about."

Jarvis looks through the tour bus window at the rows of identical rockmobiles lined up alongside, and harkens the distant thud of Sepultura. "You see, I don't even feel that we fit in with playing here. You can kind of get accepted to a certain extent, but it's how you react to that way of being accepted: like whether you go and embrace Jimmy Savile and say, 'We are all one, we are all in showbiz together', or whether you try and retain a sense of yourself. And for whatever reason, we're not into playing golf with celebrities; it just doesn't appeal to me. "I think we'll always be outsiders," says Jarvis quietly.

It will take time before he returns, but time is something The Spy has. He will keep his head down, and will walk on the margins for a while; and he will be watching and listening, waiting for the new era of Pulp songs to appear through the cracks in the curtains. He is not worried, nor is he pessimistic, because his plan has budgeted for the delay. In six months, he reckons, he'll have them, but until then his goal is to change shape; to pop up in strange places, because the greatest weapon available to him, he knows, is the element of surprise. All you've got to do, is not lower your standards. "As Adam Ant would say."

He will seek out new projects, and is negotiating a particularly interesting one as we speak. Maybe there'll be more collaboration with artist Damien Hirst. Maybe there'll be a film, or something of that nature. Then he'll take what he learns, he'll go to ground and then he'll return for another, quite extraordinary, chapter. "Oh, I hope we'll go on to have more extraordinary chapters," he enthuses softly. "I hope I manage to do even more ridiculous things, and show meself up in public as much as possible. I've not finished yet. There's plenty more where that came from. "No-one," he mutters darkly, "is safe." A quarter of a mile away, the Canadian songthrush redoubles security, because this has been a job well done.

He just wouldn't want you to think it was the zenith of his artistic achievement, that's all.

Press    Home