The Dusted Brother
Words: Sylvia Patterson, Photographer: Steve Double
Taken from the New Musical Express, 23 September 1995

Wow! Grab your shades, pull on that glitter top and slip into your favourite brown nylon flared trousers 'cos Pulp's Jarvis Cocker is in the house and he's talking about drugs and sex and, erm, David Copperfield?!!!

It's 6am. Jarvis Cocker arrives home from what he calls "the late shift"; post-studio party-time oblivion. He knows it's ridiculous, there's nothing clever about it, but for months he's been weaving in past the milkman. he pokes at the keyhole down the entry corridor and his key won't go in; someone's left another key in the lock on the other side. 'Bloody hell', he thinks, 'You can't go waking people up at this time, that's definitely not The Right Thing To Do'. So he decides to sleep in the corridor.

First, though, he needs a pee, so he walks back onto the pavement and pees in the street. He lights a fag and peers up at the outside wall, fronted by big, sturdy bricks. The spare bedroom window is open. He's not sure how high that is, but it's definitely high. Suddenly he has a moment of clarity, a consuming feeling, no mistake about it: I can't do that. No matter that there's no drain-pipe. No matter that years ago he had a bad experience with an open window which cost him two months in a wheelchair. Right now, he's invincible.

So he feels for the grooves between the bricks, says to himself, 'Right', and turns into Spiderman. "...And the next thing I knew I was on the window ledge," grins Jarvis Cocker, two days later, not in a wheelchair. I just did it. Still had the fag in me gob. I sat there on the ledge for a while and looked down and thought, 'Hmmm, that's quite impressive!' Very out of character..."

It's the only time in recent years Jarvis can remember being startled by anything: "And I startled meself," He's glad about this because he worries about being... boring. "I have very slow reactions," says Jarvis, slowly, seated in the patio garden of the recording studio on the last night of the making of their new LP. Today, he's feeling "dazed and confused" because he was out all night at a party flung by "style" magazine Dazed And Confused. He's wearing a tweed suit with an orange and yellow pin-striped shirt. Brown sandals, no socks. Specs in position.

"In fact," he continues, "my reactions are crap, No impulses. I have this reputation for being really calm, unshockable, and I think that sounds cold, it's better to get bothered about things. It's boring being in control all the time. I suppose that's why people take drugs. And why I tend to make friends with people who are more outgoing than I am. If I had mates like meself, it would be terrible; we'd be the most boring people around."

Jarvis Cocker is the only person in the world who'd imagine a collection of Jarvis Cockers being boring bastards. A collection of Jarvis Cockers, however, is not possible, because "there's only one Jarvis Cocker" and one Jarvis Cocker is all we need. There's enough of him to go round.

1995 is the year Pulp broke through the spangle barrier. They streaked past the cul-de-sac named Amusing Small-Time Cabaret Side-Show For People In Sequinned Wigs, threw themselves over the finish line marked Proper Pop Stars Supreme and currently rest on the throne tagged Here Sit Blur and Oasis and Pulp And Think Yourselves Lucky You Were Around To See This One, Pop Tarts. 'Common People' was the Number One that never was because the nation's grannies were too busy blubbing over two pretend soldiers on the karaoke, but at Glastonbury none of that mattered. The substitute Stone Roses were no-one's second-class understudies and, surely for the first time in Glastophonic history, a field exploded in euphoria at the soundless flick of a thin man's wrist. The culmination of Jarvis' entire life.

"Oh God, yeah," he agrees, smoking fags and staring alternately at the sky or his knees, but always with legs crossed and one arm folded, fag aloft. "I've never experienced anything like that before. With 'Common People', everyone was singing really loud and I thought, 'Well, they're definitely gonna know if I mess the words up!' That's a lot of people who knew the words. That's when success seemed real. Undeniable. Concrete evidence. It did move me. Tears? I did feel a bit of a lump in me throat. But... eheh, I toughed it out."

Beyond all of this, however, and that's far enough for most, is the undeniable status of Jarvis as a pop culture institution. "Style" magazine covers. Androgyny/gender-theorising cobblers in the "news" papers. Pop's Mr Sex. TV's Mr Pop Professor (as compounded in the legendary Pop Quiz victory). Mr Understatement in the over-stated physical gestures. Mr Philosophical Wisdom in the language of the mighty Jack Duckworth. Mr Hilarious Top Of The Pops Presenter with the eyebrows made out of wry. Mr Bon Viveur in the grandad's wardrobe. Mr Northern Realist who tells bedtime stories to grown-ups.

A man for whom, like Robbie Williams, the phrase "If you don't like him then I don't like you" seems a more than reasonable definition of a psychological world-view. Thankfully, however, he's no plans yet to host The Big Breakfast (which has already staged its very own Jarvis Day), although he was chuffed to participate in "something a bit significant, the first post-war Top Of The Pops, even though the Blur/Oasis thing was a bit daft. But there's no skill to being alright on the telly."

He thinks about the Britpop "phenomenon" or as he would have it in a speeded up voice, "Britpopnow! it's a stupid word, intit, Britpop. I don't believe in it, it's just something for journalists to write about. But there's no denying there's now more chance of decent stuff getting in the charts, it's come out from the margins of (Chokes at the very notion) 'indie', which is obviously great." What would be on your own programme called, of course, Jarvis? "Oh, just me!" he trills. "Great title. I dunno, maybe in me dotage I'll be reduced to doing sad chat shows. It has been suggested that I should take over from Jimmy Saville on Jim'll Fix It but it'll be called (Theatrical pause, exquisite timing) I'll See What I Can Do."

Pulp's new single is the double A-side, 'Mis-Shapes' / 'Sorted For Es And Wizz'; the first concerning the rise of the "outsider", the second a "snapshot" taken of 1989 when Jarvis went, with everyone else, berserk down the rave-up on E. It's "a right good phrase" first mentioned to him by a girl who'd heard it at Spike Island. This year's 'Ebeneezer Goode', the single was going to come to you bearing a sewing pattern-style step-by-step guide to making your very own drug's wrap, but the idea was, er, foiled, due to "practical reasons, and money". Radio One considered banning it but saw reality/sense and this very morning played the song in its fullness for the first time.

"I believe in straight talking," says Jarvis, straightly, "I'm glad the radio seems to agree." There's a video which shows footage of Jarvis down said rave-up in 1989. It was, he thinks, made by something called Sunrise 3000 and sold through the Sunrise shop as a souvenir of an event. "At one point they're filming the crowd," he wists, "and you can see me and Steve snaking through it. I had quite long hair at the time and I had me hair in bunches. Somebody'd bought me these bobbles which were see-through teddybear's heads with beads inside. I had a cagoule on as well. So I looked like some demented Girl Guide Instructress."

Do not presume that Jarvis is a free-styledrugs-for-all campaign revolutionary, however. Through his own "research", he's decided drugs are for pensioners of pop. "I'll sound like an old fogey," he says cheerily, "but I don't think you need drugs when you're younger 'cos there's still loads to do, you might not have even shagged anybody yet. During your 20s you've done quite a lot, so in order to make them interesting again you might as well have drugs 'cos your brain's formed, you can squish it about a bit and you've got more chance of not going mad. So you're alright at my age. If you start all that at 14, I mean, you haven't even finished growing yet. But generally people take more drugs now, people seem to need to exaggerate the normal, invent a less boring world of their own."

Jarvis doesn't blame you, however. "I blame the telly," he declares, "because watching loads of telly makes everything seem dramatic. Everything has a pacey story-line and a plot and good music and then life doesn't have the pacey story line, does it? It's all over the place. Where's the great dialogue and the amazing sex? So you think, 'Well, this ain't good enough!' Which is ironic; the telly isn't even real."

Jarvis has a friend called Anthony. The same Anthony who looks like George Best, wore a Man United T-shirt at Glastonbury and streaked on stage with Elastica. He's also made a lifetime's habit of streaking with Pulp. The same Anthony who was a member of Pulp ten years ago aged 14. By 15 he was a member of the Sheffield white-noise society raving sex vicar perv cult we've all just heard about in the "news"papers. "I was going to sell me story to The Sun!" bawls Anthony, careering into the studio, "but it was too much like selling me soul. Could've got 6,000." So why did you leave Pulp for the raving sex vicar's condom-laden pew?

"Too many drugs," he beams, with a search me expression, which would appear to illustrate Jarvis' point precisely. I just met Jarvis and all these people and took far too much acid." Beware, then, the enigmatic Jarvis Cocker; an EVERLASTING INFLUENCE. Pulp's new LP is called 'A Different Class' because that's Anthony's favourite phrase for the irrefutably sound. Jarvis had ideas for lyrics "percolating" in his head forever, but they were written in two nights round at his sister's with a packet of fags and a bottle of "right poor quality brandy somebody'd brought her back from Spain. Then I collapsed on't sofa".

It will, says Jarvis, be broader than 'His 'n' Hers'. "It's less obsessed with sad relationships. It's about situations I've been in since coming to London. From living in a squat in Mile End to going to a party at Gianni Versace's, which I did, the only super-celeb party I've ever been invited to, which was alright. Rod Stewart was there. And Brian May in a shocking shirt with an explosion on it." There's songs, too, about class itself, "but I've not turned into Billy Bragg, honest". There's one song floating out of the studio right now in string-engulfed orchestral splendour, called 'Something Changed'; it's about fate and failing in love, featuring - heck! - emotional success... "Yep. I'm softening up."

Recently an article was printed which contained comments made by a journalist on Jarvis' current "live-in lover". A case of Jarvis Cocker And The Wife They Tried To Hide? "Yeah," he snorts, "that's the big joke, isn't it?" He purses his lips ruefully, looks skywards, rolls forward onto his knees and stares straight into the abyss of a personal betrayal. "Y'know," he sighs, I was really done in when he wrote about that. Because Sarah's got nothing to do with music, which is a good thing. It's bad enough in the first place writing about your private life, which I do, but to then go and talk about it just adds insult to injury. "Anyway, it's not a totally normal relationship," he continues, dripping with sarcasm. I don't want to say anything about it other than, yes, I've been married for ten years and I've got three kids."

There are many "personalities" of pop whose soul deserves to be roundly insulted; Jarvis isn't one of them. And you are not reading The Sun. Thankfully for him, he has an in-built cruelty-buffeting positivity which he cultivates through desolation thought processes. He wilfully conjures worst-luck scenarios 'cos if he lives through them in his mind, chances are they won't happen in real life. Next week he's going on holiday to Iceland "I'm not into lying-down holidays" - and he's already thought through the plane crash and the car breaking down in the wilderness. He carries a bottle of Day Nurse around to ward off The Lurgy. And it works.

"Actually," states Jarvis, as inspiration lights up his fingers, I can demonstrate that here with this (Fumbles in top pocket of jacket). When I bought this suit in America, from a thrift store, these items were in the top pocket. A card for a mobile DJ (Produces large, folded business card for one Gerard Lobelia Jnr, containing the words "easy-listening" and "top sounds from the '40s, '50s, '60s and 70s ", plus one ticket and two pieces of paper). "The ticket's for a symphony concert in Boston on 6 January, 1983, and the price is $260. Then there's this: two library request slips. One is Reactions To One's Own Fatal Illness, the other is When, Why And Where People Die. Very light reading there. So I made up this story. What I thought was, this suit belongs to this DJ in New England, and he found out he had a terminal illness, went to the library, got these books out to try and come to terms with it and then treated himself to this very expensive symphony concert, maybe playing his favourite piece of classical music and that was his last treat before he died. His swan-song.

I then tested this out on other people, gave them the evidence to see what they thought the story was. And from my maudlin one, other people thought it was somebody at college, doing pathology, the card was the name of the DJ they wanted playing at their graduation party and the symphony was a treat bought them by their parents for graduating. That's much happier. I think that way about personal happiness; you can have the same circumstances and it's a question of the colour of your mind. My mind takes the morbid tack. That's not so bad 'cos if ultimately you accept that life ends in pain and degradation, while you're still able to move you might as well enjoy yourself. To distract yourself from thinking too much. And that's why I try to keep meself busy."

When Jarvis was a nipper he never played doctors and nurses, and remained oblivious to the natural biological curiosities his schoolchums were obsessed with. Even at age ten... "Terrible, in't it?" As a teenager he stayed in, listened to the radio, played guitar and hid from the blokes he was sure would beat him up for being a weirdo. His mum worried about his terrible shyness, even though she personally hampered his progress with The Lederhosen Incident (ie, he was made to wear a goat herd ensemble to school) and got him a market Saturday job as a fishmonger. He ended up going on holiday with the market "rough blokes" he was sure would beat him up and "had an absolute scream. We weren't so different, really, we all stunk of fish".

At home, he'd always leave the lights on, wasting electricity, and his mum would come in at night shouting, "It's like the bloody Blackpool illuminations in 'ere!": "So I've always wanted to go to the Blackpool illuminations, which I haven't done yet, and phone her up and say, 'It's like the bloody Blackpool illuminations round 'ere!'." The last words his grandfather said to him were, "These things were sent to test us." It's become a Pulp motto. So has "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "You can't calm cheetahs". From "You can't cheat karma", but somebody got it wrong once.

Jarvis' sometime singing / acting real dad left the Cocker home when Jarvis was seven: he remembers him as a good laugh, very popular. "He was always singing in the bath. And he could play the trombone, apparently." Three years ago, when Jarvis' sister got married, he rang up from Australia, and he and Jarvis had their first conversation in 21 years. "I was stood there," recalls Jarvis plainly, "thinking, 'OK, this should be a really big moment in me life, this, I'm talking to me dad'; you feel there should be this bond between you because you've come out of his tail, but you're a stranger to him, you've got nothing in common. It was very funny. I mean, not funny at all. It was tragic, actually. But he knows I'm in a band. He's in a band as well, apparently. A 12-piece jazz-rock band called Life On Mars."

What rhymes with Jarvis?
Jarvis: "Harvest? Nearly."
Starfish?
"Not bad."
Tardis.
"Similar."
Yardstick.
"Tenuous."
Marvellous.
"That's nice. And very tenuous indeed but I like that one best."

Mostly, Jarvis likes being famous, "but you can never take a holiday from what you do". He thinks the Pop's Mr Sex thing is faintly ludicrous: "Angus Deayton is 'the sexiest comic on TV' and look at the state of him." At least he now gets chatted up. "I talk to better-looking women," he grins, "or at least good-looking women will actually talk to me now. I suppose they might think there's some point in it because I'm known. The truth is I've never been very good at chatting people up. It's the crappy shyness thing, too scared of being fobbed off and hurt so you don't bother and you don't ever have a shag."

He hasn't been stalked yet, but there was this bloke who turned up at the studio the other day... "He just wandered in off the street," puffs Jarvis, "really broad Scouse accent, going, 'Are you the vocalist?'. I said, 'Yes' and he said, 'Did you do that song "Common People?" I said 'Yeah', and he said, 'That's about me that song, that's about me'. I said, 'Is it?'. We realised he was a nutter. He hung around all day going, 'You know, man, you know' and that was quite weird. I thought he was going to do a Mark Chapman or something. People get funny ideas, don't they?"

Some things Jarvis hates: "People whose first question to a stranger is 'What do you do?'. That is crap, isn't it? Rubbish. You're a person first and foremost, what you do is just what you do. All that matters is whether they're interesting or not and whether you get on,"

Over-dressed people: "Especially men dripping in gold. I'd rather be the type who can't be arsed with clothes, you often find them very interesting 'cos maybe they think about something that's actually important. Clothes are just something to entertain yourself with."

Hearing Pulp tunes in company: "One of the most mortifying things that happened was two years ago at me mother's Boxing Day party, there were all these people round and she insisted on playing our records. Me stepfather's wired up the whole house to the speakers so you couldn't even walk out the living room to get away, you'd walk in t'other room and it'd be blaring out there, and it were in the conservatory and everywhere. It's like Russell (Senior, Pulp violinist/guitarist) says, it's like being caught masturbating."

His mum reading the music press: "Which I'm always done in about, especially if it's got something dodgy in it. Jarvis is a sex fiend. Jarvis is hopelessly addicted to drugs. Jarvis is having sex in public. That was a great one, a winner all round, that. But sometimes you get carried away, don't you? If you like somebody. It'd be terrible if you thought, 'I can't do things like that in case somebody's watching me'. I believe in inappropriate behaviour."

People who think they're sexy: I think that actually makes you quite a bad person. I don't agree with conceit."

Wet Wet Wet. You will recall last year's TOTP 'scandal' in which Jarvis flashed an "I hate Wet Wet Wet" sign pinned to the inside of his jacket: "I got a letter addressed to me just the other day from this irate Wet Wet Wet fan, the first line of which was 'Dear Bastard'. Which I thought was a great opener.

Things Jarvis likes: his hands; (Peers at the most famed digits in pop) "Other parts of me body I've always had problems with but I've always quite liked me hands because the fingers are long and thin. Maybe subconsciously I'm waving them about saying, 'Look! I've got some quite good hands here!'. Maybe I'm deflecting attention, saying, 'Don't bother with the other bits, just concentrate on these! These are fit for human consumption!'."

Werthers Originals and sherbert Flying Saucers. He marched through this year's Glastonbury, in post-performance triumph, leading a trail of bedraggled chums by brandishing bags of Werthers and Saucers like some bonkers grandad from the future: "Is that what I looked like? Well, I don't mind that at all."

Today, Jarvis found a box of matches with a dalmation on the front. "I'm right pleased with that," he shimmers, I collect them. This is my 23rd (presents matchbox proudly). I'd like a dog, but the flat's too small so this is the next best thing. I keep the boxes on top of the video, but I'm hoping to get a frame. But I must just stress that I don't collect..." Anything else. "Any other kinds of match boxes."

This month sees Jarvis' 32nd birthday, next month the release of 'A Different Class'. One of these events matters. "It's funny," he ponders, "finishing something that will dramatically alter the course of your life, one way or another. If the record's a success, great. If it's not, you've got to find another job." He's used to being old now: "When I hit 30 I was horrified, but at least it was an event. I sat in Steve's house on me own and drank some whisky and smoked some fags and watched Tango And Cash on't telly which was crap, but I really enjoyed meself. Luckily, it came at a time when we were getting the LP together so I had hope."

"But 31 was worse. That was, 'Oh God, it really is true, then. I'm old'. You get used to it, you just move the goalposts; 'Well, at least I'm not 40'. But we're the last batch of the baby-boomers, there's millions of us, more than there are 18-year-olds, so we'll never be submerged! A lot of people of my generation are still arsing about and refusing to be grown up and be sensible."

Jarvis spots some champagne being carried down the studio corridor. He visibly, naturally, edges towards the door. Sometime in the dead of this night the LP will be completed and, one way or another, Pulp's 17th year of existence will begin. If Jarvis becomes a millionaire the one thing he'd love is a hot-air balloon. He went up in one once and had a religious experience "because it seemed like there was some guiding force making everything where it was for a reason. If he doesn't, he's still got his canary yellow Hillman Imp; it's seen him alright for 18,000 miles. One way or another, Jarvis will cope. And one way or another the members of his group will quaff the 24 bottles of champers currently chilling in the studio freezer. The perfect time to play a very stupid game.

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?
"Because I look like a worm."

Are you lonesome tonight?
"Too early to say."

Do you believe in magic?
"Yeah, but not the David Copperfield variety. He was at that Versace party. I saw him waiting for the lift and I wanted to go over and say, 'What are you waiting for the lift for? You can just bloody well fly up the stairs!' But I didn't."

What time is love?
"Four o'clock in the afternoon."

If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?
"Definitely."

Who wrote the book of love?
"Dr Alex Comfort."

I just wonder, did you ever... ?
"Heheh. All the time."

Do you know where you're going?
"I haven't got a clue."

Should auld acquaintances be forgot?
"Definitely not. You need people who have no ulterior motives."

If you had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would you? Could you?
"Not it all again. If I could re-run the edited highlights then, yeah, that'd be alright."

Is that all there is?
"Yeah, it is, I guess. And that's not particularly bad. There aren't really any new things to discover in life. The same things have obsessed people throughout the centuries. We're not going to invent a new colour now. So this is all there is. Everything else is your imagination. So use it well."

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