He's raw sex in hipsters, he's old enough to know better and he's out to make his strange suburban madness a household brand. Johnny Dee braves the shoddiest TV show in the world to bring you Pulp - and the gospel according to Jarvis Cocker.
Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker, a man with the deadpan attitude of Alan Bennett and the raw sexuality of Barry White, doesn't like the idea of Virtual Reality. He doesn't like it at all. "I don't want to sound like an old guffer," he apologises, "but a dose of reality would be better for most people interested in Virtual Reality. I mean, most people would be freaked out if you went round and, you know gagged 'em, drugged 'em or something, stuck them in the boot of a car and dumped them in the middle of a field in North Yorkshire. That would freak most people out more than having some headset on."
The Pulp members - Russell (guitar/violin), Steve (bass), Candida (keyboards), Nick (drums) - are used to such typical Jarvis pronouncements, all delivered with a sanguine matter-of-factness. Jarvis is forever calm and unflustered, a man who'd refuse to panic if his arse was on fire. But this time he's gone too far.
"Bloody hell, Jarvis," says Russell, wrapped up in a tight pale blue PVC jacket that matches his eye shadow. "Well," says Jarvis Cocker. "You'd take the gag off afterwards."
Who needs Virtual Reality anyway? Close your eyes and imagine an endless, white corridor. Here, years ago, a perm-haired kids TV presenter called Mick Robertson crouched on his knees at the end of a row of coins denoting the success of the latest Magpie charity appeal. At the end of the corridor is Room 101 - Pulp's dressing room for the night. We are in TV world...
Well, we're in Teddington Lock, Middlesex for the filming of The Word in a TV centre that feels like a maximum security Holiday Inn. Since fellow guests Onyx have received several death threats throughout the day, there are uniformed men resembling Viz comic parkies stationed at the end of each hallway. On every wall there are unnervingly huge colour pictures of celebrities - Eric Morecambe, Cilia Black, Judith Chalmers. The Magpie appeals no longer worm their way around the maze of studios, but in the canteen, Rory Bremner is tucking into quiche and chips.
In Room 101 Pulp siphon Smirnoff into a Highland Spring bottle to beat the draconian on-set alcohol ban. They've been here since 11am: drinking, having their shirts ironed (since guests get their clothes pressed for free, they've all bought along a week's washing) and make-up done and arguing about "the gap".
Their new single 'Lip Gloss' has a two-second break in the middle, which The Word's people maintain isn't on the record (it is) and are worried that the audience will think it's the end of the song and start clapping like chimps (they do). "The gap" becomes an incredibly significant Pulp moment. If they agree to cut it out they'll be compromising. So Sheffield's finest popmongers decide to make the gap longer. Much longer.
It's been a long day spent in stardom's waiting room, but little things have made it worthwhile. Drummer Nick, for instance, overheard Dani Behr call someone "a f***in' c***". Russell saw a raincoated man bent over and struggling with a heavy box in the gents' loo. He opened the door for him and the man flashed a cheesy grin. "It was Des O'Connor! Des O' flippin' Connor!"
It's now 9pm and Pulp are on stage for the last dress rehearsal. It feels more than just a rehearsal for a sensationalist TV show; it feels like a rehearsal for stardom itself. Pulp have been together with various line-ups for ten years now through punk, new romance, C86 and grunge - always defiantly different.
They've survived disasters: Jarvis once being confined to a wheelchair after he jumped from a window to impress a girl; Fire Records putting their third album on hold for two years during legal wrangles. And they've coped with personality crises, too: Russell going through a disciplinary dictator phase, when Pulp ran to a strict regimented timetable; ex-drummer Magnus leaving the band and going barmy after deciding he was the moon... But over the past two years each successive single has been better and sold more than the last, and their audience has got bigger and younger. Now, incredibly, they're on a major label, their records are available in Woolworths, they're on daytime radio and on TV.
"It's at a stage now where we're at a definite point," says Jarvis, unhelpfully. "That's the thing about being in a band. You can spend a lot of time doing something and it doesn't really count for anything. Now we totally fail or we succeed. With indie labels it's OK if you don't sell many records 'cos you're artistically valid and doing what you want and you can stay in your own ghetto. It can't be like that with a major - we signed to them, they gave us money, we must sell records."
Huge day-glo shapes hang from the ceiling as they perform 'Lip Gloss' to a barren studio, Jarvis snaking across the stage in too-tight, thick, purple corduroy trousers, shaping hand movements not witnessed since Alvin Stardust rolled his ringladen fingers for the Pops' cameras. The only people here to witness this are skivvies fussing around with clip-boards, and the dancers - looking like clichéd Freemans catalogue versions of teenagers - who are paid to show off. As Jarvis sings of lipstick-stained fags and being chucked, these young bucks, with bare, greased-up torsos vogue over-enthusiastically on podiums. Half-naked 18-year-olds pretending to rave and having a fake wild time is bizarre enough but then so are Pulp. The camera cuts from Jarvis in karate mode to someone's bum cheek escaping from a pair of midget Homme pants and then back again to bassist Steve, desperately trying not to laugh.
The lovers portrayed in 'Lip Gloss' are worlds away from this forced environment of The Word. Like many Pulp songs, 'Lip Gloss' celebrates the strangeness of the ordinary and stretches a subject so mundane no-one's dared sing about it before. In this case, being pissed off after you've been chucked because you wasted time getting to know his/her mates who you never liked in the first place.
"I've got a bit of a hang-up about songs and films presenting an idealised version of things," explains Jarvis. "It makes people dissatisfied with their own lot in life. But it's something that never existed, it's just been made up by someone. Yes, we do glamorise the everyday but, you know, a bus journey can be exciting. You can treat it just like a journey and sit there like a plank or you can wonder what other people on the bus do with their lives."
Read any article about Pulp and at least three, if not all of these things will be mentioned alongside "the 'w' word" (wacky) or "the 'k' word" (kitsch). Perhaps all the detritus and trash that's associated with Pulp has masked something fantastic. Maybe Pulp really are going to be pop stars. At 11.35pm on Friday night, watching the TV set in room 101, Pulp's manager, Geoff Travis - who was previously the boss of Rough Trade - is sure of it. Tonight is a turning point, Pulp are contenders.
Do Pulp really want fame or are they content to carry on as nearly-made-it confectionery for the talking classes? Is siphoning vodka into water bottles, moaning about "gaps", getting your clothes ironed for free the behaviour of pop stars or forever sixth-form underachievers?
"Oh, we want to be famous," claims Jarvis. "It's what we've always wanted." But do you honestly believe you can appeal to 15-year-old girls? "I'm always trying. We want to appeal to everyone. I'd like to think we're not only trying to appeal to students and grocers. You can't choose who buys your record - it's in a shop, it could be murderers or bakers. But, we've been going so long it's not like we expect to get to Number One or anything."
It could happen, Pulp could really become stars. They'll never be on the cover of teen magazines, flashing torsos or sporting exotic hairstyles they're too old for all that. But it could be fun - Jarvis on What's Up, Doc? corrupting the nation's youth with dark tales of urban normality. Yet... why do they want to go through it, why do they want fame? Jarvis smiles and puffs on an Embassy regal.
'Well, then you live forever, don't you?"