Best Brit Bands: Pulp
Words: Sylvia Patterson, Photographer: Max Doyle, Lee Strickland
Taken from Sky Magazine, November 1995

Marti Pellow hates Jarvis Cocker but the rest of Britain adores him. With Pulp posters adorning every teenage girl's wall, we talk to the band's front man and unlikely girl-toy.

Jarvis Cocker is doing the thing that proper pop-stars do: signing yet another autograph - this time for someone called Ali from Norfolk. Someone so besotted with the Northern clothes-pole that she carried a tape of Pulp's His 'n' Hers LP permanently in her pocket until the night she left it on the roof of a taxi, having made the near-pensionable driver play it very loudly, and chased the car a quarter of a mile down the high street to no avail. It's the kind of thing Pulp fans do.

"Ali?" enquires Jarvis, peering over his grandad spectacles. "As in Bongo?" That's the spirit. A reference to a 70s cultural icon, with a jocular name, whom everyone loved, by Jarvis Cocker, the 90s cultural icon, with the jocular name, whom everyone loves. And they have both done magical things.

Sixteen years isn't just a long time in pop: it's time enough for a brand-new generation to grow up, see what the world is and give in to alcoholic oblivion. Sixteen years since the witheringly shy, tall boy in glasses first gazed across the concrete landscape from his Sheffield school desk and dreamt up his future as a visionary pop star, with a mission to make startling tunes with violins, and keyboard wobbles about space and sex and wardrobes and the lunacy of it all.

He was already a pop star anyway; a "weirdo" in "funny" clothes, as all proper pop stars should be. All he needed was a bit of luck. It took several years (six of which were spent on the dole), several thousand inhabitants of the city of Sheffield to join and leave the Pulp collective (many of whom were lost to the infamous pervy rave-sex vicar), but in 1985 his lucky break finally happened. He fell out of a window. In hospital and in the subsequent two months spent in a wheelchair (from which he still performed Pulp concerts), he did a lot of thinking. Pulp couldn't pay his rent but he couldn't give it up. He'd keep it going but move to London and study film at St Martin's art college, see what happened.

What happened, finally, in 1993, was Island Records, the His 'n' Hers LP, the genuine genius of this year's anthem, Common People, Glastonbury's headline triumph and the rise of Jarvis Cocker, pop star, bon viveur, DJ, television presenter, quiz-show boffin, son of an estranged father who now lives in Australia, film-maker, social raconteur, drunkest man at the party. He regenerated the role of the great British eccentric just when the world was turning into one gigantic sneaker, and for this alone he is beloved by millions. There is only one person in the world who loathes Jarvis Cocker, and his name is Marti Pellow (Jarvis flashed a sign which read "I Hate Wet Wet Wet" on the inside of his jacket during a live Top of the Pops performance) but Mad Pellow, as we know, does not count.

"Oh, I'm sure some people find me intensely irritating," breezes Jarvis, today receiving an audience of one billion journalists in the back room of his publicist's office in Camden, but fails to name one enemy other than the grinning Glaswegian.

Jarvis has just come back from a holiday in Iceland. Prior to going, he was wandering around Top of the Pops peering into his visitor's guidebook to Iceland and bumped into Björk which is the kind of thing that happens at Top of the Pops. He'd only met her once before, didn't really know her or anything, but where would she recommend as places of interest? She recommended. And then gave him the keys to her house. You wouldn't do this kind of thing with Liam Gallagher.

"Amazing, intit?" grins Jarvis, "I didn't nick her ornaments or anything."

He loved Iceland. Drank from the rivers. Bathed in the thermal springs. Didn't have a single drink and only smoked two cigarettes: "Thought I'd give all that a rest for a bit. I've reverted to type since I've been back, though..." Sixteen years and Jarvis Cocker, 32, now has the keys to the house of the stars. He went to Gianni Versace's party a while back and mingled with Rod Stewart and Brian May and David Copperfield: "I've got a weird fascination with David Copperfield because I can't believe he exists... all those faces he pulls."

Pulp's new LP, Different Class, is less about fumbling sex in the thorn-bush of adolescence, more about the recent years: from a squat in Mile End to staring in the face of superstar alien magicians and all the love and revenge and sex and drugs and ludicrous living in-between. All seen through Jarvis' spectacularly impaired vision, a view of a world where walls fall off houses and sex is preposterous. Which is, as it happens, the way things really are, which is why he's the people's pop star.

That and the tunes, the wit and the fabulous fingers, and because he understands failure - so we allow him his success with an empathetically profound thumbs aloft. And because he used to go berserk down the rave-up on E with plastic baubles in the shape of teddy-bears heads in his big girl's pig-tails, wearing a kagoul. And because today he looks like grandad down the library in his disco clothes.

So. How did you become yourself?

By accident. If I'd been left to my own devices and me mum hadn't worried about me being dead shy and tried to get me out the house, and got me a Saturday job at the fish market I would've ended up like a Blockbusters contestant for the rest of me life. Then there was the falling out the window. Then coming to London. Those are the three major things.

Fate, then? Or epiphany: the beautiful mistake?

Well, I agree with that kind of thing, but you still have to make things happen. lt was always in the back of me mind that I wouldn't stay in Sheffield on the dole for ever, but then suddenly I realised that I probably would still be living like that in 10 years time unless I actually did something. Like get out of bed occasionally.

Did you always consider yourself to be special?

I always knew I was different, because people would always let me know that I was. And they still do.

The first incidence?

When I went to school, because that was when I first met these people. The first thing that cut me off was at five when I got meningitis and they thought I was going to die. I was in hospital for a month, and when I came back everyone had made loads of mates and I was on the outside. That fucked my eyes up too. I came back to school after getting me specs from the opticians, gold-rimmed John Lennon ones, and everybody turned round and pissed themselves. And I thought "Cheers."

Your very first memory ever?

When I was two-and-a-half, and me sister`d just been born, and my mum were breast-feeding her in bed. I came in and said "Can I have a go?" She said "No, you can't," and I thought this was very mean. I couldn't understand why my sister could have something that I couldn't.

Apparently your first memory defines your world-view for ever.

Well, yes. I've been after them ever since.

What was the most recurring theme on your school report card?

At school they thought I was quite arrogant. It was "Jarvis thinks he knows it all."

And did you?

I just wanted to. I went to see the music teacher once because I wanted to learn to play piano when I was dead young. And she said "Right, we have to learn the notes on the keyboard," and I thought "Oh, that's interesting." I just wanted to play a tune. If she'd showed me Chopsticks I would've been fine. She sent me home with a note for me mum saying "After two lessons he wants to be Beethoven. I can no longer have him in this class." So that was it, couldn't do piano lessons any more.

That's outrageous.

Yes. I could've been Elton John by now.

Do you hold with the idea that life is art?

I think people should think of their lives as a work of art.

When was the last time you perpetrated an act of violence?

In the Mis-Shapes video [where Jarvis pretends to be a blokey type and spits beer in the face of his other "mis-shape" self] I acted, which is something I was very dubious about because pop stars acting is normally very tragic. Let's mention Sting there. So, being dubious, I got very drunk to do it. And then I started getting into it, I could see the attraction was not giving a shit about anything. The kids they got for the video were from this really savage nightclub, and they were totally intimidating everybody on the set - they weren't acting. But I liked it, because after all this time of running away from these people I could be one for two days.

You located the beast within.

I did. It all got a bit De Niro. I got this brandy down me and was abusing everybody, and then I went home and I was still in character, still had all the clothes on. They'd even given me a new name, Darren Spooner. Me girlfriend came home and she was horrified, 'cause I was dancing and singing Michael Jackson songs and being dead lairy and horrible. Luckily it only lasted two days.

First adolescent pop crush?

The tall, statuesque one out of the Three Degrees who sang in the middle. She had really big features and was quite heavily breasted as well. I believe Prince Charles also liked her.

Bosoms again.

Well, they're just a nice... thing, aren't they? They balance out a woman's body: there's something at top, then it goes in and then it does something at the bottom. It's symmetrical, whereas we're just straight up and down with the tool-kit hanging out.

Are we all potentially bisexual?

Everyone has curiosities. And everyone's kissed their mates, I suppose. This is going to sound very crude, but I remember someone going on about how if men were dogs and they could suck their own tails they certainly would. So if you've a curiosity about that, the only way you're going to get to suck a tail is by sucking somebody else's tail. So I guess I've had bisexual thoughts.

I hear Cynthia Plaster Caster wants to do you.

I've met her, actually. She didn't do me no... didn't have enough plaster on her, she'd have needed a lorryload. You'd think she'd be this tough rock chick and she's quite quiet and shy. I'm surprised anyone agrees to do it, because next to Jimi Hendrix's massive one anybody else's is going to come in second, or maybe a bad fourth. I'd imagine it's pretty hard to do: you might get a hard-on OK, but when it's covered in plaster I'd imagine the hard-on goes off pretty quick, unless you're really into shagging plaster. Stranger things...

Do you fall in love easily?

I don't think so. I fancy people all the time, but that's not the same thing, that's biological. I don't get besotted with people that often, but it's good when it happens: suddenly this one thing enters your life which blots out everything else. You couldn't be doing that every week, though. Although in the barren years you don't think that, you think "It's never going to happen again, I've grown out of it, I give up." It has to be like that, really, so you can have a life.

What do you imagine girls fantasise about you sexually?

[Appalled] I don't know about that, do I? That I'm right good at it. [Huge grin] I've had letters. This one girl had this really vivid fantasy about me and her doing it on the floor of a public toilet, and described all she was doing to me. It was quite well written. Got me quite excited, actually. This French girl wrote to me and said "I want to suck you till your cock turns blue."

Must be ace, being an object of sexual obsession.

Obsessed, are they? Heheh. Well, I've no control over any of that, of course. And people fancy Phil Collins. The only difference it makes to me is that you meet more good-looking people, or good-looking people will want to talk to you and allow themselves to be photographed with you. But having your photograph taken with someone isn't the same thing as having sex with them.

Are you chuffed you've helped alter the concept of male beauty?

That's good, intit? I can't be doing with the meaty look: I think men look better thin. Not that I have a choice. The last time I saw all of myself naked was in a hotel in Germany, because in our house you have to stand on the bath to get the bottom half. I was horrified... Nah, I weren't; I just thought "Oh yeah, that's me, then."

Who or what is closer to the answer about everything: Dadaism/the Dalai Llama/Stephen Hawking/Liam Gallagher?

Well, Dadaism is now just people walking around with a lobster on their heads. That may have been an answer at the time, because when the First World War was on it was a reaction: if the logical world is plunging you into war and people are being killed by machines, then to totally reject all logic and have a lobster on your head is quite the thing to do. Whereas now it's ads on the telly and student rag week. Dalai Lama... I think anyone who attracts Richard Gere to his calling can't really have the answer to everything. Stephen Hawking, he's an interesting person. It's like he's working towards becoming just a brain on its own. But the answer to things in life is not completely to do with the stuff in your head. If you ignore the physical side that can't be right, otherwise we wouldn't have bodies at all: we'd be spiritual entities wafting around on the intellectual plane, analysing everything. Liam hasn't got the answer to everything. He's got an answer to everything, which I like, but I can understand him more than I can the others because he's someone more from where I'm coming from.

Liam Gallagher, soulmate?

I've a bit of lad culture in me. It's more fun and more honest. Apart from the smacking people bit, I find that much more amusing than being all wispy. I don't want to be a wispy person. And I hate right-on culture.

"Right-on"! Haven't heard that for bloody years.

That's what I've got against liberal parents who allow their kids to do anything they want. People don't always have good impulses: sometimes you want to do crap things and you need someone to force you to do something else. I don't agree with all that [makes peace sign and husks hippily]: "OK, everybody just express themselves, yeah?" In a right-on environment you'd do things like just get your knob out all the time and say "I mean, are you OK with this, yeah?" I hate that. I saw the Danish Smash Hits in Iceland, and they've got a problem page with pictures of a boy and girl with all their bits out. They might have no problem with nudity, but they've got a really high suicide and alcoholism and divorce rate.

We're better off with our more-tea-vicar sexual reticence?

Yeah, because it gives you something to react against. I couldn't believe it when I went on holiday to France and went to a club and there was an age range from 18 up to some sad blokes in cowboy hats in their 50s. Go home, grandad. I like the generation gap. That's why English pop music's better than French pop music. There you take two hours over dinner and everybody gets on. Here, you've got daughter on't settee with egg 'n' chips watching telly, and dad's got the paper and his pie, and everyone's not talking to anybody because they all hate each other. If everything's not so good you have to try and make something of your own as an alternative.

Most alarming drug-related experience?

When I was on Ecstasy and I thought I was Paul Nicholas. I used to watch Just Good Friends and quite fancied Jan Francis. I'd been to a rave and had some E's which were a bit dodgy, and ended up with terrible diarrhoea for the whole day, and I was in a real feverish state. Me mind slipped and for two minutes I was convinced I actually was Paul Nicholas. I can't explain it.

Which of your character traits gives you the most trouble?

Not being very good at expressing my emotions in a personal context. Being a bit cold, emotionally.

But the fire blazes within?

Oh yes. Actually, I don't know. I think I actually might be a bit cold.

What holds you back?

Dunno. But people who know me well make comments. Usually I'll just ignore it.

If you could meet the 10-year-old Jarvis, what would you tell him?

To go out with girls earlier. I'd nearly left school before I had anything like a girlfriend. Other kids had been playing at it for years. There was this really savage kid at our school who went out with this girl one night and said "Can I shag you?" and she said "No," so he said, 'Well, can I feel your tits then?" and she said "No," so he said, 'Well, I've packed yer in, then," and that was it! When you get older you codify the whole thing: what you're thinking is still "Can I shag you?" but you have to say "I think we should go and see this fantastic play and have dinner." I prefer the crude and direct.

How old are you on the inside?

Still quite young and immature. Having felt that I missed out on me proper adolescence in the 80s, with it being such a crap decade, I'm determined to have it now. So on the inside I'm probably 19.

Do you ever suffer from success paranoia?

I get anxiety dreams. Two days before Glastonbury I got all these stock dreams of walking through the backstage compound and looking down, and all I had on was a T-shirt, and everything was hanging out and everyone was looking at me. But they were actually going "Oh, look, it's Jarvis, y'know, he's so wacky, he's so funny." Then I had a fight with Steve [guitarist] who pushed a bottle in me face. So it's not that people are gonna take anything away from me; it's just that I'll somehow fuck it up for meself.

Does the "He's so wacky, he's so funny" image get on your wick?

It does, actually. The village idiot syndrome. If people think of you in that way then you'll never be a particularly potent force, because people take everything you say with a pinch of salt. I don't want to be taken incredibly seriously, but I wouldn't like to be taken as a joke.

You're not a joke. You're the pop star with humility.

Well, I'm a right big-head underneath it all.

Damon Albarn says about The Great Escape that "this album understands that when you're up in the sky, you can either fall out of the sky... or not." What does Different Class understand?

It understands that you can be born on the ground but you can learn how to fly if you try hard enough.

Your opportunity, then, to write your own obituary.

I'll have to have a piss while I think about that [goes to nearby bathroom and shouts with the door wide open for everyone to view the Cocker bathroom technique. The shyness of yore, it seems, will not visit him again]. "Here lies Jarvis Cocker, now thinner than ever." I always wanted to have a video camera in me coffin. And have the gravestone with a TV screen on it so people could see me rotting away.

Jarvis Cocker, you must seek help immediately.

I think it's good to see a dead body. When me grandad died we had the coffin open in the house. It's not pleasant, but at least it makes you realise they're really dead. You're always going to feel sorry that someone dies, but when you realise they're actually gone you can get on with things. People shouldn't feel sorry for you because you're dead: you're just dead, aren't you? You're not suffering anything. People might just miss you a bit, that's all.

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