When Barry Met Cocker
Words: Stuart Turnbull, Photographer: John Spinks
Taken from Sleaze Nation, Vol 4 Issue 10, November 2001

Friends, roamers, gentlemen... Likely mates Jarvis Cocker and Barry 7 have both got new records out. But we met up with Pulp's frontman and Add N To (X)'s flashman to discuss everything and anything but music.

It's pissing down outside as Jarvis Cocker slouches past the etched window of a public house in Leytonstone, East London. Inside, already sat at the bar, Barry 7 thumbs through his wallet and gleefully flashes a peculiar 'found photograph' featuring an anonymous middle-aged Chinese couple sat in a restaurant. "Brilliant," says the chiffon-scarfed flāneur, taking a sip of a Jameson's and Coke. "They've got 'found photograph machines' in America - two dollars for a fag packet-full. They're unclaimed shots from photo labs that someone's decided to make a buck on."

Cocker joins us wearing a peacoat and a chunky-knit roll-neck looking like a resting trawlerman importuning for a roll-up. "Hi Jarv," says Barry. "Bazza" replies Cocker, plumping for a sparkling mineral water. "Looks like I'm the poof today," says Britain's favourite streak-of-piss. "Our club... Desperate... Saturday... Lots of people off their heads..." he mumbles, by way of explanation.

Retiring to an Artexed corner, the duo are presented with our 'possible topics for discussion' sheet and peruse it like a dating couple browsing the menu at a posh pizzeria, Cocker's incredibly long thumbnail scanning the text like Nosferatu's. "You haven't got any starters or anything," he exclaims with mock disappointment before deciding..."'Have you bought a gas mask yet?'. You can get 'em on Mile End Road. A mate of mine's going down there and he might get me one."

"I know people over in New York who are having nose-bleeds and suffering all sorts of side effects," Barry 7 tells us. "They're all really scared of asbestos poisoning." Barry would have been living Stateside by now, were it not for recent events. Has he decided against the move?

"No. I'm still going," he assures us, before explaining his rapturous fondness for Cowboy Country, and Portland, Oregon, in particular. "It's the scale of America that I love. Once you've been there you can't stay here, it does my head in, I can't bear it, it's insane."

Barry, sartorially resplendent in the garb of a cock-eyed rent collector escapes momentarily into his tumbler before staring out of the window, towards the dole office across the road. "I totally understand America," he continues. I prefer America. I understand its brutal nature, but I also understand that it's a place of far reaching space, it's a place where even poor people own a house. If you buy a caravan and park it on a piece of land you're not a criminal."

Barry is thinking of wide-open spaces, but the recent events have brought out the minutiae-lovin' man in Jarvis, a lyricist famed for, amongst other things, celebrating synthetic fabrics, plastic tulips, air rifles and halter-neck tops. "In the first few days after it happened I was walking round London," explains Cocker, "down a crappy street, seeing the things you'd walk past loads of times saying 'that's a nice wrapper, on the floor there', or whatever. And, maybe in a slightly over-dramatic way, you thought 'well, that might not be there tomorrow cos it might have been blasted away'."

Cocker is aware that recent events have made most of us ponder life's big questions, and acknowledges the way that disaster also alters our perception of the everyday, adding "all of this stuff, that you might say is trivial shit, all seemed like it was perilously close to extinction."

What would you do if there was a 20 minute warning that a plane was going to smash into this pub?

"Well, my van's broken," mulls Cocker, brooding over his absent vehicle. "It's up in Sheffield getting repaired. But when the New York thing happened I had all these thoughts like 'well at least if I had my van I could get away in time'. It's a 4-wheel drive so I could go cross country. All those traffic jams? I'd fuckin' off-road it."

Have you ever had the urge to join The Army?

"No way. I don't know..." puzzles Jarvis. "But it would be very hard if members of your family had died to turn the other cheek."

Yet, before adopting the mindset of an eye-for-an-eye killer, Cocker pulls focus.

"Violence breeds violence. It's not the way, just like flag waving, taking sides, posturing and becoming fundamentalist isn't the way."

Would Cocker take up the gun for a 'cause'?

"If you've got no conception of being prejudiced against some sector of society then it's hard to put yourself in that position. I find it saddening that all that stuff still exists, like people shouting racist stuff. We should have moved on and evolved beyond that."

Okay, so the National Front, say 50 of them, have gathered for an unprovoked brick attack on an Asian community. Has there come a point where those NF supporters need wiping out, or are they worth re-educating?

"It's hard because the temptation is to see those people as a mass," continues Jarvis. "You have to take each person out of that mob, because the problem is the mob mentality. You need to take each person individually and talk to them. Usually it's the ringleaders. Unfortunately people don't like to accept responsibility for their own lives and they'll look for somebody to follow, and if somebody offers a hard enough line they'll follow that. It's like at school, innit," says Cocker, lighting another Silk Cut. "If you get the ringleader then all the others shit themselves and stop it. Like, before Milosovic got deposed, I thought why didn't we just race in? Cos we had diplomats going up and shaking hands with him - why didn't one of them just fuckin' stick one on him?"

"What's really interesting is that the British Army and America have always fought private battles," interjects Barry. "Something that's really secret. That's what the SAS do, that's what they're paid to do. They're actually secretly employed by various countries to fight, and this man Bin Laden is exactly that, except he has a religious angle to what he's doing."

"I think that's what's freaking people out about what's going on now," adds Jarvis. "You've got people who are prepared to die for a cause. It's almost like the aliens have landed. It's a completely different belief system. And us pampered ponces, all that our lives seem to be about is trying to hold on to what you've got - people are more interested in what they can accumulate. Like, you wouldn't die for your freezer, would you?"

Barry gets the drinks in and Jarvis surveys the daytime suppers peppering this fatigued East London hostelry. "We're in a decadent phase," he surmises. "We've supposedly become more civilized but become kind of soft."

Barry, the ale-serving wench, rejoins us and settles in as I ask 'have you two got good survival skills?'.

"Really good survival skills," asserts Barry. "I went to Iceland once," pipes Cocker, referring to the country. I bought this survival kit and part of it was a cheese-wire garrotte. We were going past these sheep and I was thinking 'strangle the sheep with this thing?'... I caught a fish once and I couldn't even get it off the line cos it wriggled around too much."

"I tried to buy an eel once," offers Barry. "It escaped - very scary. I hope it lived."

Are we paralysed by choice, fellas?

"Spoilt by choice rather than spoilt for choice," states Cocker, like a sage. "I lived in Prague just after the revolution," says Barry. "You'd go into a supermarket there and have to search for food that you could actually make into something you could eat - completely the opposite of here where you go into a supermarket and..."

"End up being there for about three hours, cos you can't make you're mind up," interrupts Cocker. "It's a tyranny of choice," he explains. "It's the American way - freedom of choice. But in a way giving people that choice is just as controlled as having one gram of something. In a way, if you just had one gram of beans and one gram of bread it would give you a bit more freedom cos you wouldn't spend so much time walking round a supermarket thinking 'Well, which one should I have?'"

Do these troubadours of scuzz hang around the bargain trolley checking out the damaged tins?

"Yeah!" exclaims Cocker, waving a half-smoked snout. "I live with two people who are doing that all the time. I come home and I'll find a cupboard full of John West oysters, three-for-one, or summat. Last week it was Scotch pancakes."

Having matured and achieved independence, are there any habits from their upbringing that are hard to shake?

"Eating all the food on your plate is one," decides Cocker. "I've been brought up to always leave a clean plate," explains the lean machine. "When we toured America I found that very difficult. You order a sandwich and it comes like that," he says, throwing his arms wide and nearly bloodying Barry's nose. "And you start leaving things. But it's definitely ingrained in my head that you shouldn't leave food."

Okay, accepting that their feet are very much still on the ground, do Barry and Jarvis ever feel the urge for a bout of manual labour?

"The nearest I've come to it lately was ripping up my carpet," replies Cocker with a satisfied air. "It was infested with moths and, er, grubs... lavae?" he enquires, before describing his joy. "There was something very satisfying about slitting it and ripping it up in strips. Sometimes having simple tasks like that frees up your brain for interesting ideas."

Grub infestations of the domestic kind aside, let's turn to the subject of grooming. Cocker strokes his moderate stubble before answering. "I don't like personal hygiene," he confirms, with no trace of irony. "I'm getting a bit better, but since this thing of frequent wash shampoo, clean surfaces and antiseptic everything, kids have developed all kinds of allergies. You can't say there's a definite correlation between those two things but I think a bit of muck is alright. People survived in the olden days when you were getting a bath like once a year..."

He says this in all seriousness. But what about those with no choice but to slum it, and our response to their plight? The scenario of, say, an Oxfam ad on the telly stating '£2 a week will feed a whole family in Rwanda. Phone now with your credit card details.'

"Oh, I know. I'm terrible," admits Jarvis, who's a charity 'shops' only sort of guy.

"I have absolutely no fuckin' money so it's not an option," says Barry. "Also, it seems to me that money wouldn't solve that problem. I don't trust that organisation to necessarily deliver what I would want it to deliver to that place... there's always some horror story about farmers being made to grow coffee for short term profit but it fucking up the land."

Of the two, do you lean towards the nihilistic punk tendency or the hippy scene?

"Those kind of strict movements don't exist any more," replies Cocker.

"We live in really conservative times," adds Barry. "Punk and hippy? There's nothing in those things anymore," he says before hitting us with an example of his drive for cultural change. "I started a movement once, in Brixton, this thing called The Supremacists. Our code was 'supremacy through politeness' and we'd meet at my flat on a Wednesday to have debates and work out some kind of manifesto. It ended up with about forty people attending but became what we never wanted it to become. These sort of activities always get more and more psychotic and actually end up in negativity."

Back to recent events. Have the Twin Towers attacks really unleashed a healthy wave of globally empathy or are we kidding ourselves?

"Whenever it's perceived that there's an outsider threat then normally people, especially in Britain, where they're having to be competitive a lot of the time, well they'll simmer on that... and think 'well, we are all in the same boat. We could all die'. I don't know whether I imagined it but you did see something positive in people being able to forget the competitiveness."

Finally, how come you two are friends?

"I lived in Sheffield in the 80s, working as a waiter at a place called The Baltimore Diner," says Barry. "It was the ultimate in gangster Sheffield - villains, nouveau riche, prostitutes. The prostitutes would write their price on the sole of their stilettos. Very classy."

Barry moved up to the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire's capital "to see something else, to see a different picture", a picture featuring the notorious antics of Pulp's frontman. "The first I knew of Jarvis was a really huge whitewashed sign daubed above a junk shop saying 'Cocker Keep Out'," laughs Barry. "There were piles and piles of stuff and he'd been told to leave it alone," he adds, referring to Cocker's passion for a rummage.

"I'd see you coming out of a record shop," retorts Jarvis, laughing. "With a sour look on your face, and I'd think 'You're not talking to me'."

"He was always very friendly," counters Barry. "He was good."

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