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The Tabloid Story
'Pulp in Britpop's First Ban', Melody Maker, 30 September 1995
Pulp have elected to withdraw and replace the sleeve of their new single Sorted For E's & Wizz / Mis-Shapes, when initial pressings sell out. They made the decision after the single and its sleeve became the subject of Daily Mirror front page stories last Wednesday and Thursday (September 20 and 21). Under the headline "Ban This Sick Stunt", last Wednesday's Mirror accused the band of "offering teenage fans a DIY guide on hiding illegal drugs".
The cover of the single features a photograph of a page from a magazine folded into the shape of a speed wrap. No drugs are shown on the sleeve. The inside booklet features a series of origami-style diagrams showing how to fold a piece of paper to make a speed wrap. Again, drugs are neither mentioned nor shown. However, under pressure from retailers and Island Records, a new, plain white sleeve has been printed.
As well as carrying a condemnation of the single from a father whose son had died from an Ecstasy reaction, The Daily Mirror article also quoted Capital Radio DJ Neil Fox saying he would not play the single on his programme. The following day, Jarvis made a lengthy statement to the Mirror, carried over a whole page inside the paper, along with the song's lyrics, which, ironically, concern the down-side of drug use. During Pulp's Top Of The Pops performance of Mis-Shapes last week, Jarvis pulled out the copy of the Daily Mirror featuring the headline and pretended to read it.
When did you first become aware that the Mirror was going to run with the story?
"It was about half past 10 on Tuesday night. It was my birthday. Usually I would be out on my birthday, but I wasn't that particular night, and I got a call saying it probably was gonna happen. The next thing I heard about it was my mother calling up at quarter past 10 the next morning, saying breakfast TV and various people had been ringing her up trying to get my number and trying to get her to make a statement about it, and stuff. But me mum's alright, she's not daft, so she didn't say anything to them.
It surprised me, cos the thing that I was anticipating having trouble with was getting the record played on the radio. I'd been told that, because it mentioned drugs, they wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. They wouldn't listen to it, and so they wouldn't realise that it was just a song about drugs. It wasn't saying drugs are fantastic. So, you know, I thought we were home and dry, but then they started taking exception to the sleeve. It's stupid, cos that's basically an origami diagram. Origami does not lead to drug addiction, as far as I know - I might be wrong. Nowhere on the sleeve does it say, 'Put your drugs in this handy container'. People say it's obvious what it's for, but it's them who've spelt it out. It's like saying if you have a picture of a gun on a record cover, that means you're gonna go out and shoot people. The subject matter of the song is about drugs, so it's appropriate that it has drug related imagery.
Any road, the Daily Mirror took it upon themselves to ring up the Association Of Police Officers and get their opinion on it. It was kind of weird, cos they rang back and said they thought the song was great and they had no problem with it, but they thought the sleeve was bad. That was a problem for us, cos basically that could have led to it being banned from a lot of shops. So I thought to myself, I think it's an important song for people to hear, and if the sleeve is gonna get in the way of people hearing the record, I don't want that. I've been quite angry today cos there's all this stuff to do with the chart people and all this daft formatting business, and they're saying if you change the sleeve then it's another format so it's not eligible for the charts any more."
Ironically, the pre sales on the single were already well over 200,000 before its release on Monday - the biggest advance figure in Island Records' history, according to the label's marketing director, Nick Rowe. Regardless of the tabloid reaction, with Sorted For E's & Wizz, Pulp seem to have tapped into the wider debate going on in the media concerning drug use in Britain. Recent examples being Channel 4's 'Pot Night' and the current series, 'Loved Up'.
"I'm not saying I did it cos I thought we could open up a forum for discussion, but I think the drugs thing in Britain now is something that people can't ignore any more. So many people are doing it you can't just say it's these fringe elements and they should be rehabilitated. People are just doing it on a recreational basis and treating it in the same way as they treat drinking or having some fags, so you can't just say everybody who does it is an evil monster, and you can't just like shut your ears to it every time somebody mentions it. There's got to be some kind of a change in attitude to it. That's why I thought it was great that it got played on the radio, cos that to me showed that there had been a change in attitude to drugs."
So why the quote in the Mirror, "Drugs? I'd rather pedal my bicycle"?
"I hoped it was such a daft phrase that people would realise it was only a joke. I was angry with the quote they put on the front page the day before ('I don't want the sleeve to get in the way of what the record is saying, which is an anti-drugs message'), cos never in my conversations did I say this is an 'anti drugs' song. What I said to them was, 'This is not a pro drugs song', which is a slightly subtle wording difference. But to me, that's the point of it.
The thing with the tabloids is that they can't deal with ambiguities. They have to see things in terms of black and white, and that's not what the world's really like. It's very similar to this Nine O'Clock Service thing that's going off. I know a lot of people who were in that, and the way it's been reported in the tabloids is that everybody in this cult is shagging each other, and that there's basically a mass orgy going on in the name of Christianity. Well I know members of it, and I know they were in it for sincere reasons. It was only the main bloke who was doing it. Obviously that's not much of a story for them, it's better if it's sensationalised. So, basically, if l was to say to them, 'Oh yeah, maybe once or twice I like to get off me head', they'd basically say, 'Cocker the drug fiend'. And the other thing was I didn't wanna come across as Cliff Richard, saying I never touch drugs, cos then they'll just be planting people around me, waiting to catch me with a syringe in me hand, and it'll be, 'So clean Cocker is actually a complete drug addled wreck'. So I tried to steer a course between those two things.
It's the hypocrisy that gets me, taking this high moral tone. It's them who pointed out what the thing is for, and if they hadn't made such a big deal of it, people wouldn't have got so interested. I think it was a bit despicable where they'd rung up a bloke whose son had died of an OD. I just thought that was really horrible. I keep hoping that people will stop bothering to buy those papers, but they don't seem to, do they? If they exposed every person in showbiz who likes to sniff a bit of cocaine every now and then, there wouldn't be many people left on telly. I'm quite into the fact that it's given the record lots of publicity but I'm not looking forward to going through customs next time. I'll probably have a vacuum cleaner shoved up my arse. It means I'm gonna have to be watching myself for a while."
Jarvis laughed when asked how it felt to be the first Britpop band to attract an outrage story from a tabloid.
"I don't know. I quite like it. It might mean that the next time I have an interview with somebody, they might not just ask me about sex. They've got another subject to quiz me about now, so it'll probably make my life a bit more interesting. Rather than being thought of as fops, it's nice to be known as mad, bad and dangerous to know. Rather than sitting around in velvet armchairs all day!"
However, he said the experience wouldn't stop him writing about drugs in future.
"We've got another one called 'Heroin Is Great' that's the follow up single!" (Note to tabloids: joke)
Jarvis denied there was an element of sensationalism in the sleeve design.
"It wasn't a big deal to us. It wasn't that we wanted to make a big statement about drugs and have this real outrageous sleeve. I don't agree with all those cheap stunts. That's why it came as a big surprise to me. All it was, was just a sleeve that was appropriate. Originally, we wanted that record to come in a wrap, a fold down paper thing, but that was too expensive again. That was why we had to resort to pictures of wraps. I would have liked them to just blank out the offending bits and have a sleeve which is just blanked out. Now they've done this, I do consider it to be censorship."
Should you have perhaps put your foot down and said, 'Fuck the consequences'?
"No, cos as I say, the most important thing for me is that the record doesn't get harmed and people aren't prevented from hearing it. And, anyway, the sleeve is just something that stops it from getting scratched. The joke of it is, in that [Daily Mirror] piece there's this Capital Radio DJ, Neil Fox, saying he wouldn't play it on his show. That's no great harm to me, I never listen to Capital Radio. I consider it to be absolutely terrible. Plus, even when 'Common People' was Number Two in the charts, I think they played it four times in a week. So being banned by Capital Radio doesn't make any difference to me at all. Top Of The Pops have been fine about it. In fact, when the record goes in the charts, that's the song we'll be playing. On tonight's show, we'll do 'Mis-Shapes'. That was always the plan however many we did, we'd just alternate them. They know that. We discussed that with them yesterday and unless some cataclysmic event happens between now and then, we'll do it."
Asked about the nature of the song's lyrics, Jarvis said:
"It's like anything. I like a drink, but if you go out and drink a bottle of vodka a day, you're gonna turn into a sad individual. With anything, if you don't keep it under control or you're just stupid with it, you're gonna do yourself harm. That applies to anything. Basically that's my view on drugs. If you're stupid with them you're gonna screw yourself up. But you don't have to do that. The song is about that horrible feeling when you've had a great time and, next morning, the reality starts to seep in and you're left with this hollow feeling and your brain feels like a pea rattling around in a shoe box. There's the worry that you've done yourself some permanent damage and you're never gonna be able to get back to normal again. It's the same thing with a really bad hangover, I've woken up with some terrible ones. It's like tuning up a guitar string. You tighten it and tighten it and you think eventually it's gonna snap and you'll never get it back. It's a horrible thing and it does happen to people. But where is the snapping point? It's different for each person. Some people take one acid trip and they're gone. Others do it for years and years and they're OK. Lemmy has been taking speed for God knows how many years, and he can still speak coherently. People have different tolerances. That's why I don't think you can come on with a heavy moral tone with people. The whole thing has kind of amused me and also depressed me in a bit of away. Just the fact that people like that will take an interest in you. I hope the whole hoo-ha about it doesn't stop people listening to the song properly. To me, it's a really inoffensive song."
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I honestly was not expecting the kind of controversy that followed the release of our new single. I don't want the sleeve to get in the way of this record being taken seriously because Sorted For E's & Wizz is not a pro-drugs song. Because of the controversy surrounding it yesterday I'm quite prepared for the sleeve to be changed and the diagrams removed.
The design of the sleeve (the CD's cover carried an illustrated guide to making a special envelope to hide the drug speed) was nothing to do with me or the band, flippant as that may sound. I did see the sleeve before it went out to print but, to be honest I didn't take much notice of it at the time because it didn't offend me. Nowhere on the sleeve does it say 'you are supposed to put drugs in here' but I can understand the confusion. I wouldn't want anything we do to encourage people to take drugs because they aren't a solution or an answer to anything. I don't think anyone who listens to Sorted would come away thinking it had a pro drugs message. If they did I would say they had misinterpreted it.
It's basically a factual account of something that happened to me in 1989 when I first moved to London and the rave scene was really big. At the time I thought there was going to be a major shift in people's mentality because everyone was being friendly and getting off on being nice to each other. After a while it became apparent to me it was all drug induced and I became disenchanted with it. I thought it would filter through to people's everyday lives and we would realise it's better to be nice to one another rather than kicking each other's heads in at night-clubs. The change in mentality didn't happen and it was very surprising to me.
I don't think drugs are good, but on the other hand I don't think you can ignore them. Every weekend two million people go out and take something illegal, which is having a big effect on our society. To pretend it doesn't exist is a bad thing, which is why I was really pleased when radio stations decided to play Sorted. I thought the mere fact that it mentioned drugs would get it banned. The last record which dealt with this topic was Ebeneezer Goode by the Shamen which I thought was a despicable record. With a clever play on words they covered the fact that they thought E's were good and got it to Number One.
In my mind drugs are worse than cigarettes or alcohol because they are underground and suppliers make them in their bathroom and people end up taking something which is physically damaging. I have tried to help friends who have problems with drugs, but you can only help to a certain extent. The need to get into that state comes from inside them and the need to get straight also has to come from inside them. I've sat with a friend for a week to stop them buying drugs but you can't sit with them for the rest of their lives. My point is you can only help so much, then they must help themselves. But I don't think people who take drugs are breaking the law, they see it as recreational. I would not offer advice on drugs to anyone who asked for it. I'd tell them to talk to someone with real knowledge of drugs. I have knowledge of taking drugs first hand - but I fell out of a window when I was drunk once, and I wouldn't offer advice on that either.
If the police enforced the fact that marijuana was illegal half of London would be arrested overnight, but they turn a blind eye. I think it's a joke that marijuana is considered a soft drug, it's one of the worst drugs around. The people who use it sell their posessions to get hold of it, they can't get it together and do anything and they sit on their backsides all day doing nothing. That's no way to spend your life. I've always said that people in bands are the worst role models ever because they're self-centred, big headed and egotistical. I accept that I may be seen as a role model, but I don't want to preach and offer my opinions. In my songs I try to write about things that have happened to me in a plain and simple way. Drugs exist and they aren't going to go away, but they don't gove anyone something they don't have already. They just bring things out that already exist in their personality. If they were really happy and things were going well they wouldn't take them.
Diary of a Number Two Single (Taken from the NME)
The Rave Flyers
Flyers for the Sunrise 5000 rave, Saturday 20 May 1989. See www.raveflyers.co.uk for more.