Jarvis Cocker: perv or public conscience?

It’s 3 am and I can’t sleep so I’m binge-watching Jarvis Cocker interviews.

In a Guardian interview from 2011, a slightly jaded Jarvis admits that he only started the whole song-writing thing because no one seemed to be making music about sexual “awkwardness and disappointment” that he could relate to. I think about how I wish someone had written a song about insomnia I could relate to right now.

My friends call Jarvis a perv. ‘All of his songs are about sexually-frustrated curtain twitchers and someone else’s girlfriend, but because he has floppy hair, is 6’2 and wears oversized glasses it makes it okay’.

I think of the line in Babies where an inexperienced Jarvis hides inside a mates older sister’s wardrobe because he wants to ‘see as well as hear’ unfamiliar sexual experiences. In I Spy (the title a case in point) a voyeuristic Jarvis drawls, ‘I’ve got your numbers, taken notes / I know the ways your minds work’. Pencil Skirt opens with an image of Jarvis looking up between a woman’s legs. Perhaps they’ve got a point.

But then again, I really don’t think it’s because he’s got floppy hair or is imbued with a kind of mid-90s-soft-boy-pseudo-romanticism that I find myself condoning Jarvis’ ‘perviness’. The appeal of his quasi-oedipal sexual fantasies and schoolboy philandering is not their success, but their failure. Most of his lyrics are about shameful rejection and desperate pleas to wind back the clock (see Disco 2000’s, ‘I never knew that you’d get married / [and] I would be living down here on my own / on that damp and lonely Thursday years ago’). Even Common People is just an  attempt to take ownership of being culturally appropriated for the purposes of a problematic class-conflict sexual fantasy.

In a mid-90s musical landscape dominated by smooth operators, Pulp’s world is refreshingly mundane, gritty and saturated by cock-ups and missed opportunities. I find myself watching an interview from 1995 in Berlin where upon being asked whether he has a girlfriend, a sardonic Jarvis replies ‘oh yeah, but she doesn’t like me’. The interviewer is visibly taken aback. Jarvis nervously adjusts his side fringe and looks bemused. 25 years on, such self-deprecation still feels unorthodox.

I think there’s this misconception that the best kind of music transports you somewhere new and exciting and makes you feel something you otherwise wouldn’t. There’s definitely a time and place for that, but often the music I return to most gives voice to something familiar and recognisable – validating my lived experience and attempting to drag it up into the realm of Art.

Yes, Jarvis’ lyrics are often crude and dated (‘grass is something you smoke / Birds are something you shag’ – I Spy)  and I’m often forced to navigate between my perpetual crush on him and my botched feminism, but I sort of think that’s okay. His music isn’t supposed to be enlightening or preachy. There’s enough of that already. Sometimes witty lyrics and an overly-ambitious disco beat are all that you need.

It’s 3.30 now and I’ve ended up on a Reddit thread documenting Jarvis’ 2000 stint on Da Ali G show. Jarvis is performing Helped The Aged – an epigraph to Boomers’ with no sexual appetite. Towards the end, a gangling Jarvis starts twerking whilst Ali G raps and women clad in bondage start strip-teasing.

I think it might be time for bed.

Featured Image: Punkrock19, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel