Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Do You Remember the First Time? #4. Pulp
At some point in 1994-5, I began to suspect the best writer of his generation, or at least the only one interested in the truth, was in fact Jarvis Cocker. The song that convinced me was ‘Sorted For E’s & Wizz’. Its buoyant, acoustic-driven tempo, pleasantly suggestive of floating on MDMA, punctuated by a series of dramatic accents, forms the backcloth to Cocker’s story of disillusion down at the rave. The climax is the wonderful moment where Jarvis steps out of the metre to inform his mum he can’t come home because he’s left a vital piece of his brain in a field, somewhere in Wiltshire. This is priceless, but also personifies the uneasiness at the core of the song. Surely you are meant to feel contented, loved-up at these things? ‘Sorted For E’s & Wizz’ deals in uncertainty, the ‘hollow feeling’, as Cocker puts it, that can descend at festivals or large gigs. The comedown, not the high.
In the YouTube clip of the song’s first performance (Glastonbury 1995, 100,000 people in the audience. You have to admire the cojones on the man), Cocker recounts the story of its inception. A female acquaintance once told him that when she saw the Stone Roses at Spike Island, shady characters had moved through the audience, asking if everyone was ‘sorted’. Jarvis, wearing a well-fitting suit, his fringe somewhat disheveled, relates this to the crowd as if he’s still addressing nine people at The Bull and Gate. It’s here his persona is established in the public mind. One can sense from the enthusiastic cheers of the audience – many of which wouldn’t have been aware of Cocker before the gig – that they accept him. A recognition occurs. Jarvis’s dour, easy humour, his self-deprecation (especially that northern self-deprecation, the absolute phobia of pretension, of getting above yourself, that he shared with the Beatles and Philip Larkin) – is manna to the crowd. Moreover, the audience embrace Jarvis because he incarnates the underdog. He announces, to a huge cheer, that it’s taken Pulp 15 years to make it to the Glastonbury main stage. ‘If a lanky git like me can do it, and us lot, you can do it too.’
After Pulp have played the song, Cocker continues talking as if nothing has happened. ‘I got lost at a rave once . . . all these lads that had been saying ‘yeah man’ two hours previously wouldn’t give me a lift home . . .’ Then he points one of the long, intelligent fingers, and says in his impeccably lugubrious Sheffield tones: ‘But I know you’re not like that.’ Perhaps this is why I warmed to Jarvis Cocker and not Damon Albarn. Cocker’s unaffected charm, conveyed by the depth and naturalness of his northern accent appealed to me. I could relate, my mother being from Yorkshire. (Cocker once narrated a documentary on John Barry; their speaking voices are remarkably similar. Not surprising: Sheffield is only 50 miles from York.)
But it is with the song they play next, ‘Common People’ that Jarvis really connected with me, as he did with thousands of others . . .