Dif­fer­ent class of lyric writer in print de­but

Jarvis Cocker’s new book is a com­pi­la­tion of some of his best lyrics. Chris Bond looks at the lit­er­ary de­but of the Pulp front­man.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - BOOKS -

OF all the stars from the Brit­pop era, Jarvis Cocker al­ways seemed to be the most in­ter­est­ing.

Noel Gal­lagher and Da­mon Al­barn both had the charisma but Al­barn hadn’t yet blos­somed into the mu­si­cal in­no­va­tor he would be­come and Gal­lagher was too busy ei­ther fight­ing with his younger brother or crow­ing that his band was the best in the world.

Cocker, though, stood out from the in­die crowd and what he lacked in swag­ger he made up for in quirk­i­ness and self-dep­re­ca­tion. The Oa­sis man may have been the one in­vited to Down­ing Street to hob-nob with Tony Blair, but it was Cocker who ap­peared on BBC’S Ques­tion Time as the de facto spokesman of the coun­try’s youth.

There was a feel­ing back in the mid-90s that some­thing ex­cit­ing was hap­pen­ing and that Bri­tain was once again be­com­ing the world’s cul­tural cap­i­tal just as it had 30 years ear­lier. That prom­ise failed to ma­te­ri­alise, or maybe peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions were sim­ply too high, for mu­sic and art never re­ally change the world, they only en­lighten and en­ter­tain it.

That’s not to say mu­sic is unim­por­tant, far from it. The likes of Ra­dio­head, Oa­sis and the Manic Street Preach­ers cap­tured a snapshot of the ephemeral spirit of that time. As did Pulp. One of their big­gest hits, Com­mon Peo­ple, be­came an an­them of the Brit­pop gen­er­a­tion, with its mock­ing story of a rich girl pre­tend­ing to be poor.

Com­mon Peo­ple typ­i­fied Cocker’s writ­ing style – his songs have a nar­ra­tive an­chored in ev­ery­day life – and the lyrics are among those in­cluded in a new book, Cocker’s first, called Mother, Brother, Lover – a com­pi­la­tion of song lyrics span­ning nearly 30 years. It is pub­lished by Faber and Faber no less, who this month an­nounced his ap­point­ment as editor-at­large. Be­ing taken on by such a fa­bled pub­lish­ing house is akin to find­ing the holy grail for po­ets, so for a hum­ble song­writer to be ad­mit­ted in to this exclusive club is rare in­deed.

But leaf­ing through his book, which in­cludes 70 lyrics se­lected and an­no­tated by Cocker him­self, you are re­minded that he is more than just a good singer who made it cool to wear cor­duroy.

In an es­say which opens the book, Cocker ex­plains in in­ter­est­ing de­tail the art of lyric writ­ing. Per­haps strangely, given the fact the book is all about lyrics, he sug­gests that words aren’t nec­es­sar­ily that im­por­tant to a song, us­ing the Kings­men’s rock clas­sic Louie, Louie – the lyrics of which even the FBI found in­de­ci­pher­able – as an ex­am­ple.

How­ever, he also points out there are plenty of peo­ple who buck this trend, such as Lou Reed, Jim Mor­ri­son, Nick Cave and Bill Cal­la­han, to pick out just a few. Ev­ery song­writer ap­proaches their craft dif­fer­ently, but for Cocker it is rooted in per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Take the open­ing lines from Ba­bies for in­stance: “Well, it hap­pened years ago, when you lived on Stan­hope Road. We lis­tened to your sis­ter when you came home from school.”

Many of his lyrics hark back to his youth spent grow­ing up in Sh­effield rather than some fan­tasy world. “You can live on ‘lip­gloss and cig­a­rettes,’” he writes. “There are more ref­er­ences to TV shows and show­biz en­ter­tain­ers in these songs than ref­er­ences to the Greek myths, but it’s all valid. You can mythol­o­gise any­thing if you put your mind to it. In a way it’s more fun to look for pro­fun­dity in some­thing that’s not de­signed to have it.”

For Cocker, even the band’s name “Pulp” fit­ted this ethos. It was, he says, “the per­fect name for it be­cause this was an at­tempt to find mean­ing in the mass-pro­duced and throw-away that af­ter all we were sur­rounded by on a daily ba­sis. To sift through and find some beauty in it all.”

Mother, Brother, Lover – Se­lected Lyrics is out now pub­lished by Faber and Faber, £14.99.

UR­BAN MYTHS: Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics have landed him a pub­lish­ing deal with Faber & Faber.

SONG­SMITH: Cocker’s songs are firmly grounded in his youth grow­ing up in Sh­effield. “You can mythol­o­gise any­thing”, he says.

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