Jarvis Cocker Is a Meghan Markle Fan (Boris Johnson, Not So Much)

Jarvis Cocker Is a Meghan Markle Fan (Boris Johnson, Not So Much)

February didn’t seem like halcyon days at the time, but you often don’t realize this sort of thing until later. 

As soon as he was finished talking for the day, Jarvis Cocker had plans to check out a cool, kinda underground venue in Brooklyn he’d been hearing about. The former Pulp frontman, Britpop legend and hero to literate overthinkers everywhere was planning on releasing his first album in over a decade in May, and he wanted to find just the right place for his first U.S. show in nearly as many years. 

Since this was an early February afternoon, it was long before many of us were giving COVID-19 proper attention. Since then, the album Beyond the Pale, credited to his new backing group Jarv Is, would be pushed back a few months, and that American show would be pushed back to some blessed post-vaccine era. Hopefully, by then, at least a few cool, kinda underground venues will still exist. But it’s OK. Cocker fans have gotten used to waiting.

“I was kind of flabbergasted to realize it was that long ago,” he says of the long pause after his last album, 2009’s Further Complications. “There were these ideas, I’d kind of been working on some of them for a long time, but I was never getting to finish them, and I had various distractions. I kept working on them occasionally, but I never felt convinced by them, and so it wasn’t like I just stopped, even though people could be forgiven for thinking that is what happened.” 

He’s wearing a brown corduroy jacket with a green hourglass pin with the insignia of the Greta Thunberg-associated environmentalist group Extinction Rebellion on it. Sitting on a couch at the New York office of his label Rough Trade, he’s discretely munching on a brownie and covering his mouth as he chews, apologizing in his inimitable Northern English lilt, which has the ability to make anything he utters sound like the smartest thing your smartest professor ever said. 

Cocker was born in South Yorkshire—the city of Sheffield, to be exact—and his father, a DJ and actor, left his family when he was 7. Cocker formed an inchoate version of Pulp as a teenager, and after graduating from art school in the early ‘90s, he became much more focused, turning Pulp into a sharp, tuneful delivery vehicle for his world-weary tales of sexual neuroses, class resentment and romantic self-recrimination. 

While critics and fans spent the ‘90s and onward debating whether Blur or Oasis was the best band to come from the Britpop explosion, Pulp has always been the contrarian’s pick for the real champion. Released back to back in ‘94 and ‘95, His ‘n’ Hers and Different Class turned Cocker into a household name and tabloid fixture in England and a cult figure in America. 

He became the rare chart-topper that is taken seriously as a public intellectual, and he continues to be an omnipresent talking head on English television. He has enough celebrity clout to write songs for and have a cameo in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and enough national goodwill that when he rushed the stage to, allegedly, moon Michael Jackson during a 1996 performance at the Brit Awards in which the King of Pop was striking a messianic pose, some members of the press declared Cocker should be knighted for his valor.

One of the legends of Pulp is that at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival, one of England’s oldest and most prestigious fests, the Stone Roses dropped out at the last second, and Pulp were promoted to headliner status. As the NME would later describe it, it was a star-making performance that made Cocker an icon, and if you have to narrow it down to one moment, it would be the mass singalong that greeted “Common People,” a tale of a slumming socialite dating below her station as a means of social tourism. The scabrous takedown of class barriers and the elite would go on to become a national anthem in England, and Pitchfork would later name it the second greatest song of the ‘90s.

England has long been roiled by class resentments and a jaundiced eye toward the upper class. As ever, the country was well ahead of the curve, as widespread distrust of upper classes has started becoming fairly common in America. “I just think what’s happening now is everything is becoming polarized. And the thing about the 1 percent, I totally get that,” he says. “But then you’ve got to remember that all through the history of man, all fairy stories are about people becoming princes and princesses. So I think even though people might say that they disagree with the 1 percent, something in the back of the mind thinks, ‘Well, I wish I was in the 1 percent and not in the 99 percent.’ Because humans have a greed to them and a selfishness.” 

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