An old band photo in the attic has Jarvis Cocker reflecting on his tortoise-like pace of work
We’re standing in the living room we rehearse in every Friday night [see pic below]. Dolly is persevering with his trilby look, Wayne is also sporting another of his signature bow ties, Jamie’s collars are far more erect than the last time we saw them & I am pretty much wearing my school uniform – minus the blazer. But, given the subsequent path my life has taken, it’s the object that I’m holding up in front of my chest that most catches my eye in this photograph. It’s a tortoise.
How, I ask myself, could I possibly have known all those years ago that I was destined for life in the slow lane?
By that, I don’t mean that my life has been lacking in incident or interest – or even success – it’s just that it has always taken so long for any of these things to happen.
When Pulp finally had a hit record in 1995 (fourteen years after this photograph was taken) journalists were fascinated by this extended gap in my biography. What could I possibly have been doing in the interim?
Pulp also hold the record for the longest gap between sessions on the John Peel Show. The first was broadcast on 18 November 1981, the second followed on 5 March 1993. Radio silence for eleven & a half years.
My working processes are also on the slow side. When mixing the final song on the last album I was involved in (Beyond the Pale by JARV IS… released in 2020) I realised that I’d started work on that particular song eight years previously. Two Olympics ago! When I’m in a good mood I tell myself, “Creativity is a natural process & you have to allow experiences to percolate through your consciousness before they can form themselves into a piece of work.” When I’m in a bad mood I just say to myself, “Jarvis, why are you so bloody sloooooow?”
It also extends to my personal life. My partner & I were in a restaurant a few years ago & I spotted the comedian Ronnie Corbett at another table. She couldn’t contain her excitement & turned round to look.
As she did so her hair passed over the candle in the middle of our table & set on fire. By the time I was opening my mouth to shout a warning, the man on the table next to us had already thrown a glass of water over my partner’s head, immediately extinguishing the flames.
We were very grateful & no injuries were sustained but she was, quite naturally, a little upset that it had been left to a complete stranger to save her from going up in smoke whilst I sat there inert. It’s a wonder we’re still together really. “What’s your problem?” she wanted to know.
It’s a valid question. But one I have no answer for, except a rather weak “It’s just the way I am”. As we discussed earlier in the book some people are hares & some are tortoises. I’m not keen on being a slowcoach – but I have come to accept it as an inescapable aspect of my personality.
The trick in life is to turn character defects to your advantage. To make them work for you rather than against you. Otherwise you’re screwed (& single).
I hope we’ve gained some practical insight into how this process might work during our “excavation” of the loft space. This loft is my problem (not the only one – but a significant one nonetheless). This random assortment of objects, festering away in the dark, has weighed on my mind for years.
I carried on throwing stuff in here over the course of two decades. I should have dealt with it all years ago & yet here I am only just getting round to it. And there’s so much of it. It makes me think of that thing they found in the London sewers a few years back – THE FATBERG!
Those of you with a delicate sensibility might want to skip this paragraph. Fatbergs are formed when fat, oil & grease are poured down sinks & drains & then combine with items that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, such as wet wipes, cotton buds & disposable nappies. Yuck. The one I’m thinking of was discovered in the sewers of Greenwich in 2019. It weighed 40 tonnes, was the size of a double-decker bus & took up 80 per cent of the sewer’s capacity. We assume that when we pour something down the drain or flush it down the toilet that’s the end of it – like I thought I was getting rid of things by piling them into this loft – but it isn’t. Carry on doing it for long enough, with no thought for the consequences, & you will end up with a problem. A big problem.
OK – now wash your hands.
Opening up this loft has opened a window on to my creative process (as repulsive as that may sound, given what we’ve just been discussing). In fact, without wishing to get too dramatic about it, I’ve come to think that this loft, & the objects in it, form a pretty accurate representation of the contents of my brain.
The above is an extract from Good Pop, Bad Pop, the new memoir by Jarvis Cocker (Vintage Publishing, £20). To buy a copy, click here.
Jarvis will be speaking at the Idler Festival on 9 July. Click here for tickets and info.
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