Yup. Twenty years today. Twenty years since Jarvis Cocker got up on stage at the BRITs and waved his arse at Michael Jackson.
Ha ha ha, right? Hashtag legend. Hashtag LOL. Hashtag-
Nope. I’m still pissed off.
First up let me assure you I hesitated before posting this; I know it'll make me sound insane. Examples:
- I got teary on holiday a few years ago during an argument with a friend when I tried to defend my position. (I couldn’t.)
- I had a 90s theme party for my 30th birthday and almost threw my own little brother out because he came dressed as the Pulp frontman. (Invitations clearly said NO INDIE as the music code.)
- I have two Pulp songs on my iPod - 'Do You Remember the First Time?' and 'Babies', both undeniably great songs - and I feel a little pang of annoyance every time I hear them, while 'Common People’ sends me into a full-on rage (the utter, utter smugness of it! the snideness! A song trashing a girl he nevertheless fancies - ugh, fuck you Jarvis).
Let me explain:
Okay no, there’s no explanation. No non-crazy one anyway. Just hear me out, 'k?
Here’s my ticket from that night.
At the time it happened, my argument went something like this: ohmygodhowCOULDhepoormichaelhe’sdonenothingabsolutelynothingtodeservethis
...because I was 16 and an MJ FAN OF SOME STANDING and I had gone to the BRITs to watch Michael on stage, for the first time in London in four years.
My argument didn’t have the impact I’d hoped it would. Mainly because my audience, aka the 32 16-year-olds who made up 11CH who were at this moment clambering over each other and trying to fart on each other’s laps during morning registration, believed something more along the lines of:
“yaaarrggh, what a wanker.”
A wanker. Michael. But-bu-buh-buh-
All I can tell you is it felt like being bullied. Me/Michael - I was so much of a fan by then I could no longer tell. Michael had long been the butt of jokes, and had recently been the subject of a *police investigation*, which meant as a fan I spent most of the 90s burning with an anger that Michael - and, by extension, me - was being victimised.
For the most part I grew out of that fan way of thinking. Got some perspective, a mortgage, a life. I still don’t believe the really bad stuff (let’s not get into why - I’ll leave that for another blog post), but I learned to see the faults in my childhood hero, just as I got older and discovered my own.
I am now so grown-up I am willing to concede that Michael might - might - have had some work done.
But the name Jarvis Cocker or the sound of Pulp’s music never fails to make my blood boil.
Come on, Kat. Lighten up. One man waving his bum at another man is funny.
*stony Kat face*
This is insane, I know. I know! I can no longer tell if my dislike of Pulp is a genuine aesthetic response (...unlikely) or tied up with what Jarvis did (yep, that sounds more like it), or simply bound up with the frustration I felt at the tiresome, ironic and self-conscious Britpop that dominated the 1990s, the predominant tone of which appeared to be scorn, scorn at girls who pretended to be something they weren’t, scorn at small-town life, scorn at boys who like girls and girls who like boys - all sung by lead singers who cultivated a kind of bored air of contempt, though they deigned to answer the questions posed by Smash Hits nonetheless.
Don't get me wrong; Michael was nuts. I think a part of him *did* think he was Jesus (a tiny tiny part, deep down - and hey, there’s a tiny part of me that thinks so too, so fuck you), and in later years he was plagued by a damaging obsession not just to be, but to be acknowledged The Greatest of All Time. His behaviour got weirder and weirder, he got less and less apologetic, and speculation about his private life overshadowed his music as a result.
But, for all his faults, - and here’s why I love him - he never had a moment of scorn in his life.
His music contained fear, confusion, paranoia, hope, joy in abundance. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but it didn’t just sneer at social mores and class. All that stuff felt so small-minded, so fucking stiflingly British.
That’s what a lot of people prided themselves on - these were the Brit Awards, after all, one in the eye for an American superstar.
Except Michael wasn’t from America, he was from outer space. His talent at least was out of this world. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe some people seem touched by something godlike - genius, whatever you want to call it - and what’s more I believe acknowledging that and adoring someone - whomever it may be - can be a positive, life-affirming act.
Call me an idiot, why don’t you.
'Earth Song' is not my favourite. The performance of it that night was really corny (always the penultimate song he performed on tour, we spent the time it was on working out how best to make our exit). BUT I admire its chutzpah. I admire its grandiosity, its ambition. I believe it came from a genuine feeling Michael had (about - yes - elephants), and I believe, if you listen to it, and stop feeling so bloody self-conscious, stop sniggering, FFS, you might feel it too.
And that’s what Jarvis is to me: sniggering. Sticking your bum out at someone.
For me he’s forever the boys in 11CH, who liked Ocean Colour Scene and Oasis and that one song from ChumbaWumba, and crashed into you at the bar jumping up and down and gripping each other’s shoulders and jeering to the sound of the Year 2000, and laughed at anyone who didn’t wear kappa shirts and record bags and their hair in curtains. He’s people who believe music is about clever lyrics, not sound and passion. He’s bants.
I realise a lot of Pulp fans might be surprised to hear this, as to them he represents a sort of alternative to that culture - a sort of nerdy awkward outsider who shopped at C&A instead of buying Ben Sherman shirts. Maybe that’s where my anger comes from. Having been on the outside, and finally finding success, he took it out on an easy target like Michael Jackson. Michael was under fire for so much of what he did or didn’t do back then, and getting clobbered for everything. He was an easy target. A showbiz Whack-a-Mole.
So yeah, my argument is still basically still ohmygodhowCOULDhepoormichaelhe’sdonenothingabsolutelynothingtodeservethis
I can’t defend it much. There’s no reasoning behind it. It’s just how I feel. It’s a massive failure in my sense of humour: a man showed his bum to another man at a highly inappropriate moment? In all other circumstances, that is 100% funny. It should be funny. I should find that funny. But I don’t.
Laughter, bants - there is a line where it moves from being good-natured to being simply hurtful, and the victim and aggressor usually disagree where it lies.
And the grown up, non-crazy part of me can see Michael deserved it, or course he did. But puncturing other people’s bubbles can get so tiring. It really can. There’s a lot of joy to be had in inflating them.
He announced he was the King (sneer!), when white people had been very clear that it was Elvis, so he married his daughter (boo!). He sent a statue of himself on a barge down the Thames (cue contempt!). He got given the Artist of the Millennium Award, because he was an egomaniac of outrageous proportions, and not because it in any way benefitted the BPI to have him perform during their award show. And on stage at the Brits he portrayed himself, solemnly, and with much pomp, as someone who had the power to heal people.
Was he manic? Delusional? It's possible. Did he sincerely believe it? Maybe, though I doubt it. Did he deserve laughter? Perhaps. Did he deserve to be mocked? I dunno. Mockery might seem an appropriate response, but it's unedifying how much glee on the part of the person doing the mocking it involves.
And then there’s the possibility that it was Jarvis, not Michael, who took the whole thing too seriously.
When asked by US journalist Diane Sawyer about a video promo he’d made of him walking past cheering crowds that was being compared to Nazi propaganda, here’s what he had to say:
Diane Sawyer: The critics have said that it's the most "boldly vainglorious, self-deification a pop singer ever undertook with a straight face”. **
Michael Jackson: Good! That's what I wanted.
DS: For the controversy?
DS: And they...
MJ: They fell into my trap. I wanted everybody's attention.
The engine of my interest (some might call it an obsession) in Michael Jackson remains the same as it was when I was 12: Is he for real? Or is it all an act?
There’s evidence on both sides: IMO he was a bona fide god-sprung genius, but he was egotistical, vain and manipulative too, with a fondness for sentimental lyrics and key changes. Friends say he was a sweetheart, but it’s clear he could also be a bit of a bastard. His music could be joyful masterful pop, but it could be dark, over-produced and difficult too. Sometimes he performed Earth Song, but we forgave him because then he performed Dangerous or an 11-minute extended version of Billie Jean with a mime act and dance breakdown.
That level of artistry is difficult to achieve when your image is ‘authenticity’ and your most potent act is to tear other people down.
So yeah, I’m still angry.
Jarvis was just part of the mob that took Michael at face value. Who didn’t see him as an entertainer, but a weirdo, a deranged fool. Who felt pride in puncturing pomposity, without acknowledging the joy they took in it too.
I still switch the radio off when his show comes on (a show called Sunday Service - OH, SPARE me the IRONY). And yeah - MAYBE I cover his book up when I see it in Waterstones. I'm sad I live in a world where there’s no Michael Jackson, and Jarvis Cocker does voiceovers for Sainsbury's.
And I’m not sorry.
** “straight face” - LOL