'The past can be useful too.' This was the (much-repeated) sentence, and probably the lesser nuanced of the bunch that singer and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker thought it useful to profess, multiple times, to an audience upwards of 2000 guests last Friday night at the Southbank Centre. Indeed, the past can be useful, but I'm sure the phrase is nothing I, nor the other attendees, wouldn't have pondered on before.
Jarvis Cocker is a weird one. Considered a household name by anyone who dares utter the words 'if you know, you know' (a hashtag used by Gen Z when referring to obscure insider jokes or knowledge online) whilst deemed a forgotten treasure by elder millennials and gauged as a total nutter if you're a boomer. Love or hate him, he's one of Brit Pop's few icons, yet few know his name in comparison to rivals Noel Gallagher or Damon Albarn. No matter how familiar, or unfamiliar, you may be with his work, his song Common People was the 'It' song of the 1990s, no ifs, no buts.
Invited to appear at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the cultural centre's Summer 2022 Literature Season, the evening, all in all, was actually a blast. That's once you got over the fact you were surrounded by crazed fans who were clearly crushing and blushing at Cocker's presence due to the belly rumble laughs. Held to coincide with the singer's new book Good Pop, Bad Pop - if you think it will detail the most successful years of his life (aka, Pulp), then you're wrong. The book itself is nothing to do with Pulp's eventual success and cuts itself short just before the 90s; however, if you're interested in the makings of Pulp or even young Cocker's ruminations on pop, then you're in luck.
Truth be told, as many have wittily observed before, Good Pop, Bad Pop isn't even about pop. It's about Cocker as a young boy and all the possessions he thought integral to keep forever at the tender age of 14 going on 15. Now he knows why. An inventory of sorts, containing everything from a literal, half-lacking manifesto drawing up the aesthetic attributes to which Pulp were to later abide by - nothing short of your classic car boot sale-thrifted outfit - to original sketches of the early band logo (Praying Mantis and all), the book isn't starved of objects or attic-kept trivia; it's brimming with them. It's worth mentioning said objects were also humbly brought along to the talk by Cocker. I say humble because Cocker, who I'm sure has a penny or two to spare (even if it's only from the endless self-promotion he's committed himself to recently), brought along all these mini-artefacts in none other than a plastic bin bag, and no, it wasn't lined with gold.
Dubbed 'sentimental' by The New Statesman - and even 'terrific' by The Guardian - it's undoubtedly true that the sort-of-memoir-sort-of-inventory reveals Cocker to be someone (through his own words) he's always shied away from being. Sure, the man was never a 'pop' rebel, rather the contrary, and yet he was still never perceived to be particularly sappy or nostalgic. Good Pop, Bad Pop offers a healthy dose of both, and so did the talk.
Whether you consider yourself the sentimental type or if you lean towards the more apathetic end of the ever-fluid spectrum of human emotion, I can't help but think that maybe Cocker's favourite quip of the night, 'The past can be useful too', actually turned out to be a rather useful one in the end. Thinking of throwing out that ageing Year 9 art sketchbook you have 0 use for, and your teacher told you was full of 'shit drawings'? Cocker is telling you not to. I know who I'd listen to.