Jarvis Cocker returns to New York in familiar form tonight; in anticipation, a catalogue of his inter-Pulp larks
In honor of the reunion tour of Jarvis Cocker’s band Pulp (perhaps best remembered for their hit “Common People,” released during their heyday as part of the Holy Trinity of Britpop acts, along with Oasis and Blur) and on the occasion of their first show in the United States since that reunion (tonight and tomorrow night at Radio City Music Hall), here's a catalog of what Cocker has been up to since the dissolution of Pulp following their last record, 2001’s, We Love Life.
His low, velvety, Yorkshire-accented voice has since 2010 been deployed in the service of a weekly music and talk show, “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service,” on the BBC. Apart from being a great excuse to hear Cocker talk for two hours, it turns out he’s a great interviewer: “There’s a little keyboardy bit in the middle of this song that always cracks me up,” he said on the April 1 episode regarding a Jermaine Jackson song. “See if it tickles your fancy. See if it tickles your fancy, baby, mmmmm.”
Another, harder-to-find bit of audio ephemera for Cocker fans is his 2007 reading of the ghost story “The Rats,” by M.R. James for Drowned in Sound Radio’s Halloween collection.
“This first story comes from a book called A Century of Thrillers,” he says in the introduction, “which is a book that was in my grandparents’ house growing up. I remember reading this book and scaring myself silly.” It’s a slow and extremely English ghost story, about a young academic who travels out to a country inn and, well, gets spooked.
No longer online, sadly is the BBC program “In Search of the Holy Whale,” in which Cocker, Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley, and journalist Marc Riley recorded their sailing voyage along the Irish coast in search of whales while “contemplating life, the universe, and the finer points of sea travel.”
In 2009, Cocker embarked on a more ambitious project. He set up a pair of five-day art-gallery residencies (in May at Paris’ Galerie Chappe, then in October at London’s Village Underground), and invited the general public to come by and play music with him, provided they brought their own instruments. The whole thing was broadcast online, live, around the clock. It was an intimate look at Cocker—jabbering with friends, directing strangers, scratching his nose—that was both fascinating and slightly off-putting.
Perhaps the greatest moment (or certainly the one seen by the most people) was Cocker's star-turn in the blockbuster Harry Potter series, leading the band at Hogwarts’ version of the prom in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, jumping around the stage alongside a few members of Pulp and Radiohead under the name The Weird Sisters, as Hermonie Granger tried to avoid kissing Viktor Krum. He (or his voice, at least) also popped up in Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, singing a folk-style ode to the wily titular chicken-thief.
There was this performance of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” a duet with The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, which became something of an Internet sensation after being recorded at last year’s Reading Festival. There was his aggressive electronic band in the vein of Suicide or Throbbing Gristle, Relaxed Muscle (formed in 2002 with Richard Hawley and Jason Buckle), which played several slightly secret shows backing the Mark Morrison dance troupe at the Whitney for a Biennial performance this past weekend, announced to the music press but not listed anywhere on the Whitney’s website. And, of course, there was the time he auctioned off a pair of blue American Apparel-style jockey shorts (for charity, of course), with “Y B Blue?” scrawled across the waistband.
It’s comforting to have a public figure like Cocker, whose musical persona—bored and restless, but hopeful for the future—seems of a piece with his life philosophy. His interests are vast, and he seems willing to give anything a go. This doesn’t just lead to an engaging and diverse body of work—it means we don't need to worry he'll retire anytime soon.