Common People: A lyrical discussion/dissection

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Cocker said "it seemed to be in the air, that kind of patronising social voyeurism... I felt that of Parklife, for example, or Natural Born Killers - there is that noble savage notion. But if you walk round a council estate, there's plenty of savagery and not much nobility going on."[3]

the song 'parklife' is baffling to me, i kind of have no idea what it's about, but the album isn't really about council estates and whatnot, is it? a lot of it is about suburban middle-class philistines; 'girls and boys' is about people who can afford to go on package holidays. jarvis's outlook is either more true to the north or more rooted in the 1970s. but he's wrong about blur, on the whole. (i do think blur did some really awful character songs, but none of them were 'noble-savage'. albarn, on some songs anyway, was shooting for a london's fields vibe: no nobility there.)

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:29 (4 years ago) Permalink

london's fields vibe:

what is this?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:31 (4 years ago) Permalink

very pre-millennial novel by martin amis from 1989

i used to f/w it, and amis writes like a motherfucker fuiud, though er, owyousay, feminists have 'raised objections' to it...

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

fit and working again, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

actual title 'london fields' which is now a very expensive place to live but wasn't then

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

yeah i mean blur dressed up in old pop styles (ie mod revival) and made it clear that that was what they were doing -- i don't think that's blur going for a noble savage thing

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

if you post on ilx are you automatically at least middle class

puff puff post (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:35 (4 years ago) Permalink

probably a minimum of lower middle

puff puff post (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

wondered abt that after a few months tbh

zvookster, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

from what i understand about that era and blur's aesthetic at the time (which was when i had my britpop fixation) - it doesn't seem at all about noble savagery - i mean, doesn't commodity fetishism and aspirations to a higher class (or at least its signifiers) play a major role in that sensibility?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

hm: You could be right ... just following up the Jarvis quote.

fit and working again, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

FWIW & thinking about it - I initially agreed that the Greek detail doesn't help the song but I think I disagree now!

I think it achieves some things that 'she came from Cheshire' wouldn't:

1) It makes her *even more blameless* - there is no sense, as there would be with an english girl, that this hopelessness is her family's fault in some small way
2) If you are European and at art school in another country and that country is England, you are read as a specific social class in this country and that class is upper middle class bohemianism - this runs true basically regardless of any other factors afaict.

Gravel Puzzleworth, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

blur and pulp are pretty similar in terms of backgrounds, i'd have thought, but blur are southern, pulp northern, and i can see why jarv would think what he thought.

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

i just forgot the line 'you wanna sleep with common people like me' -- BUT it's more complicated!

she brought up him being common -- she said she wanted to sleep with someone common, like him

so he then improvises to show what it's like to be common, but he doesn't entirely know himself ('i'll see what i can do')

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:44 (4 years ago) Permalink

the reason he's all bent out of shape is that she took him for common, when actually he's a beautiful snowflake of an individual, but she's so rich anyone with less money must be common; and he's northern to boot

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:45 (4 years ago) Permalink

ha yeah, that's an extra little wrinkle

feel free to answer my Korn Kuestion (HI DERE), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

though it isn't entirely clear whether he's also a student at the college - or just some guy she met at a club, or maybe he works there in a menial capacity?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

(trying to work out what Blur were actually hoping to convey seems massively difficult in this period because its SO INCOHERENT - seriously watch the video to Girls & Boys! Like, obviously it is vulgar people on holiday but seriously try and work out what Damon's actions are meant to communicate - it basically turns it into a video about 'D.Albarn is v. v. good-looking')

Gravel Puzzleworth, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

I took her to a supermarket,
I don't know why but I had to start it somewhere

see?

NAILED IT

i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

it's kinda a dual perspective on the act of slumming?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:49 (4 years ago) Permalink

I don't think I'd ever heard of this song until today, but better late than never.

Donovan Dagnabbit (WmC), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

i think it's hard for me to not see this song in the context of the album.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

Oh god, let's not even "go there" on Blur who are, I think, an even more misunderstood and misinterpreted band than Pulp.

But I might be saying that because I actually *liked* Blur back in the day (granted, this was because they appealed to me, as an ex pat, looking at Blur and thinking "a ha, middle class art school Southerners, this is what *I* would have been had we stayed, aw....") - I think my reading of Blur these days is that they were more problematic than I was aware of at the time.

And yeah, the Greek detail on Common People *is* just weird. Because at the beginning of the song, it's very clear he's talking about a very specific incident with a very specific girl - but as his hysteria rises in the song he gets further away from the specific and more into this just kind of weird and disproportionate RAGE which has nothing to do with this poor girl who has said something a bit silly, but honestly, he's not talking about this unfortunate Greek lass any more, he's just venting his entire life's worth of hatred at someone who really didn't deserve all that bile, but just happened to be there. Which makes me like Cocker even less.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

she brought up him being common -- she said she wanted to sleep with someone common, like him

so he then improvises to show what it's like to be common, but he doesn't entirely know himself ('i'll see what i can do')

― i am legernd (history mayne), Friday, September 3, 2010

!

zvookster, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:58 (4 years ago) Permalink

makes me like him more tbh. xpost

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 18:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

i dunno - i feel like the song operates on multiple levels - like he's projecting his own slumming/misfit-ism onto her, but he's mainly talking about himself

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 18:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

I think also a lot of my discomfort hinges on the triple meaning of the word "common" - that I grew up in a family where still, into my childhood, my mother (learning from my grannies) would use the word "common" to mean bad, coarse, vulgar, degraded (as in "you mustn't get your ears pierced, pierced ears are sooo common, darling") - which is a hideously classist usage of the term, but an association that still sticks in my head when I hear this song. Like, I think Cocker is almost deliberately alluding to *that* use of the term when he uses "Common people" as well as the class usage and the common vs. uncommon (ordinary vs weird) use. Which makes it more weird for me.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:01 (4 years ago) Permalink

Directing all this bile at this non-comprehending Greek student just makes him seem like a bully, TBH.

(And you can say all "yeah, but he was bullied himself!" but it doesn't make me like him, or the song, more.)

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

I never thought of the 'ordinary vs weird' usage of common in this song. it's always been a classist term, dripping with the same disdain of 'the great unwashed'. xpost

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

of course he's alluding to the usage of common = coarse, vulgar !!!

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

at the beginning of the song, it's very clear he's talking about a very specific incident with a very specific girl - but as his hysteria rises in the song he gets further away from the specific and more into this just kind of weird and disproportionate RAGE which has nothing to do with this poor girl who has said something a bit silly, but honestly, he's not talking about this unfortunate Greek lass any more, he's just venting his entire life's worth of hatred at someone who really didn't deserve all that bile, but just happened to be there. Which makes me like Cocker even less.

― cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, September 3, 2010 11:56 AM (1 minute ago) Bookmark

i think that this is a big part of what's artistically interesting about the song. what i posted in some other thread:

i think it's not so much the suggestion that the rage & sneering are unearned, but that they're sort of misdirected at this basically harmless/guileless rich girl, simply for being who she is. agree that the song builds to this ecstasy of self-righteous fury and that it effectively invites us to share & revel in that. also that in its terrible intensity it begins to subvert itself, making us think about the anger's underlying sources and why it's choosing this particular target for its expression. how much of that is intentional and what level of authorial distance is intended are left completely unclear, which adds to the song's power, imo.

― having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, September 3, 2010 3:13 AM (8 hours ago) Bookmark

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:05 (4 years ago) Permalink

Like, I think Cocker is almost deliberately alluding to *that* use of the term when he uses "Common people" as well as the class usage and the common vs. uncommon (ordinary vs weird) use. Which makes it more weird for me.

― cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, September 3, 2010 12:01 PM (3 minutes ago) Bookmark

he's obviously & intentionally using the word this way, for effect.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:06 (4 years ago) Permalink

See, I zeroed right in on the conformist aspects of the word common as in the "ordinary vs weird" meaning, hence my "even during the times that I have been seriously fucking poor, I will *NEVER* live like common people" which is kind of a rejection of that assumption in his lyrics that you *have* to be limited because you are common.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:07 (4 years ago) Permalink

for all the talk itt about "cultural signifiers" rather than just raw MONEY being the real class arbiters, well, i dunno

But still you'll never get it right,
cos when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your Dad he could stop it all.

You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do.

these lines are about the money! i think the song is, in a way, trying to bash its way through all the cultural stuff (about which miss greek feels like being touristy) to get at the real thing. "common people" live their lives with not much material resources to throw at their problems, or their dreams, whatever they are. and more importantly, they live in the knowledge that more money is never going to come, there's "nothing else to do", very tight material circumstances will always obtain. there is no "making it" iow.

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:08 (4 years ago) Permalink

now who doesn't understand British class. xpost

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:09 (4 years ago) Permalink

having been a harmless/guileless posh (but not necessarily rich) girl at whom this kind of bile has been directed, I don't find it particularly interesting. I just find it bullying. But, as always, not looking for sympathy, just stating why I dislike the song. YMMV.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:09 (4 years ago) Permalink

But still you'll never get it right,
cos when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your Dad he could stop it all.

Conflation of middle/upper class with money.

you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do.

Conflation of working class "common" with "common" meaning smallness and ordinariness.

I don't think this song is working its way past class stereotypes, it's just reinforcing them in the most negative ways possible. And I'm as disinterested in that as I am in being someone's scratching post for their class issues. DO NOT WANT.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:14 (4 years ago) Permalink

girl in this song would do very well in Hollywood

btw, song ruined forever in America by Shatner

kind of shrill and very self-righteous (Dr Morbius), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:14 (4 years ago) Permalink

I think the reinforcing them in a negative way aspect is a good thing.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

it's not 'conflation', upper and middle class people have more money

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

it's not 'conflation', upper and middle class people have more money

Not NECESSARILY, according to this weird, medieval definition of "class" that UK people have.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:19 (4 years ago) Permalink

how do they get the money, though?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:19 (4 years ago) Permalink

Mr Darcy iirc

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:20 (4 years ago) Permalink

I think the reinforcing them in a negative way aspect is a good thing.

Wait, waht, you WANT to reinforce the idea that working class people are by definition coarse and vulgar and incapable of doing anything more enlightening than drinking and dancing and screwing? Really?

Wow, and I thought I was Victorian. o_0

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:21 (4 years ago) Permalink

girl: "i want to try living this way"
dude: "uh ok but most people who live this way don't really have a choice, and it's pretty terrible. a lot of them don't even realize they're stuck. ps if you want to screw i'll go along with it for a while"

that's the story anyway, if we believe rich greek college girls who are hot to bone jarvis cocker exist

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

Wait, waht, you WANT to reinforce the idea that working class people are by definition coarse and vulgar and incapable of doing anything more enlightening than drinking and dancing and screwing? Really?

Wow, and I thought I was Victorian. o_0

The fact that character does makes it interesting. It reflects a complicated relationship with his class background. That enriches the song.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:28 (4 years ago) Permalink

i like to think that he's the janitor for the sculpture studio - or maybe an artist model? Like I know a lot of people that do that for a living.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:30 (4 years ago) Permalink

Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here

^^^^ worst line

buzza, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:32 (4 years ago) Permalink

Sarahel, this is my stock "North American and British person have really conflicting ideas of what 'middle class' means story:

My Canadian bass player and I go to visit our English keyboard player in her Essex home.

Canadian: "Hey, you guys are pretty middle class"
English: "OH MY GOD HOW CAN YOU INSULT ME LIKE THAT?!?!?"

What the Canadian meant was, Hey, your parents own your own house. Your dad works a white collar job in an office. You are currently attending University. Your parents are both fully funding your studies, and giving you enough money on the side for you to engage in nice leisure activities like being in a band. (Also, we have noticed that your parents bought your musical instrument, while we paid for ours from our dayjobs.)

What the English person meant was, Hey, I'm from a working class part of Essex. Even though my parents bought their home under Thatcher, I live in a working class neighbourhood. My dad works in an office, but my grandfather worked on the factory floor. I identify as working class, on account of my background, no matter how much cashflow my parents currently have.

Class in the UK is about identity, not so much money. Seriously.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

plenty of UK ppl wld call that middle-class

zvookster, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:36 (4 years ago) Permalink


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