Common People: A lyrical discussion/dissection

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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

she's right about a certain section though. i made the point earlier, of course. ahem.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

She and her family all identified as working class. And I think the working class community in which they were embedded also identified them as working class.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

oh, there's definitely a category of middle class people in the US according to lifestyle/income/cultural signifiers that feel insulted when called middle class, even if/when their parents were middle class, but a generation back they were working class. Like middle class is a pejorative term, like hipster.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

all that business is why it's such an interesting song btw

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

otm

Donovan Dagnabbit (WmC), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

a question for Britishers - is it normal for middle class people from the provinces who aspire to hip urbanity to take working class jobs in order to live somewhere like London? Like art school janitor, or record store clerk, or bartender?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:41 (4 years ago) Permalink

yes, but that doesn't make them working class.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

shit, i was a kitchen porter last year. i wouldn't consider myself working class though.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

no, exactly - that's how it is here, too, though some of them will refer to themselves as working class, when in fact, their parents have houses with paid off mortgages and paid for them to go to college, etc.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:43 (4 years ago) Permalink

Class is (vast generalisation) simply more persistent in the UK and more mobile in the US, that, like, you can change class in the US within a generation.

And it cuts both ways, in that it's weird how you can persist in being "posh" in the UK even as you're penniless, on account of things like who your grandparents were and what education you had. Being posh is no actual guarantee that your "dad can stop it all" (though maybe he can just about send you a cheque for $200 if you threaten to sell your ovaries, but it means he's got to keep the garage door closed for the next few months so his car doesn't get repossessed)

But blah blah speaking of reinforcing stereotypes blah blah blah etc.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:44 (4 years ago) Permalink

class in America tends to be more fluid. it's less of an identity thing. America likes to think of itself as a classless society a lot of the time.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:45 (4 years ago) Permalink

So what was the deal with the other Pulp song, Mis-Shapes?

olivia tribble control (kkvgz), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

Maybe this song is just a giant lens through which we can project our own insecurities about class.

So yeah, it is effective on that level. Still doesn't mean I like it, mind you.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

America likes to think of itself as a classless society a lot of the time.

HAH!

(sorry, did I say that aloud? issues...)

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

i think Americans just aren't as comfortable/used to discussing class - it's easier to talk about money - there is definitely more mobility in a lot of spheres, but there is also a lot of denial and delusionality about it

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

class in the UK is a holdover of a bygone era these days. plumbers can make twice as much as a university lecturer, but the former would still say they're working class and the latter would say they were middle class (or even upper, if they're from the right breeding). and the derision against other classes works all ways.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

HAH!

(sorry, did I say that aloud? issues...)

it's true!

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:49 (4 years ago) Permalink

America likes to PRETEND that it doesn't have class.

My parents were stupid enough to actually buy the myth that America was a "classless society" when we emigrated there, and my god, was that a rude awakening.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

hence the "likes to think of itself"

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

i don't think the political affiliations / subtle gradations of "working class" and "middle class" are really present in the song at all. those distinctions are elided by both the girl and cocker into "common people", who exist far below the strata of person the greek girl is anyway.

the whole point of the song is that resources and possibilities determine attitudes and culture ("you'll never get it right")

the girl wants to live a funny little common person life, because it sounds charming. and he's railing at her that a) it only sounds charming because she can check out and go back to rich-land whenever she wants, and more importantly b) the very components of life she wants to play around with -- dancind-drinking-screwing, chip shops -- are borne out of a type of life with no escape

xps in the US, that, like, you can change class in the US within a generation.

^^ fwiw in real money terms this is totally wrong, class mobility in the US is shockingly constrained, compared to the rest of the oecd. but this is another whole set of myths...

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

i just remember in junior year of high school, discussing The Great Gatsby. Our english teacher was from Connecticut - her father was a professor at Amherst - and she was trying to get the class to see the class difference between the Buchanans and Gatsby - and my classmates just could not grasp that they weren't of the same class because the characters all were rich.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

lol your classmates sounded like the were on to something, rather than missing the point, to me

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:52 (4 years ago) Permalink

I'd agree with all of that, but the guy's view on/representation of the 'common people' adds another level.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

xpost to goole

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

old money vs new money in the US. a distinction that only really matters to the old money tbh.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Friday, 3 September 2010 19:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

lol your classmates sounded like the were on to something, rather than missing the point, to me

― goole, Friday, September 3, 2010 3:52 PM (44 seconds ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

otm this is my pet peeve about discussions of class

horseshoe, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

(in America; i guess i don't really get England)

horseshoe, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

uh, actually no - it really doesn't work that way with certain strata of American society - they'll be polite and attempt to stifle condescencion (or not) - but it'll be obvious whose in the metaphorical old boys club and who isn't.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

there isn't any old money anymore

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

uh, yeah there is.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 19:56 (4 years ago) Permalink


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