Common People: A lyrical discussion/dissection

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Definitely - there's a big difference between songwriters who remember the class battles of the late 70s and early 80s and those born too late. When people talk about Turner and Skinner in relation to earlier socially observant songwriters they often gloss over that crucial divide. There's always turmoil and tension in the Smiths, the Specials, Pulp, etc, whereas the 00s variant is more like "Tsk, there's nowt so queer as folk."

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Saturday, 4 September 2010 12:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

Also I'm surprised Kate hates this song so much 'cos it's always kinda reminded me of La Dusseldorf

Tom A. (Tom B.) (Tom C.) (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 September 2010 12:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

They played a convincing krautrock version during the We Love Life tour.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Saturday, 4 September 2010 12:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

cut your hair and get a job.

crazy lower classes with their hair and their jobs

― ledge, Friday, September 3, 2010 3:59 PM (Yesterday) Bookmark

Also Sadie Frost already has quite short hair.

rhythm fixated member (chap), Saturday, 4 September 2010 12:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

Point of divergence here seems to be that Karen and Lex see nothing wrong in the Greek girl's condescending attitude and unthinking privilege. If you think she sounds lovely, then no wonder you don't appreciate the song's rage but I think you may be in the minority there.

Um, NO.

If you want to believe that's what we said, then that says more about your prejudices that you want to construct a straw man.

I never said she was "lovely". She sounds, to me, ignorant, naive, and clueless.

It is Jarvis's discomfort (and, clearly, yours) which reads that ignorance, naivete and cluelessness as being *automatically* condescending.

In fact, the way the lyrics read to me, it seems like she's someone who has just moved to England and discovered that such a thing as class and privilege even exist. It's not that she has "unthinking privilege" it's that she has only just discovered that it exists, and is trying to work out what it means. (The fact that she's even picked up some notion that "working class life" as opposed to her life, is somehow more "authentic" means that she has worked out that her privilege and wealth exist.)

It is Jarvis who comes in, with all of his class resentments and discomfort with his own class (as pretty much evidenced by his stereotypical and negative descriptions of working class life) who tells *us*, as narrator, that he thinks this girl is condescending or has *unthinking* privilege. She is, "smiling and holding his hand" really just kind of a cipher for him to project his anger onto.

I think Lex and I have made it pretty clear that we don't think either of them are particularly sympathetic. It's that Jarvis, as narrator, comes off the worse - probably because I think that choosing bullying is worse than being born clueless.

And also that a *lot* of people who love this song are identifying with Jarvis and his rage, when really, they are totally blinkered when it comes to their own privilege. It's much easier to point out splinters in other people's eyes than it is to recognise logs in your own. At least I am honest enough to *recognise* my privilege and admit that I can see where the girl is coming from. A lot of people love this song and identify with jarvis when really, they are as clueless as the girl.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:35 (4 years ago) Permalink

i like butts

funky brewster (San Te), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

fuck wrong thread

funky brewster (San Te), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

Ha ha ha! Hilarious.

But, erm, in the spirit of full disclosure, and kind of in keeping with your accidental interjection ...

I do not Jarvis Cocker, as a public figure. I disliked him even before this song - I always thought of him as this really quite horrible creepy sex pest. So it's going to be really hard for me to like a song which is a clumsy analysis of class dynamics as written from the point of view of a creepy sex pest.

I have never liked Pulp (even though I've had to listen to this album many, many times, due to knowing and dating quite a few Pulp fans) and the biggest reason for that is creepy sex pest Jarvis. The man just seriously skeeves me out and always has, and nothing he's ever done has ever counteracted that feeling.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:52 (4 years ago) Permalink

And also that a *lot* of people who love this song are identifying with Jarvis and his rage, when really, they are totally blinkered when it comes to their own privilege. It's much easier to point out splinters in other people's eyes than it is to recognise logs in your own. At least I am honest enough to *recognise* my privilege and admit that I can see where the girl is coming from. A lot of people love this song and identify with jarvis when really, they are as clueless as the girl.

― cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, September 4, 2010 9:35 PM (15 minutes ago) Bookmark

sure, but you don't have to identify with jarvis in order to be critical of the girl. a lot of the discussion itt has been centered on the fact that jarvis's class hangups are just as despicable and reprehensible as the girl's, and that's part of the songs fun. but that doesn't extend the girl a get out of jail free card.

shorn_blond.avi (dayo), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

i will say jarvis's michael jackson protest was pretty ironic

funky brewster (San Te), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

Well, it really kinda says something about just how creepy Jarvis is, that I actually sympathise with the girl more than him, then.

I guess the thing is, I've known quite a few people like the girl, and some of them did turn out to be alright in the end, that they were capable of growing and learning to not be completely clueless. The people I've known who were more like Jarvis ended up pretty much choking on their own bitterness. But this is really projection based on mine own life, not anything to do with Jarvis or the Greek girl.

(But, works of art can be successful or fail, based on how closely they reflect or describe experiences you've been through. Probably the same things that make others like the song make me hate it, because of this. I guess? Dunno.)

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:57 (4 years ago) Permalink

In fact, the way the lyrics read to me, it seems like she's someone who has just moved to England and discovered that such a thing as class and privilege even exist. It's not that she has "unthinking privilege" it's that she has only just discovered that it exists, and is trying to work out what it means. (The fact that she's even picked up some notion that "working class life" as opposed to her life, is somehow more "authentic" means that she has worked out that her privilege and wealth exist.)

I believe that jarvis' intent was to create a dislikeable slumming rich girl, not a innocent curious foreigner. you can argue that he failed at this attempt, but by defending this fictional character you are basically sticking up for his strawman.

iatee, Saturday, 4 September 2010 13:58 (4 years ago) Permalink

I mean what if he added a line "also she molests children" - now this is a clearly dislikeable person and rich people are now bad, right?

iatee, Saturday, 4 September 2010 14:00 (4 years ago) Permalink

im p sure they have poor people in greece

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 14:00 (4 years ago) Permalink

One point made over and again in this thread is the different ways of expressing/dealing with/discussing class systems in different countries. US, UK, and various Euro countries having notably different systems.

Also - I think that the art school bit of it is quite U&K to this, in that art school, in Britain, *is* where people from both ends of the spectrum encounter each other for the first time. I think it's actually pretty common for people to through their childhood and lower schooling without ever encountering someone from another class. In fact, *very* common in upper classes, and they go to great lengths to keep it that way. Not defending this in any way, it's to the detriment of all, I think. But yeah, I don't think it's that uncommon.

But I think the point is that lazy bad songwriter Jarvis knows that he can say "rich girl" and people will automatically supply "dislikeable" so he doesn't have to work very hard at characterisation. And he didn't. But the problem is, if you have someone who can hear the term "rich girl" without thinking "dislikeable" the song falls apart pretty quickly.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 14:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

But the problem is, if you have someone who can hear the term "rich girl" without thinking "dislikeable" the song falls apart pretty quickly. - Kate I was exactly like this girl for much of my adult life, and I love this song - I think it's spot on about what I was missing! I think there's a lot to what you said earlier about the gender aspect.

Gravel Puzzleworth, Saturday, 4 September 2010 14:20 (4 years ago) Permalink

> because I think that choosing bullying is worse than being born clueless.

How is he bullying? All he did with/to her was take her to a supermarket and let her buy him a drink.

(send me upthread if you already covered it...hard to scan it all!)

john. a resident of chicago., Saturday, 4 September 2010 14:58 (4 years ago) Permalink

How is he bullying?

it gets a bit weird when he starts saying all that stuff about the dog imo

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 15:09 (4 years ago) Permalink

yeah, the bit about the dog - the language of violence - i dunno, but i read that as "this is what happened to me" as opposed to "this is what they will do to you, attractive wealthy heiress" - and probably i get that impression based on gender.

it is a little off-kilter that he takes her to a supermarket as opposed to a bar or some sporting event where one would observe "common people" in their natural habitat - i mean, the supermarket, you'd probably find something more approximating a cross-section of classes

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

I think the assumption is that posh people probably shop at whole foods or waitroses or whatever the UK equivalent is. by supermarket I think he means your absolute bottom-of-the-line save-a-lot or whatever.

shorn_blond.avi (dayo), Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:24 (4 years ago) Permalink

so that implies to me - plus the art school detail - that he isn't really of the same class as the "common people" she wants to live like - and she's totally ignorant of the narcissism of small differences that define his world and alienation from the people who he shares an income level but not the same class position

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:25 (4 years ago) Permalink

Sometimes enlightenment comes from the most unlikely sources.

And it was actually something in the other thread produced the weirdest "kick in the eye" satori moment of understanding my own privilege and what it means.

Because too often privilege is this term of nastiness that gets thrown around, who has it, who doesn't have it, and if you do have it, you're supposed to feel some kind of guilt and if you don't, you're supposed to feel some kind of resentment. But there was this sudden reminder of "holy fucking shit, I have this... *thing*!"

And it isn't related to money (because I've had periods of relative wealth and poverty) and it isn't related to class (though I think being of a certain class means you're more likely to be exposed to this idea - but as likely to have it crushed out of you) and it's not related to urban/rural/access issues because I had it in spades in rural upstate NY but somehow forgot I had it in London.

It's this sense of *possibility*.

And that's something that doesn't just come from class or wealth (though they help) - it can come from a parent who takes the effort to instill it in you, it can come from a teacher who bothers to believe in you, it can come from a book, from a library, from a community/club (and this is probably why Tories are so keen on privatising libraries and getting rid of community centres), it *can* come from a church or a religion (though a lot of people misuse religion as a power-gaining tool to beat it out of others) - and my objection to this song is that Cocker conflates it solely with wealth/class when it *can* and does come from other places.

It's this idea that there *is* something more to your life than just drink and dance and screw (or just watch football or big brother or mindlessly indulge in consumer culture) - and it doesn't matter if that *something* is poetry or playing the ukulele or pigeon-breeding or local politics. It's the idea that even if you cannot control the strictures of the material aspects of your life, you *can* still control what you do with what is left. (In fact, one of the easiest ways to control other people is to narrow what little else they have until there is nothing left.) It's easier to do when you can control the material aspects of your life - but having control over them is, in fact, no guarantee that you even have this sense.

And people will use all sorts of things to narrow down that sense of possibility - they will try to blanket exclude you from it on account of race in the US and class in the UK, on account of your being female or homosexual *everywhere* (and many more things, all of these things combined in ugly ways.) And yet people can become as trapped by their own resentments as they can by other people trying to narrow them.

And that is perhaps my biggest problem with the narrator of this song is, he seems to be trapped by his own resentments (even as he *has* the possibility represented by art school and tertiary education) - *way* more so than he is trapped by some clueless girl who wants to sleep with him. And yet he takes it out in this ever more shrill and hysterical fashion *on* this girl.

But I don't really care about the song any more. I have suddenly just been given a glimpse of my own privilege at a time in my life when I was feeling really trapped. And this reminder, this sense of *possibility* is something I really wish I could just give to everyone. But I guess the important thing is to stop it being *taken away* from people.

You have completely accidentally given me something really quite profound and necessary, ILX, even if I've made a complete pigs ear of trying to express it. (And I'm sure I will be mocked relentlessly for saying something so sincere, but hey, mockery is a classic tool for trying to narrow others.)

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

i think you're right about the sense of possibility w/r/t the song - that's kinda what i see it being about. and i feel like the jarvis character somewhat envies the "common people" their lack of possibility (in his eyes) that they just "dance, and drink and screw" - all of which are enjoyable past-times, meanwhile he just seethes with resentment over his perceived (maybe real?) lack of possibilities - though it's obvious he's had more opportunities than the noble savages he's describing. And then there's the Greek girl, who really can do whatever she wants.

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

it is a little off-kilter that he takes her to a supermarket as opposed to a bar or some sporting event where one would observe "common people" in their natural habitat - i mean, the supermarket, you'd probably find something more approximating a cross-section of classes

― sarahel, Saturday, September 4, 2010 6:23 PM (4 minutes ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

I think the assumption is that posh people probably shop at whole foods or waitroses or whatever the UK equivalent is. by supermarket I think he means your absolute bottom-of-the-line save-a-lot or whatever.

― shorn_blond.avi (dayo), Saturday, September 4, 2010 6:24 PM (3 minutes ago) Bookmark

he says very clearly that he 'doesn't know' where to start, so starts at the supermarket.

i suppose in theory posh english people shop at waitrose or m&s, but i don't think all of them do, and either way, those are still basically supermarkets. and i think they were less in evidence in the mid-1990s. or sure, i guess there are other suppliers of food -- but no, i think rich people shop at sainsbury's too.

perhaps the very rich have people to do it for them. these days home delivery is not uncommon, but again, dunno about the olden days.

the supermarket in the video doesn't look particularly run down, or particularly upmarket either.

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

history mayne - are we in agreement that we think the jarvis character isn't actually of the class that the girl wants to experience? it seems like some other posters think that he is.

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

he probably meant kwik save

whoa...did I or didn't I? (cozen), Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

the jarvis character isn't actually of the class that the girl wants to experience?

he definitely isn't, but she thinks he is, coz she's foreign/rich

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

rich people eat out all the time and when they can't do that they just eat their servants amirite

shorn_blond.avi (dayo), Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

i think i posted way upthread about the difficulty of isolating this song from the rest of the album (probably because i'm American, and it wasn't a hit single here) - so i keep thinking about the song about Deborah and her rather small house with wood chip on the walls - and the way he describes it makes it seem like he grew up above her station. And she is an example of a "common person" that he romanticizes.

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 17:43 (4 years ago) Permalink

I find it difficult to view the whole album as one character. I've always thought of it as exploring different facets of class and sex, and as such each song stands alone though tied to certain themes that run through the whole album.

I think we're going around in circles. I really admired your post, Kate, and I would agree with a lot of what you're saying about the song itself, except I think that makes it a richer experience. Class conflict in whatever form is never straight forward, and I think this song recognizes that, even as it plays up the simplicity and rage on the surface. I guess it comes down to if you think he's actually advocating the bullying or not, or if there's any agency at all in a song full stop.

There's nothing wrong with any approach, of course.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

Isn't the narrator - like Jesus Christ himself - somewhere between 'respectable' working- and lower middle class? SReynolds' 'liminal class' whose status anxiety and fractious autodidacticism supposedly makes for good music.

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:28 (4 years ago) Permalink

working class and smart enough to go to art school doesn't mean you're not still working class.

totally agree with "liminal class" and also "educated poor"—jarvis has his foot in each of these worlds but doesn't really belong to either. too cultured to put up with being working class, even if that's where he comes from economically.

like a musical album. made by a band. (fucking in the streets), Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

Isn't the narrator - like Jesus Christ himself - somewhere between 'respectable' working- and lower middle class? SReynolds' 'liminal class' whose status anxiety and fractious autodidacticism supposedly makes for good music.

― nakhchivan, Saturday, September 4, 2010 11:28 AM (8 minutes ago) Bookmark

he does have the same initials

like a musical album. made by a band. (fucking in the streets), Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

I think that the narrator is of the "Academic/Bohemian" class (which was, in the Big Book Of Class that my brother made me read when he first discovered that there was such a thing as Class, which our parents had kept from us for many years, to the point where this book seemed more mind-blowing and revolutionary than discovering pornography) - which is this supposed non-class to which escapees from other classes can sidestep to. (Though the book pointed out that it is usually more often posh people escaping down to this class rather than the working class escaping up, though this can and does happen, just not with the same frequency.)

I suspect that the Greek girl, as well, would like to be side stepping into this same "Academic/Bohemian" class (they are both at art school after all) via this Authentic Working Class (tm) experience, but he won't let her leave her class any more than she will allow him to leave hers.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

In Paul Fussell's book on Class (written about America in the early 80s) he termed that "Class X" - i felt it was a bit of a cop-out based on the structure/ideas he layed out. Like, I feel that even if you belong to some separate Academic/Bohemian class, the attitudes, values, signifiers (even in reacting against them) still come along with you.

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

That's the book, I just found it on Amazon.

My brother read it like a bible then passed it me, with salient points underlined.

I mean, the book was written before the counterculture got commodified into Hipster so he does have some points about it being an attempted escape from the class system.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

There can't possibly be an account of class that considers ~Bohemianism~ as a determinant, it's just an affective disposition. Could apply to a lawyer who reads Huysmans and gets blowjobs from the au pair while his wife does khat nearby or a miner's daughter with an arts degree from an Ex-Polytechnic.

Nor does academia exclude material considerations - as with the clergy they have (or have had) very secure and comfortable working conditions, they've forgone lucrative salaries but their ~ cultural capital ~ insulates them other middling earners, eg they tend to segregate themselves in college towns.

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 18:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

(Reading the "exercises" in the back, I tell you, we racked our brains trying to remember the state of the conductor's clothes at the symphonies we'd been taken to as children, to work out what class we were.)

This book was talking about American class though, so these distinctions don't really apply. I don't know that the UK had a Class X in the way that the US tried to practice.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:00 (4 years ago) Permalink

Isn't the narrator - like Jesus Christ himself - somewhere between 'respectable' working- and lower middle class? SReynolds' 'liminal class' whose status anxiety and fractious autodidacticism supposedly makes for good music.

― nakhchivan, Saturday, September 4, 2010 7:28 PM (46 minutes ago) Bookmark

mad props for this

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:15 (4 years ago) Permalink

Do you agree with Reynolds?

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

don't answer mayne, it's a trap.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:18 (4 years ago) Permalink

Ha.

mc banhammer (Pashmina), Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:21 (4 years ago) Permalink

on the specific terrain of british song-based pop music of the post-war era... sure, up to a point. he's definitely on to something.

idk, though, the classic (stereotypical but basically true ime) thing about the lower middle class is fear of 'falling', hence excessive attention to status. so i dunno if we really need this 'liminal' thing. it's just that artists tend to be particularly sensitive people, and don't feel at home anywhere -- they're bound to feel liminal, whatever class they come from.

either way, there's lots of good music from the same time and place that is good and which was not produced by these liminal types.

xpost

lol

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

*sensitive [not necessarily wrt other people]

i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 19:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

My favourite version from my favourite Glastonbury of that decade:

piscesx, Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:01 (4 years ago) Permalink

idk, though, the classic (stereotypical but basically true ime) thing about the lower middle class is fear of 'falling', hence excessive attention to status. so i dunno if we really need this 'liminal' thing. it's just that artists tend to be particularly sensitive people, and don't feel at home anywhere -- they're bound to feel liminal, whatever class they come from.

either way, there's lots of good music from the same time and place that is good and which was not produced by these liminal types.

xpost

lol

― i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:23 (48 minutes ago)

That seems about right. It makes sense for the kinda postwar settlement period where people from that background began going to university. They would have seen a lot of the world in their formative years, and probably felt a lot of anxiety about their place in it.

Reynolds also seems to think that a lot of yr faceless techno ppl are from downscale suburban places in outer London and carry on the tradition into his 'Nuum'. No 'Strawberry Fields' from that lot though.

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

JC definitely doesn't *dislike* this girl in the song by the way. At one point in the 2005 BBC documentary all about Common People he/ the beeb went so far as to actually try tracking her down. He was shown a variety of photos back at St Martin's by one of his lecturers from the time he was there but said he couldn't quite place her face after all those years. That doc was great, it used to be on You Tube but isn't currently.

It's interesting how well Pulp got on with both Oasis and Blur in the britpop era. Noel was keen to big up Jarvis every chance he got, Pulp supported Oasis at their first big arena show (in Sheffield, 95), toured with Blur too etc. They were just about the only common ground between the 2 bands back then; they both loved Jarvis/Pulp!

Funny how"Rum n Coca Cola" never caught on again in the Britpop era like Supersonic's "Gin n Tonic" did.

piscesx, Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

What class do you reckon SReynolds comes from, in order to find that "liminal class" art so clearly and obviously the most superior?

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:43 (4 years ago) Permalink

It's interesting how well Pulp got on with both Oasis and Blur in the britpop era.

Hmmmm...

That's not what I heard, necessarily........

Mark G, Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:44 (4 years ago) Permalink

Ha I was thinking that xp. Probably middle class (as in B1 in yr consumer research schema iirc). Not liminal. Or subliminal. Possibly postliminal.

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:46 (4 years ago) Permalink


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