Common People: A lyrical discussion/dissection

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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

is he saying it created superior music? i always thought the argument was that, during certain socio-economic situations, that liminal class created a wide variety of interesting or pioneering music.

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Saturday, 4 September 2010 20:58 (4 years ago) Permalink

That's more or less the same thing in this case isn't it?

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 21:57 (4 years ago) Permalink

doesn't necessarily make it better than everything else does it?

a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:05 (4 years ago) Permalink

LOL at 'postliminal' - Simon's class background is complicated, but I'd be speaking out of turn if I discussed it in detail.

Having been a scholarship kid at a posh art college in the '80s, I can identify with Jarvis (and his narrator in the song). If he were American, Jarvis would probably have qualified for all the help I got. You do feel, occasionally and quite rationally, that you're just 'material' for some privileged person's four-year dérive, that it is easy to romanticize poverty when your experience of it is second-hand at best, particularly if you are so rich that your laundry is always done by a service, your food shopping is always done by your parents' housekeeper, and that no disparaging comment you could make about this situation could be too mean, or considered bullying, because a look at the bigger picture demands an examination of the power balance as it really is. I also know that the middle-class person indulging in karaoke poshness also exists, like Lex and Kate say, but I am wary of privileged people whining about class war because it's only called that when poorer people complain about the rich - otherwise, like Warren Buffet says, it's business as usual.

From my own observation, I've noticed it's much easier for an ambitious working-class man with 'sophisticated' taste who has made it to art college or Oxbridge to assimilate than it would be for a woman, who can be sidelined by petty snobbery from posh girls who have no problem with people they fancy, but make no pretense at egalitarianism when dealing with other women. I also know that I have never been chastised for under-appreciating my privilege by someone less privileged than me.

maintenant avec plus de fromage (suzy), Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:06 (4 years ago) Permalink

you went to Sarah Lawrence, suzy, is that right?

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:12 (4 years ago) Permalink

doesn't necessarily make it better than everything else does it?

― a cankle of rads (Gukbe), Saturday, 4 September 2010 23:05 (5 minutes ago)

No but these liminal fucks get a sampler and a cheap syth and ~think~ they're better. Airs and graces like they own the fucking shop.

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:15 (4 years ago) Permalink

*synth*

nakhchivan, Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:15 (4 years ago) Permalink

scythe

Mark G, Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:17 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yes, sarahel - on a full scholarship. My mom thought it was hilarious to point out to people that me and my friend C, who grew up skint on a reservation near Hibbing because her mother married a Native American, were the poorest kids in the college (not true, BTW). I mean, I know there's a big difference between me and someone who grew up in a housing project, but my single-parent mom with no college degree was not pinching pennies because she thought it was something fun to do.

maintenant avec plus de fromage (suzy), Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:31 (4 years ago) Permalink

JC's order for "rum n coca cola" alludes to calypso tune also about tourism, imperialism, etc:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rum_and_Coca-Cola

David Allah Coal (sexyDancer), Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

xp - yeah, Sarah Lawrence had a serious rich kid snob factor reputation from what i remember - i had this sense that it was kinda like the characters in that movie Metropolitan, which i found fascinating, but didn't want to live in that world

sarahel, Saturday, 4 September 2010 22:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

What really bothered me is how class was reinforced there, and how those reinforcements were communicated. My experience in high school was pretty egalitarian, in that class was not a determinant in my friendship choices in the same way that shared interests and aesthetic appreciation and of my friends in school who were rich, their parents tended towards making them get jobs to learn the value of money and against things like country clubs. We did have snotty rich kids, but in school and in the Midwest generally, grades and thrift shopping can successfully compete with that, along with the consolation that you're dealing with big fish/small pond types and the situation isn't necessarily 'forever'. But at a place like Sarah Lawrence, the names sound familiar for a reason, because you're surrounded by people with real connections to history, culture, media and celebrity - the initial feeling is OHHHHH SHIIIIIT because, of course, it must never be discussed and it's all anyone can gossip about.

Things that gave me pause were the questions that people from a more stratified background than mine don't even have to ask, such as 'why can't we invite the cleaner to our hall party?' (the answer, 'insurance', was only half the answer IMO) and a sense that it was easier for kids from the projects, or kids of colour, to connect with the trust-funders because the trust-funders could earn congratulations (self-generated or otherwise) for that friendship, whereas the working-to-lower-middles (straight white kids from public schools with regional accents) were kind of seen as unsophisticated and not worth knowing (sometimes by me, but someone with a frizz perm and Van Halen records from my own socioeconomic background - whose family probably had more money than mine - was not my kind of people before I got there).

maintenant avec plus de fromage (suzy), Saturday, 4 September 2010 23:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

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.

I've read this whole thread and just wanted to go back to this because for me this song has never really been about the girl at all, it definitely reads like the narrator-as-Jarvis projecting/laying out his own confused feelings about weatlh/privilege/identity (not so much class I don't think) - the greek girl exists in the song as a sort of jump-off point for an extended rant. I mean you never get any sense of where the encounter goes or where the girl's attitude leads - ok it *starts* in the supermarket but what then? It always struck me as odd that it starts off as a story-type song then goes off on this tangent. This could well be intentional on Jarvis' part, the first verse could be a red herring - in which case it's quite a clever way to go about it; however if he actually was hoping to merely put forward a convincing case for 'Rich people slumming it are bad' then I think the song fails.

Gavin in Leeds, Sunday, 5 September 2010 08:35 (4 years ago) Permalink

I agree with this - the primary conflict in the song is the kind of love-hate civil class war among the two visions of the working class, into the middle of which steps the clueless rich girl who doesn't even see that there's a difference. Nothing more annoying than someone ignorant telling you what you're like, and not only getting it wrong but telling you you're the same as your bitterest enemy. One can imagine how irritating locals must find it when everyone's got a glib view on Israel or Northern Ireland or wherever.

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 5 September 2010 08:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

Nothing more annoying than someone ignorant telling you what you're like, and not only getting it wrong but telling you you're the same as your bitterest enemy.

Ha ha, trust me, I know what this is like - it's happened quite a few times directed at me on this thread and the other one.

And yeah, it is just a weird song, the way it starts as a story and ends as a rant and I don't know that those two halves hang together particularly well.

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Sunday, 5 September 2010 08:58 (4 years ago) Permalink

this is probably here nor there at this point, but the british class system isn't some impenetrable mystery that the r.o.w. will never understand. it's not really that complicated.

goole, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

Never underestimate the American ability to completely fail to understand other countries' cultures.

(You could really substitute most any country for "American" there, but given the low possession of passports by the citizens there, and the high American presence on this board, it seemed the most fitting example.)

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:32 (4 years ago) Permalink

hey if a rich greek girl can learn and grow, someone not from the UK can figure out how status works there.

goole, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

im p sure they have poor people in greece

― i am legernd (history mayne), Saturday, September 4, 2010 9:00 AM (Yesterday) Bookmark

^^ good one

goole, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

i should probably note that my experience of this song at the time was as one of the most popular songs among boys in my school (and totally lumped in with oasis, blur, all the rest). yup, public schoolboys singing along to these lyrics as if it was their anthem. sooooo wrong. and that's partly why i find this song's ~outcast anthem~ status so laughable, because IRL it didn't work like that at all - this, and britpop generally, was the dominant aesthetic at my school, what you were expected to be into, and you were considered a weirdo if you deviated from it.

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

'Rum and coca cola' is a nice touch, I hadn't heard of that before

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

can't imagine being shunned at school for what music you did or didn't like. thought that kind of thing only happened in john hughes movies.

ledge, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

And Jarvis is probably clever enough to know exactly what he was referring to. xpost

Public schoolboys singing along to Common People is just like Republicans' relationship with Born In The USA, but I can totally understand not liking something because it has stupid fans - and I can well imagine Lex's fellow students not being into Li'l Kim, etc.

maintenant avec plus de fromage (suzy), Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

of course i didn't get shunned, it wasn't even that horrible - just things like other dudes acting like listening to tlc/erykah badu/tori amos/suzanne vega = "terrible taste", or battles over the common room stereo. i can't imagine anyone doesn't know about how teenagers pressure each other to conform aesthetically!

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:57 (4 years ago) Permalink

i can't imagine anyone doesn't know about how teenagers pressure each other to conform aesthetically!

Yeah, this is, actually, to me is way more o_0 what universe do you come from than, say, not knowing who John Wayne or Pavement are. ;-)

cymose corymb (Karen D. Tregaskin), Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

i mean isn't that the premise on which cocker casts himself as an outsider? the weirdo who dresses differently, likes reading, likes different music, to everyone else around him? it was a bit like that, except it was his music that everyone else around me liked. (i didn't dress particularly differently to everyone else, though.)

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:00 (4 years ago) Permalink

and 'Rum and Coca Cola' was appropriated by its targets as well

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:00 (4 years ago) Permalink

Much touched upon upthread, but I think Cocker's own class discomfort is crucial to the song. In a retrospective for the 25th anniversary of the miners' strike a little while back, he was one of the talking heads, and he explained that he absolutely didn't support the miners at the time. After all, they were the people who out in Sheffield on a Saturday night would rain misery down on people like him, for not being proper working class lads with the appropriate interests in beer and pool and screwing. Common People is like the response of someone from an ugly town - you know it's awful, but it really pisses you off when someone from somewhere nice stats going on about how awful it was when they visited for a day.

ithappens, Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:01 (4 years ago) Permalink


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