This “terrific” memoir should have been titled A History of Jarvis in 100 Objects, Clearing out the attic of his London house, the former lead singer of Pulp trawls through a mass of ephemera, wondering what to keep and what to throw away. Every item tells a story, from a 20-year-old packet of Wrigley’s Extra gum to a fragment of Imperial Leather soap.
The book is part memoir – taking him back to his childhood, and his young adulthood on the dole, in Sheffield – and part treatise on pop. Good pop is anything, not necessarily music, that democratises culture, from “jumble sales to Penguin paperbacks”. Bad pop uses similar techniques, such as informality and catchy slogans, “to manipulate”. This isn’t the story of Cocker’s time at the top: it ends with him about to enrol as an art student at Central Saint Martins. It focuses on the development of his unique sensibility and his knack of finding “romance and poignance” in things that other people discard. Cocker has always been drawn to the margins, “the unfashionable, the neglected, the repurposed or obsolete”. This “charmingly dishevelled” memoir explains how he conceived the idea of Pulp at school, before ever writing a song: the attitude came first, the music afterwards.
He later experienced a Damascene moment after breaking several bones falling from a window while trying to impress a girl: during his long, boring recovery in a hospital ward surrounded by men injured in industrial accidents, he realised that instead of trying to be a lofty artist, he should just write about the world around him. A picture emerges of a young punk formed not by rage and alienation but by pop dreams and a love of jumble sales, With songs such as Common People, Cocker seemed the epitome of ironic detachment, always holding something back. But this touching memoir reveals someone far more enthusiastic: it lets “the warmth back in”. Cocker might just have invented a whole new style of celebrity memoir, The underlying idea, he says, is that what might seem a pile of rubbish is actually “a pretty accurate representation of the contents of my brain”. Written in a chatty style, his book flips backwards and forwards, with “genuinely profound” digressions on everything from science fiction to poster design. It’s accessible, pithy, lurid, entertaining and “laugh-out-loud funny”. Let’s hope there’s still enough left in his attic to inspire a second volume.