Jarvis Cocker speaks exclusively to Soho House about ‘Good Pop, Bad Pop’
The Pulp frontman has a memoir coming out, and he told us all about it at a special event in London’s White City
Sunday 28 August 2022 By Soho House Photography by Daniel Cohen
Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker recently released what he’s termed ‘not a life story, but a loft story’. His new book Good Pop, Bad Pop is based on a jumble of objects he found while clearing out his loft, and it’s an elegant reflection on his creative process – from writing and musicianship to ambition, style, and stagecraft. Here, the man who looks like something Wes Anderson cooked up in a fever dream speaks exclusively to Soho House about his story.
We’re going to be talking about your memoir, Good Pop, Bad Pop. And it’s not your conventional memoir, really. Tell us a bit about how you approached it.
‘Well, the clue is in the cover of the book. I have to mention the guy who designed the book – Julian House. He’s great. On the cover is the door of a loft of my house in east London. I lived in that house for a while, and then I moved away and left a lot of stuff stored in it. Over time, the things I left behind played on my mind. I thought to myself: What’s there? I knew there were things that were important for me to discover, but I kept putting it off. I did eventually revisit the loft to see what was in there. That’s what the book is about. It’s about me going into that space, and looking through it and seeing what I find.’
So why did you choose this angle for a memoir?
‘Well, I didn’t really feel like I had chosen it, it was almost like it chose me. When I decided to look through all the stuff, I wasn’t thinking that the act of doing so would be good to write about. At the time I was writing, as I’d already got a deal to write a book. In the first draft I submitted, I wrote a tiny bit about the loft and my publishers said it was the most interesting thing in the book. After I’d got over the shock of them telling me the rest of the book was sh*t, I realised it was true because it was something real, it wasn’t just me waffling on.’
What was the first object that really stood out to you in the book?
‘A piece of soap. It’s actually more the label of the bar, to be specific, PZ Cussons’ Imperial Leather. When I found it in the loft, I was mystified because I’d never washed myself there. But I then suddenly remembered why it was there. It’s a sad story, really. It’s all about the label, because sometime in the 1990s PZ Cussons Imperial Leather changed the design and that made me angry. So, I went out to a lot of the local shops and stockpiled as many of the bars with the old label. Eventually, I ran out and this was the very last bar of soap I had and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. So, although this is just a piece of rubbish and it should be in a bin, it tells you something about me that I don't like change. I hate change.’
What else do you mention in the book?
‘An old exercise book. In it, you can see an attempt of a logo for Pulp. I probably started writing in it from when I was 15 – it’s just full of ideas for the band that I was in. The idea for Pulp’s name came from an economics lesson on commodities and there was something called Arabica Pulp, which had something to do with coffee. But I felt that pulp was the interesting bit, because at the time it was used as a bit of a derogatory term for trashy culture. I thought it would be a good name, as I wanted to explore the things that sometimes got overlooked by the mainstream.
‘So, the book itself has some treasures in it. The very first thing you see is the pulp fashion guide. Then there’s the masterplan. A section of it reads, ‘Pulp’s first conquest should be of the music business. The group shall work its way to the public eye by producing fairly conventional, yet slightly offbeat pop songs. After gaining a well-known and commercially successful status, the group can then begin to subvert and restructure both the music business and music itself.’ To think I came up with that at 15, I find touching.’
Back to the objects – what else did you include?
‘An orange and white shirt with a label that says Gold Star and it’s made by Prouver, which the fashionistas among you will know was the home brand of British-owned stores. The reason why this has come of some significance to me is because it’s the first second-hand piece of clothing I ever bought. I started going to jumble sales and I’d come away with big bags full of clothes. I would tip them onto my bed and try them all on. So, second-hand clothing was a really cheap way of discovering my taste in clothes.’
The book’s called Good Pop, Bad Pop and you came to define pop in varying ways in it. How do you define it now?
‘Now, I think pop is thought of as just a style of music. But I think of it within a wider context. To me, pop allowed the general population to become involved in culture. For a long time, culture was hidden away in museums or in stately homes, and books would be expensive or difficult to access. And then the democratisation of culture takes place, Penguin Books start to publish paperbacks, and things become more accessible. So that to me is good pop, it’s something that people can take part in.’