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Hunting Jarvis Cocker: Rock Shall Make You Free

Hunting Jarvis Cocker: Rock Shall Make You Free

How can you get the attention of a super star? I asked myself this question before I tried my best to deliver a manuscript to Jarvis Cocker. Here’s the story.


Read in Spanish

“Writing is a socially accepted form of schizophrenia.”

– E.L. Doctorow

I have been writing for several years in reputable media. I have never considered myself a journalist but a writer – something I always made clear, when presented as such, out of respect for my journalist friends. Recently, something happened that made me doubt this orthodoxy.

In a public relations meeting over a couple of whiskeys, I asked Arturo Flores, editor of Playboy magazine, what it took to be called a journalist. He answered: “To do it. At least the best journalists I know did not study a career called journalism. It is like being a writer: the one who writes is a writer.”

That being so, I have worked as a journalist for several years, but I had never vested as one until now. I decided to put my press badge on my lapel, and with my notebook in hand, I set out to cover the Hay Festival in Querétaro with a journalist attitude. I did so but with a focus that was more of a bias: Jarvis Cocker and his new book, Good Pop, Bad Pop.

The “bias” was more than legitimate interest in the culture promoted by the festival… it was even more than legitimate interest in the new book. I had secret motives that were not journalistic at all.

Jarvis Cocker performs as part of the Hay Festival, a series of literary and arts events. This festival first began in Hay-on-Wye in Wales and is an annual meeting featuring writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other personalities of international stature. It is held in different places worldwide; this time, it was in Mexico.

Here, I must stop, as I do not feel at ease without telling the whole truth.

We bought the book at a high price on Amazon – in English because it was the only one published. It was only a few days before the festival, and I had no tickets for the event; they had been sold out several months in advance. Not being able to acquire them the usual way, I moved my English levers, which failed – nobody had tickets, and if they did, they did not want to share them with me. So, I contacted the PR person in charge of the event, and she kindly gave me press access. The main idea was to write this very article, so it would have to go like this:

Jarvis Cocker presented his book, Good Pop, Bad Pop, by entering the theater stage like a real rock star amid applause and screams in the crowded venue. Jarvis Cocker is famous for being the frontman and vocalist of the band Pulp, considered one of the four great Britpop groups along with Oasis, Blur, and Suede.

The book is an inventory of seemingly random objects stored in a small attic attached to a wall. That inventory is the source of Jarvis’s inspiration to write a book for the first time. They are clues to his creative life…

libro-Llantada

Sorry, I must stop again. It’s time to be completely honest and come clean: the bias I’ve been talking about is that I wrote a short self-help novel, co-authored with my companion – the one in charge of photographically documenting the coverage. It’s an audiobook that Audible is about to release in a few months. The work does not yet have a final title, but the one that so far remains is: Rock Shall Make You Free: You can be a hero for more than one day.

One of the main characters is Jarvis, a lanky English guy who wears a black coat and horn-rimmed glasses and has a flamboyant but wise attitude. The protagonist is Eva, a young woman going through existential problems. Jarvis, her mysterious mentor, asks her on more than one occasion: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” while guiding her in a somewhat punk rock philosophy of life.

It occurred to us three days before the event that we wanted to give Jarvis this manuscript. We thought we could “pitch” him something so that he could work with us somehow. Years ago, Jarvis was our source of inspiration as we sketched out a plan for the audiobook over drinks and Pulp music. We had to give it a try.

The second problem, after we could attend, was that the short self-help novel was written in Spanish, and we had to translate it quickly. I tried to print it one night before the event, but we ran out of ink. We went to OfficeMax and stood in line for an hour to get it printed and bound. At every moment, there was something of that American drama that Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul portrays so well: that decadence of cold lights, seniors making slow decisions, and a couple of neurotics in baggy clothes (us) building castles in the air.

We finally made our way to Querétaro. We arrived at the event, a bit battered after a series of untold Mr. Bean-style peripeteias, startled to see a line of fans stretching for more than a block outside the venue. Using a little persuasion, we were able to get into the lobby early – but karma caught up with us. Inside, everything was chaos.

The staff looked like Minions bumping into each other. So, we made our way to the ‘boss’ – a guy I can’t describe visually due to his mouth cover, but he gave off a strong aroma of Roquefort. He shoved us enough not to ask any more about the time of entry, pointing to a remote spot at the edge of the stairs. It was nothing personal; I noticed that all my fellow journalists were treated equally badly.

Evento-Hay-Festival-Queretaro

We realized that we had decided to be at the event, but we had no idea how we would deliver the manuscript to him. The security system was impressive – a body made up of mostly female personnel who gave orders to the attendees in a forceful manner, commanded by a woman with tattoos, piercings, and a leather vest reminiscent of the Hells Angels (bikers who guarded the Rolling Stones at the infamous Altamont concert). We saw the ambassador enter with special access and was greeted with pomp and pageantry.

I noticed that he seemed to float, puffed up in importance; he would later bump into my companion, looking at her with unapologetic disdain and floating on by. When would it be our turn, and how would we get close to Jarvis? It seemed impossible. We hugged our manuscript (each of us brought a copy) and sat cornered at the edge of the staircase the Hispanic chief had pointed out.

Suddenly, a very tall, slim young man wearing glasses and musician’s clothes passed in front of us. He was accompanied by female security personnel. I said to my accomplice: “Look… it’s probably Jarvis’s son. Shall I go?” A bit shocked, she said no. The young man entered the bathroom alone. We saw this as an opportunity and nodded; and it was as if he had indicated to me: “attack.”

I went into the bathroom; the Hells Angels waiting for him at the door did not stop me. While I pretended to wash my hands (without water), I saw through the mirror that he was at the urinals. I felt bad, like I was a stalker. It was a very uncomfortable moment, but what choice did I have?

I waited for him to finish, looking at him in the mirror and casually asking, “You’re Jarvis’s son, aren’t you?”

He stopped, hesitated, and fearfully said “yes” as if cornered. I waited for him to wash his hands while I tried to make small talk about how much he looked like his dad. Then I handed him the manuscript and asked him to please give it to him. He flatly refused, explaining that he could not touch or receive anything for security reasons.

I asked him to at least read the introductory letter. He forcefully did so while I held the glossy document with my arms outstretched; I felt worse every second as if I were Mark David Chapman holding out a record to John Lennon for him to sign. We left, and I directed him to my partner-in-sin, I thought, so that he would realize I wasn’t a crook. He politely greeted her and was escorted away.

John-Lennon

I explained to my co-author what had happened. We covered our eyes in embarrassment, and with long faces, we sat back down on the edge of disdain. Our hope was fading amid the waving mane of the Jarvis clone.

We felt a wind with a pungent aroma; it was the bad-tempered guy, giving us the indication to enter. We managed to sit in the best place: in the front row, a few meters from the chairs arranged on stage. In seconds, we were surrounded by fans and camerapersons willing to do anything to get the best shots of Jarvis. The Hells Angels kept scolding anyone who got too close, and they didn’t hesitate to put an immediate stop in case of any fuss. Still, the hope of delivering the text to him was revived; we just had to find the right opportunity.

After a few minutes, it began.

Jarvis-en-Queretaro

Jarvis Cocker walked in, accompanied by his interviewer, the lovely Mariana H. After thanking the audience for the warm reception, Mariana was ready to have a conversation. Perhaps neither she nor the spectators knew that Jarvis is not only histrionic when singing. Regardless of the questions, he recreated anecdotes from his book by standing and acting on stage. He brought the pretexts to do so in a bag; in it were the same trinkets beautifully illustrated in Good Pop, Bad Pop.

His inspirational treasures: cheap plastic dolls, vintage chewing gum, patches, key chains, coins, small soaps, and any number of trifles of what he calls Pop culture, interchangeable with Pulp: “Because the idea that culture could reveal more of itself through its throw-away items than through its supposedly revered artefacts was fascinating to me. Still is.” He writes in his book.

Jarvis recalled moments in his youth when he seemed to dare anything. One day, he hung out of the window to impress a girl, thinking he could move on to the next one. He ended up with several broken bones. Acting it out, it seemed like we were watching a play, a monologue-starring actor: Jarvis in the role of young Jarvis.

Mariana H. had prepared cards and questions that Jarvis sometimes seemed to ignore or redirect according to his own agenda. On one occasion, he stood to explain to the audience how, when he was a kid, his mom put him in a pair of German pants with two pockets in front, making him go from being the all-too-familiar “Four-Eyes” to Jarvis “Two-Penis.” Everyone laughed with that roar noticeable in fans who do not speak the same language but have every intention of understanding and celebrating their idol – a very national way of expressing affection.

auditorio-de-Queretaro

I usually have difficulty sustaining attention for a long time. At one point, I was lost thinking how His Excellency, the ambassador, seemed to float like Dracula.

Dracula

When I felt a nudge from my dear partner:

-Are you listening?
-What? What happened?
-Ugh…forget it,” she exhaled with contempt.

And I paid attention; Jarvis was talking about one guy who changed his life and had a lot of influence on him. His name was John Peel, a DJ who played a wide range of music, including punk rock – a genre that had a stigma of being mean, nasty, and forbidden. Jarvis loved it. It was announced that Mr. Peel would be taking his roadshow to Sheffield Polytechnic.

John-Peel

“I saw an advert in the local paper that he would be visiting the polytechnic; I got really excited; it was ideal timing because we had just made our first Pulp demo cassette, so I set out to draw a picture to put on the cover with pastel crayons which never dried, it was all greasy, so I decided to wrap it in some kitchen plastic roll and kept it in my pants. I went off to Sheffield Polytechnic, and my mission was that, at some point, I would give him this cassette… So… let me stand up to act this out…”

Jarvis-en-evento-de-Queretaro

My partner and I turned to look at each other with wide eyes. We couldn’t believe it; it was a divine message. How could he be acting what we were experiencing right there? It was a magical feeling.“…. I was there with a cassette in my pocket, and he was playing music records, and I was all nervous, wondering, ‘when do I give it to him, when do I give it to him?’ The thing was that it seemed like he was always busy because he would play one record after another, then put them back in his envelope; I didn’t want to interrupt him and make him angry. So, the whole night I was like this: nervous, hesitating, seeing at what point, and then it was over. And I said, ‘Hell, I’ve got

to do it now,’ soI started walking towards the stage, and as I was getting closer, fortunately, he came down from the stage carrying his record cases. I reached out my hand nervously, and I said, ‘Mr. Peel, um, I have a band, and I would love for you to listen to our cassette.’ He stared at me. He lowered one of the cases, extended his hand, and I had to take off the kitchen plastic because it looked like it was wrapped in toilet paper, all sticky and greasy.

I gave it to him, and he said, ‘Oh, okay… yes, I will listen to it on the way home, thank you very much.’ I didn’t know if he was going to listen to it or not because, in his program, he said he got a lot of cassettes every week, but… what do you think? A week later, the phone rang, but my grandmother was the one who answered because my grandfather had wiretapped the phone to ring at the same time in his house as in mine. I think that was illegal. But, well, when he answered, they told him, ‘Hello, I want you to come to London to record a session for the John Peel show,’ and my grandmother answered… ‘I think you want to talk to Jarvis,’ and when I got home from school, she told me and it was like an explosion because my dream came true, and a couple of weeks later, we went to London to record the session was when I knew we would be famous. Finally, it did not work, but, well…”(audience laughter).

I turned to look at my dear companion in despair. I thought she would stand up and interrupt him or something. I didn’t feel brave enough; I knew I had to do it, but with so many fans, I imagined a thousand negative scenarios, and in all of them, I was booed or pulled out.

Our eyes filled with tears. It was the call, and we let it go because we were afraid.

Next to me, there was a warning of what could happen: a photographer with a huge telephoto lens started yelling at the security personnel for not letting him film; immediately, more Hells Angels arrived with a couple of reinforcement men and took him out, carrying him by the arms.

The lecture continued. I was still trying to assimilate the story Jarvis had told and the message behind it that the Universe was giving us. “What a coincidence, God…think…think…it was at the end when he handed him the cassette, so I must. But, unlike Mr. Peel, he won’t come down this way… it will be impossible.”

The interview ended, and Jarvis Cocker proved that his creative ability is not limited to music. His new book, Bad Pop, Good Pop, is beautiful in content and format, and his exposition… a performance full of charisma.

He said goodbye to the audience amid applause and shouts. I stood and saw an opportunity; everything was as if on pause or in extreme slow motion, like in The Flash movies. I kept repeating the mantra from our book, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I heard my partner’s voice, seemingly far away: “Go, go!” The Hells Angels were not very tall, so I dared to approach the stage and shouted like a youngster (it should be noted that I am 45 years old), “Jarvis!” as I flashed the ugly manuscript binding.

He ignored me. Security tackled me, but they didn’t push me or put me in a headlock, so I yelled one more time, “Jarvis!” He ignored me again. And he turned away. I felt my cheeks go weak, drooping with immediate sadness like a child. The escorts were saying things to me, but I ignored them. Finally, I said in a firm voice, without shouting, “Mr. Peel, Mr. John Peel” Then Jarvis closed his eyes, touched his chest, and turned around. He walked several feet toward me and stretched out his hand. His face showed some surprise; his mouth was slightly open. I stretched out mine and handed him the text saying the shortest pitch of my life: “It’s a novel with a character based on you.” He nodded and walked away from the shore.

The stream of people led us away as they announced that he would be signing Spanish books for sale. Everything turned into chaos. I wondered whether he would take the text or throw it away. I was curious to see what he would do with the manuscript. He left it on the table. My cheeks drooped again, but they recovered when he took his sack and put his things in it, followed by our mistranslated text; now it became as ‘Pop’ as the rest of the trifles.

Four weeks have passed, and we are still waiting for his contact. I hope one of my grandmas will also “illegally” wiretap the line from heaven and answer him. Also, someone reading this chronicle may be able to help us and ask him if he finally read it.

I don’t know. Maybe I should have been more punk and gotten up on stage and dropped my pants. It’s a story Jarvis didn’t tell in his book; perhaps he’s embarrassed about it. Watch this video; let’s remember it together: Jarvis breaks into Michael Jackson’s song and shows his ass. Some recycled publicity won’t hurt.

By the way, I confirmed that I am not a journalist. I leave this account as proof so that I never forget the reason: I am completely biased.

“Close the door. Write without anyone looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to find out what others want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver


Contact

LinkedIn: Alejandro Llantada

Facebook: Alex Llantada Mx

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