It’s remarkable but it’s true, a drunken Bob Mortimer once saved Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker from a court case with Michael Jackson—I swear, I wouldn’t lie to you. It sounds surreal beyond reality, but Mortimer and Cocker are naturally attracted towards oddities like a wasp to a sugar-coated cider can. Thus, the bewildering headline simply has a whiff of the everyday about it to the little and large plunderers of life’s platitude defying follies and thrills.
At the Brit Awards in 1996, Michael Jackson took to the stage to perform ‘Earth Song’. Not content with the piety of the lyrics, Jackson portrayed himself as some sort of Christ-like figure surrounded by a slew of disciples. This bizarre pastiche seemingly created a sudden onset of nausea in the audience faster than a stink bomb.
As Cocker himself recalled in a debriefing interview with TFI Friday, no pun intended. “I was just sat there, you know, watching it and feeling a bit ill as he was doing his Jesus act,” Cocker explained. “It seemed to me that there was quite a lot of other people who found it quite distasteful as well. And I just thought, you know, the stage is there, I’m here, you could actually do something about it and say this is a load of rubbish if you wanted to. And Candida [Doyle] our keyboard player kept saying, ‘Oh you’d never dare do it though would you?’ So I thought, ‘Alright I will’.”
With a rush of Dutch courage, the Britpop star made his gamble towards the false Messiah on stage and set about making sure people knew he was actually a naughty boy. “Once I was there, I sort of didn’t know what to do then, so I thought I may as well bend over and show my bum.”
“I’m sickened, saddened, shocked, upset, cheated and angry,” Michael Jackson said in the wild aftermath to Cocker exposing his bearded wheeto in his direction while he simply tried to moonwalk his way through an anthem about saving the Earth. One of Michael Jackson’s dancers even escorted Cocker off the stage, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Far from it, in fact. Jackson simply wouldn’t let it lie.
Once the mooning Cocker was sent packing, he was then arrested in his dressing room. “That’s the kind of horrible thing for me,” Cocker recalled. “They said, ‘you’ve ran onto that stage and assaulted some kids’. I couldn’t really believe that they were saying that at first. Then they carted me off to the police station, so it wasn’t so much of a joke then.”
If he didn’t think it was a joke at this stage, he’d soon receive a reassuring punchline as the comic legend Bob Mortimer leapt to his legal defence having been present at the Brits himself that evening. “Bob used to work for Peckham Council in the legal department, so he offered to kind of speak in my defence and deal with the kind of legal aspects of the case.” As Mortimer recalls himself, he entered Cocker’s holding room and asked what had happened, wherein he received the ridiculously funny response of, “I showed my bottom to Michael.”
Fortunately, for Cocker’s sake, Mortimer had enough wherewithal about him to point out that the legality of ‘upsetting Michael Jackson’ was not yet stated in statutory law, whether he was dressed as Christ and delivering a musical sermon or otherwise.
Beyond the joke, the incident now also offers up a sobering portent, as Cocker seriously opined at the time: “My actions were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing. The music industry allows him to indulge his fantasies because of his wealth and power.”
In the end, Jackson’s legal team couldn’t figure out which charge to drum up, and Cocker was simply given a dressing down (his second of the evening). And now his tomfoolery is emboldened with a certain sense of creditable defiance. As he added in the aftermath himself regarding Jackson’s worrying self-indulgence: “People go along with it even though they know it’s a bit sick. I just couldn’t go along with it anymore. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision brought on by boredom and frustration.”