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Music

Pulp's Jarvis Cocker on how he took inspiration from Mark E. Smith

Just as Christians occasionally find themselves asking ‘WWJD’ (What Would Jesus Do?), I often find myself at gigs asking ‘WWMESD’ (What Would Mark E. Smith Do?). This line of questioning usually comes into play around three pints in, when my inebriation gauge matches that of my impatience for retro synth bands. More often than not, the answer is ‘spit on them’ or ‘call them a prick from the back of the venue’, but I usually manage to avoid both.

And that’s where Mark E. Smith and I differ. As the leader of The Fall, Smith was a fearsome iconoclast who suffered no fools. He refused to feed into mainstream culture with its fleeting trends and tastemakers. He was hoping to make something with more longevity. The current state of post-punk would imply he succeeded in that quest. Indeed, countless artists owe a huge debt to Smith, including Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.

During a delightfully rambling conversation on The Adam Buxton Podcast, Cocker spoke about Smith’s influence. It was largely thanks to Jarvis that Pulp has managed to avoid the criticism that has since fallen on groups like Blur and Oasis, both of whom were responsible for inciting a level of tribalism usually reserved for football hooliganism. Pulp didn’t conform to this new model of British rock ‘n’ roll, revealing themselves to be perhaps a little more erudite, oddball and surrealistic than their contemporaries.

It was Mark E. Smith who inspired Cocker to carve his own path. “It was a fall concert and it was at Sheffield polytechnic, and at some point, he [Smith] just went, ‘Hello Siouxsie Sioux, how you doing?’ because there was a girl there with the proper punk look, very spiky hair and a leather jacket. And so he was kind of taking the piss out of that.”

Smith’s disregard for the dominant sub-culture of the day helped Cocker to realise that he didn’t need to look like a rockstar to be one. “Yeah, he was a big influence on me, Mark E. Smith. He just looked like a normal guy that you’d see in a betting shop or something. He used to wear those kind of clothes. It was quite exciting, especially because I was buying clothes from jumble sales at the time”.

“So Mark E. Smith was quite a good inspiration because he showed how you could take things and sort of alter them just by the way that you wore them or the fact that the music you made didn’t go with a ’70s shirt,” Cocker continued. “So that was good news for me because all I could afford to do was buy clothes from the jumble sale. I couldn’t afford a leather jacket. I wouldn’t have worn one anyway I don’t think.”

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