Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Help The Aged: Counting Down To The Year 2000 (When We're All Fully Grown)

As a certain type of youth, there's a certain appeal to a certain type of adulthood. The period between becoming a grown-up and becoming an adult. Adrift, probably surviving on cigarettes and whatever drinks you can scam a girl into buying you, and distinctly outside the norm. Over-educated and underpaid, you probably think you're under-appreciated as well, a self-absorbed intellectual, fascinated by social strata, since it's so easy to stand outside it, because who'd want to be a part of that anyway?

Which brings me to Pulp. To an American tennager in the mid-90s, Pulp held the seedy allure of an exotic sort of rinky-dink glamor, the kind that only that specifc kind of demographic above could create. They were certainly adult, what with their songs of sex and pubs and bad break-ups, and all the drunken hopelessness that comes with that. Their songs sounded like people making do with whatever they had, because none of it mattered anyway, but as Pulp frontman/mastermind Jarvis Cocker put it, "there's nothing else to do." Pulp comes across like a combination of Mississippi blues and Johnny Rotten: we're singing to make ourselves feel better... but there's really no future. I could never tell whether the group (whose spiritual guide is Cocker, without a doubt) was truly sticking up the common people, because they were all so clearly educated and intellectual in ways that "the masses" they often describe could never be.

Just like Jon Spencer, it's not so much a spokesman role, but works when you take Pulp/Cocker as an advocate and supporter - they love the realness of these people, the messy, visceral down-to-earthness, but, like Ray Davies, are ultimately just drawing sketches from the outside. I can sit in a bar near the docks at Chelsea and peoplewatch, and maybe even strike up some conversations... but I'm not one of those people. They're good people, but that's not me and it never will be. I'm not denying that Cocker probably grew up poor, and scraped to get by, and may not be a rich rock star (er, may not HAVE BEEN a rich rock star), but just like D. Boon and Mike Watt, coming from blue-collar doesn't necessarily make one that... sometimes you end up special, not like everybody else. Just like the country club set occasionally spits out a slacker with a contempt for it, a genuinely fey and pretentious poet can sometimes rise from the roughest background. That's not a slight... but something tells me ol' Jarvis wouldn't have done too well working down at the mill in Sheffield. But their examination of that segment of society, filtered with the "wasted art-school youth" of their backgrounds, had a way of making the tragedy of young adulthood seem romantic. And that romance is seductive. It's intoxicating.

There's an appeal in rooting for the underdog. We all know that. There's also an appeal in sticking it to authority, who tell you how things are supposed to be. In their prime, Cocker and Co, managed to do both... dancing in wood-panelled bingo halls with regular people on Wednesday night, flipping the finger to the establishment who had no time for the common folk. I think they had the right idea... it's all falling apart anyway, and none of us have any money, so why not have a little fun?

What's funny, is that on the other side of things, now that I am an adult (nominally), gently easing out of that period of my life, is just how nostalgic tracks like "Countdown" and "Mile End" make me for my own situation BEFORE I got there. Listening to songs of misspent young adulthood make me nostalgic for the years of adolesence when I listened to songs of misspent young adulthood looking forward to it. A therapist might have a field day, but some of my best memories of adolescence involve desperately trying to claw my way out of it. Granted, mine weren't as full of sordid sexual encounters and disco-going (I can't stand most clubs... something tells me i'd enjoy a disco in the UK in '94 a little more than most of the trance clubs these days...), but it's just funny how... well, CHARMING their brand of dirty-mirror, low-rent sleaze seems with the benefit of hindsight. Hedonistic and ever so dramatic, but charming nonetheless.

I should point out here that Pulp only briefly touched this magic observational balance. Let's say a couple of albums and a handful of singles. Their other work is wonderful, but it doesn't have the same sort of charm. In fact, almost as much as I loved Different Class and His 'N' Hers, I was listening over and over to their messy "sophomore" album (first album post-hugeness), This Is Hardcore all through my senior year of high school. I even have the band's logo from that album cover etched into my backpack in white-out if you don't believe me. Apparently that record was a giant cocaine-fuelled nervous breakdown set to music, but its soul-inflected film-noir sound spoke to my more dramatic (and depressive) tendencies. The title track in particular is a party-stopper. I'm serious. The buildup where the guitar comes in will KILL anything in the room with it's bashing bleakness. But it's worth hearing. It's just not the low-budget Roxy Music mod/disco of their "classic" period.

Britpop seduced me after I started to move beyond what grunge and alternative rock had become - a big, label-fuelled cash-grab full of artfully coiffured guitarists in silk shirts and leather pants, who'd been playing Poison licks only 3 years prior, but now they had a lip piercing and a tattoo. Oasis spoke to my populist tenencies. They wanted to pull my heartstrings with supersized anthems, and I damn well wanted those strings pulled. It was a good deal to cut. Blur spoke to my intellect... painting pictures of the way modern life in the suburbs really was, pulling back the curtain on convenience and showing the hollow core. A bit too clever for it's own good, but not pulling any punches and inspiring. But Pulp... Pulp spoke to my sense of romance. I wanted to be able to meet up in the year whatever with my friends, once we were all fully grown. Get sloshing drunk and wander around all night. I wanted to remember the sordid details of staying out all night fuelled by loud music and cheap alcohol. And now, listening to this music that painted pictures in my teenage mind of a life that I hadn't lived yet, I wanna go back to those days again. Not forever, just for a while. And Pulp can get me there fast.

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