Saturday, January 18, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 18):"COMMON PEOPLE" (1995) Pulp

Today’s song is “just because.”  I was listening to a playlist of tracks I compiled for the daughter of friends, songs from the Nineties because she was a child then, and this was on there and really struck me, again.  I didn’t know of the song until the early 00s when my daughter got into Pulp and shared some with me. Eventually I got this LP, Different Class

The song scored with me the first time I heard it, largely because it’s catchy as hell and because its tone and topic hit a nerve. We could say it’s the other side of my song for yesterday. Instead of a guy from the sticks trying to make it to the Big Apple, this one’s about a privileged art student type trying to go slumming with “the common people.” The exchange between the singer and the girl is amusing enough, particularly with his drole asides in the bar and the supermarket, but the song also manages to articulate some harsh truths about the lives of the common people, placed in the context of people who can “aspire” to poverty, or at least its accoutrements, without having to endure it for real. They have escape hatches. 

Rent a flat above a shop, 
Cut your hair and get a job,
Smoke some fags and play some pool,

Pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right
'cos when you're laid in bed at night

Watching roaches climb the wall
If you call your Dad he could stop it all.

It’s that last line that got me. As someone who comes from people who “never went to school” (and visualizing the world I didn’t stay in), and who had no hotline to a well-heeled Dad to come to my rescue, much less being a well-heeled Dad able to do the rescuing, I could see all-too-well the point of the song.  And I liked the “you’ll never get it right”—where, instead of trying to act posh or educated and failing, the aspirant to the skids will expose her background and get the boot.  In England, accents are much more telling than here in the States, so such exposure is guaranteed.  Here, one might be able to slum a little more convincingly, but, still.

You'll never fail like common people / You'll never watch your life slide out of view / And dance and drink and screw / Because there's nothing else to do.

Good one. Not that there’s anything wrong with dancing, drinking and screwing, but when it’s done out of quiet (or not so quiet) desperation, ah, there’s the rub. The song is rather anthemic, isn’t it?  It really makes you want to sing along with those common people because it might just get you through. There are other telling lines as well, though, in case your identification is getting the better of your sense of reality, as when you’re told “No one likes a tourist / Especially one who thinks it all such a laugh.”

Jarvis Cocker’s delivery is something in itself—he actually sniffs!  To say nothing of whispering, and nudging us, sotto voce, and also getting his register up in that near-shrieking range when it becomes clear that this is a harangue—you prissy cunt, you don’t know nothing about ‘common people’! Get outta here before I gouge ya, ya twat.

But Cocker et al. don’t go that far.  Instead they go for romanticizing—“You are amazed that they exist / And they burn so bright / Whilst you can only wonder why”—which doesn’t sit well with me, but, oh well. Though the “amazed that they exist” does ring true. If you’ve spent time around the privileged, you do notice overtones of how striking it is to them that not everyone, as Fitzgerald says, “has had the same advantages that you’ve had.” How is life like that even possible? 

I'm not saying such people all live in a perpetual Clueless, but. There is a certain grace that comes from easily avoiding certain pitfalls. Romanticizing those “otherscomes honestly, perhaps, as hardships build character, etc., but there is a point at which those beaten down simply remain beaten. Pulp may see them as burning bright, but it’s rather more accurate, I’d say, to see them as burned, or, maybe at last, burned-up about it all.

No comments: