Tag Archives: spoken

#130 – David’s Last Summer

23 Jun

'Summer' by Wavingmyarmsintheair

David’s Last Summer (‘His ‘n’ Hers’, 1994)
David’s last Summer at Pulpwiki

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925).

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”
John Lubbock

“Pulp once played a festival in Liverpool that was held in Sefton park. I remember seeing a Victorian glasshouse that had been left to its own devices after public service cuts. The plants were completely overgrown and the building seemed likely to explode at any moment due to the volume of vegetation inside.”

Jarvis Cocker – Mother, Lover, Brother

“We looked at each other irresolutely and then by common consent pushed through the rushes to the river bank. The river had been hidden until now. At once the landscape changed. The river dominated it— the two rivers, I might say, for they seemed like different streams. Above the sluice, by which we stood, the river came out of the shadow of the belt of trees. Green, bronze, and golden it flowed through weeds and rushes; the gravel glinted, I could see the fishes darting in the shallows. Below the sluice it broadened out into a pool that was as blue as the sky. Not a weed marred the surface; only one thing broke it: the intruder’s bobbing head.”
LP Hartley – The Go-Between

“When you get the first hot day of the year, I always get these pictures in my head. You think of all the things that happen in summer, swimming in lakes and building a tree-house and you get quite excited. But then you know that you’re not going to do all those things, you’re probably just going to end up working like you normally do. But it would be good just to have one summer that was like that one time and so I wanted to capture that feeling of those summers that seem to go on forever and you can do lots of things.”

Jarvis Cocker, French newspaper interview, 1994

“In summer, the song sings itself.”
William Carlos Williams

The idea of writing a song to evoke the endless summers of Sheffield in the late 70s had been in the air for quite a while. The first attempt, one of two songs named “My First Wife“, has already been covered, but undoubtedly there are many other attempts that fizzled out in the rehearsal room between 1987 and 1994. The version that emerges in the His ‘n’ Hers sessions has only a few snatches of lyrics and a theme in common, but the process of change itself has left its mark. It has an odd mish-mash structure, apparently being created out of a grab-bag of different snatches of music that didn’t fit anywhere else and were commandeered by this back-burner project. Along the way it also gained some fairly odd musical flourishes (including a sneaky lift) and a sympathetic producer who seems to have been determined to let his final touches be as near perfect as possible.

A snatch of lyrics and a theme may not sound like a lot, but David’s Last Summer is built around its narrative – as a short story rather than a song. That doesn’t mean that it’s an atmospheric bed for a poem – when it kicks in, after the lull of ‘Someone Like The Moon’, it actually sounds like the album is getting a second wind. DLS is the first pastoral Pulp song, and half-remembered it will always seem to be thoughtfully dramatic, so the sudden jump into this high-tempo mid-80s light jazz/funk always seems slightly jarring, and for a moment I’m tempted to think of it as a misfire. It’s not, though, it’s just a break from the expected shimmering, laidback feel of long hot summer films, a more realistic representation of the giddy feeling at the start of English summer holidays, and makes perfect sense as the start of our story.

We made our way slowly down the path that led to the stream, swaying slightly, drunk on the sun, I suppose. It was a real summer’s day. The air humming with heat, whilst the trees beckoned us into their cool green shade. And when we reached the stream, I put a bottle of cider into the water to chill, both of us knowing that we’d drink it long before it had chance.

Jarvis got the name of the song from a book in his school library called “Pennington’s Last Summer” which he saw but never read. Except he didn’t – K.M. Peyton’s classic young adult novel was called “Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer” though it was also published as “Pennington’s Last Term.”

Pennington's Last Summer

Misrememberings like this always seem to be the wellspring of good art, and this is a great song title, vague and evocative. Who is this “David”? The lyrics constantly shift perspective – “we” “you” (female) “you (male) and her” “Peter” – but there’s never a David mentioned. Is this the kid called David from ‘Babies’? And why is it his last summer? Is this a character whose death makes the memory of this summer indelible, or is it a “last” summer before he leaves? The value of this summer is defined by how fleeting it is, and the possibility of death at the end sharpens this pressure.

If the year is a cycle of death and rebirth, then in summer we pass the peak and look down into the shadowy valley beyond.

This is where you want to be / There’s nothing else but you and her / And how you spend your time

The Last Summer is a perfected archetype, specific but general. It’s in Sheffield, in the 70s, but it could be anywhere and at any time. We’re caught between the innocence and carelessness of childhood and the nostalgia and awareness of consequences that come with adulthood. There’s a tension between the blissfully tranquillity of lying in the sun and daydreaming and the self-consciousness born from that freedom to think. We’re slipping into a slower pace, but under that soothing pastorality there’s an intense consciousness that makes the memories stronger, more vivid, more important.

We went driving

There are moments like this that are intensely filmic. Is it possible at this point not to picture the non-existent music video, the group heading down country roads in a convertible? We are in a moment, in a time, in a place. To be able to suspend disbelief like this is the measure of success for a piece like this. Was there really a summer like this? How much of it was spent bored or distracted? It doesn’t matter, of course.

The room smells faintly of sun tan lotion in the evening sunlight, and when you take off your clothes, you’re still wearing a small pale skin bikini. The sound of children playing in the park comes from faraway, and time slows down to the speed of the specks of dust floating in the light from the window.

Memory may be eternal and timeless, but real time is limited. In David’s Last Summer each moment is caught, frozen, before we suddenly skip forward to the next. The effect is that of flicking though a stack of polaroids. On summer holidays I used to focus intently on a single moment, think about how it would seem later as a memory, then, as it passed, think about how it was gone now and unchangeable. I don’t know if this is something other people did.

Time is limited, everything will die. To feel time passing is to lose it.

So we went out to the park at midnight one last time. Past the abandoned glasshouse stuffed full of dying palms. Past the bandstand and down to the boating lake. And we swam in the moonlight for what seemed like hours, until we couldn’t swim anymore.

Sefton Park Glasshouse - here pictured in a better-managed state

The abandoned glasshouse is in Liverpool, the bandstand may be the one mentioned in the DYRTFT film. Memories are cut and pasted as much as music is – each section is different, but all somehow fit. Here we notice a snatch of melody which seems to be lifted from “Lisa (All Alone)” by Santo & Johnny. We’ve started at a casual fast pace, slowed down into contemplation, and now we’re speeding up again into an anxious close, but at no point has our journey seemed forced or unnatural.

As we walked home, we could hear the leaves curling and turning brown on the trees, and the birds deciding where to go for the winter. And the whole sound, the whole sound of summer packing its bags and preparing to leave town.

Pulp’s first attempt at a spoken song, Goodnight, took listeners gently down to road to sleep before shouting “boo” just as they were drifting off. It was a mean trick, but there was a good idea somewhere behind it. DLS doesn’t descend into horror, just a curdling, the love of the moment morphing into the impossible desire to hold on to it. First there’s the picked guitar, like September birdsong, the distant thunderclap of rumbling bass, then in comes Candida’s slightly out of tune Farfisa, like the distorted 8mm film of a beach holiday. Finally the pace starts to pick up, with Russell’s icy, discordant stabs of violin, as chilling as the first autumn winds, a storm rolling in, the sky darkening, the desperate feeling that the summer is over and there will never be another one like it, a final moment of crisis between the experience and the bittersweet memory.

And as we came out of the water we both sensed a certain movement in the air, and we both shivered slightly, and we ran to collect our clothes. And as we walked home, we could hear the leaves curling and turning brown on the trees, and the birds deciding where to go for the winter. And the whole sound, the whole sound of summer packing its bags and preparing to leave town.

…and up and up we go, taking off like a kite carried off into the storm. There is no more satisfying ending to a Pulp album, no better example of a story in a song. A hodge-podge of different sections, cobbled together over half a decade, it still works as high narrative drama, and (dare I say) art. Pulp would be soon be much bigger, and perhaps even better, but they’d never again simultaneously be this odd and this brilliant.

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#116 – Inside Susan

23 Nov

Sheffield Bus

Inside Susan (b-side to Razzmatazz, 1993)
Sean’s Show, Channel 4, 17/11/1993 (Pulp mime ‘Inside Susan’ in the background)
Inside Susan at Pulpwiki

“I think I now understand why it is that the young are so very nostalgic. They have so little by way of personal history that they polish it up and make it shine like a treasured heirloom. For those of us who have months, years and even entire decades mouldering in the attics of our memories, nostalgia seems a curiously boastful kind of hoarding. So you had a love affair, or moved abroad, you got ill, or had a parent die – well, so did I, so did I – and more than once.”Will Self

Putting that quote there seems more than a little unfair, but its purpose is more to draw a contrast than a criticism. The 1970s was almost ripe for plucking by the nostalgia industry in 1993, and for the remainder of the decade it went from a novelty to an all-encompassing ironic media cliché, with Noddy Holder starring in The Grimleys on TV, Peter Kay asking arenas full of people if they remember things and TV presenters who were toddlers at the time reminiscing about space hoppers and angel delight on “I love the 70s”. When I started university in 1998 I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the popular kids (yes, such a thing existed) spent their Saturday evenings wearing afro wigs and brightly coloured flares at the local shit disco 70s Night. They were all born in 1980-1981, so already their nostalgia was borrowed, filtered through parody, a hemmed-in cul-de-sac of shit irony, all signifiers that signified nothing but themselves, and closed the senses not just to the past, but also to the present and future. We didn’t get on.

I’d hate to think that Pulp played a role in this, and for the most part they didn’t, but their references to the decade, especially in music videos, were easy to shift into kitsch when filtered through even a single lens – see for example the performance by Gareth Dickinson as Jarvis on ‘Stars In Your Eyes’, where he was surrounded by pigtailed girls with clackers and a dog on wheels. Once again we can see that once art is out there in the world, it is impossible for the artist to control what is done with it, either by the public or the massed forces of light entertainment.

Inside Susan, then, is not nostalgic at all – there are no cultural references stopping it being set in the 60s or the 00s for that matter – but it captures a certain time in Jarvis’s life – those couple of years between O levels and A levels where life largely existed as a series of intervals between house parties. Much of it is unfiltered truth. There really was a girl called Caroline Lee who would pretend to be married to Jarvis, German exchange students really did jump out of the bedroom window, and the story about the ‘man who spends all day forcing felt-tip pens into people’s hands and then trying to make them pay for them’ is his own. The character of Susan herself is something of an amalgam of Jarvis’s own memories, and girls he knew at the time. While her thoughts are specific to a time and place, they are also typical of a certain type of teenager; one who finds daydreams and fantasies more interesting than everyday life, one who demonstrates little or no enthusiasm about their everyday existence, treating life decisions as trivia, or a game they can’t be bothered to play. Jarvis was one once, and so was I.

“I’d go to parties and try to cop off with girls and stuff… …I think the reason I started writing about it was that I thought I might be in danger of forgetting what it was like. Also, I liked the resilience of youth; people are always packing each other when they’re young – you’d be going out with someone and one day they’d say, ‘I’m packing yuh, yuh’re a right slag”, and nobody would think anything of it… …I liked the fact that everybody was so insensitive to each other, and quite abusive a lot of the time. It’s a sign of immaturity, I’m sure.”Jarvis in Q, May 1994.

Susan is essentially part of this world, as much as she feels excluded from it. There’s a sense that it’s all unacceptably juvenile, that she should get away from it all, but to where? Her vision of adulthood is still unformed, and consists of being able to get into pubs and “make lots of money from charging fat old men five pounds a time to look up my skirt.” It’s an odd kind of immature cynicism, built on a foundation of frustration and loneliness. There’s never a sign of anyone else understanding her, or of her wanting to be close to anyone else for that matter. Other people being described generally as annoyances or objects of disgust. We begin with her catching a bus to school at the late hour of 10.30am and end with her getting off and walking home. That combination of desire to escape and inability to make reasonable plans could surely only be written by somebody who’s been there themself – and to that end, at the close of the story, we shift perspective to the view of a retrospective onlooker:

I suppose you think she’s just a silly girl with stupid ideas, but I remember her in those days. They talk about people with a fire within and all that stuff. Well, she had that alright – it’s just that nobody dared to jump into her fire and risk being consumed. Instead they put her in a corner and let her heat up the room, warming their hands and backsides in front of her, and then slagging her off around town.

It’s a very personal, slightly bitter reflection, projected onto another, expanded to encompass near-universality. At that age malicious gossip stands in for genuine intimacy, walls between people are too low. To genuinely affect another person is too easy – so subtle, measured relationships are impossible. All but the most callous get hurt. For many then, it’s a low point in life, albeit one that may well be fondly remembered later, when emotions are more settled and when people long to feel like they once did. That’s when nostalgia kicks in, and that’s why Inside Susan is refreshing in its lack of rose-tinted lenses.

We haven’t got to the music yet, so a few notes about that. It’s essentially a backing track, which is exactly what’s required*. On a casual listen it sounds like one of the band’s jams, but I suspect that it’s something more constructed than that. Beyond Candida’s keyboard motif it sounds like a programmed track – loops of recorded sound slotted together in the studio. There are a couple of clues that make me suspect this is the case – firstly the complete lack of a live version of the song, and secondly the way Russell’s guitar sounds like a series of freeform riffs cut up and placed at their most effective locations, often multi-tracked on top of itself, as is Jarvis’s voice. The only thing that sounds live is Nick’s drums. Anyway, it’s only a theory, but I’d like to see what other people think.

However it was constructed, it’s fairly wonderful – restrained but accomplished, together but never showy about it. There’s no chorus there, just a series of peaks and troughs – a low-key bed for the story, exactly what’s needed after the effervescence of ‘Stacks’. Jarvis plays his part by putting in a restrained performance too, only adding occasional drama on lines like “…queuing up to take me out for dinner!” It sounds effortless – a thoughtful, well-written story given time to breathe, and it’s hard to fault it in any regard.

*If this were still the 80s there would doubtlessly be some kind of effort to fit the music to the story – and the song would suffer for it.

#110 – Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia)

5 Oct

styloroc picture

Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia) (B-side to ‘Babies’, 1992)
Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia) (Live, October ’92 ULU)
Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia) at Pulpwiki

“Happening in a cul-de-sac near you.” – Original sleeve notes.
“I tried to sing along with it, but it sounded like Whitesnake.” – Jarvis Cocker

Styloroc = another session jam worked up into nearly a song and built up in the studio for the Island demo.

(Nites of Suburbia)
= The overdubs three months later where Jarvis added a spoken word section, taken from the band’s blurb on an obscure cassette from 1987. The title is taken from the song they’d contributed to the tape – the theme inspiring the piece. Otherwise the two songs are unrelated.

Styloroc article

#102 – Space

10 Aug

Space (B-side to ‘O.U.’, 1992)
Space (BBC Hit The North Soundcheck, 1991)
Space (French Version) – Live at La Cigale, Paris, October 1991
Space at Pulpwiki

In a mute embrace, they drifted up till they were swimming amongst the misty wraiths of moisture that you can see feathering around the wings of an aeroplane… …Arthur and Fenchurch could feel them, wispy cold and thin, wreathing round their bodies, very cold, very thin… …They were in the cloud for a long time, because it was stacked very high, and when finally they emerged wetly above it, Fenchurch slowly spinning like a starfish lapped by a rising tidepool, they found that above the clouds is where the night get seriously moonlit. The light is darkly brilliant. There are different mountains up there, but they are mountains, with their own white arctic snows.

from Douglas Adams’s “So Long And Thanks For All The Fish”

“I remember when I was young watching the first man on the moon. The people at NASA were saying that by 1984 we’d all be living on different planets, and we believed them completely. There didn’t seem to be any reason why we wouldn’t…. …I suppose I finally realised that it was all a fantasy when I was 22. I didn’t have any money and there wasn’t much coming in from the band so I was selling off my belongings. I distinctively remember tromping around Sheffield with a yellow portable washing machine, trying to sell it to get the money for some food. It was pissing down and I thought to myself, Jarvis, you were supposed to be living in space by now. It was pretty obvious by then that it wasn’t going to happen. You have to stop living your life for the future.”

Jarvis in “Volume Two”, November 1991

My favourite Pulp album isn’t an album at all; it’s just a ‘compilation’ – up there with ‘Freshly Squeezed… the Early Years’ and ‘Pulp It Up’ in the catalogue of forgotten cash-ins. ‘Intro’ certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, but as tragedies go, it’s fairly minor, and if its songs remain unknown to the general public, it’s a price worth paying for the fact that it represents a heroic rescue project for a group mired in legal problems.

1991 was a year of mixed fortunes for Pulp. On the plus side, Jarvis and Steve had finished their degrees, the band was again a full-time project, sounding better than ever, and the music press was finally beginning to take notice. But at the same time, Rough Trade and Fire were still out of action, the now two-year-old Separations was still a year away from getting a release, and Pulp were signed up to record another 4 LPs for an inoperative organisation which they had a poor relationship with at the best of times. The group’s new manager, Suzanne Catty, was attempting to help them escape this contract and set up a deal with Island Records, but the impasse with Fire seemed to be growing in complexity by the day, with multiple claims and counter-claims about the legality of the deal. Waiting it out is never fun, especially when you’re on a creative roll, but recording an album on borrowed money and then being unable to release it, well, that way lies madness.

Fortunately a solution was at hand. The group’s old friends at FON and Warp were enjoying a surge of critical and commercial success, and Jarvis and Steve had played their part, producing music videos for Sweet Exorcist and Nightmares on Wax. The group would record a session at FON (paid for as a demo by Island) which could then be released on a Warp sub-label, christened ‘Gift Records’. The session took place in January 1992 and the single – O.U. backed with Space – was released in May. If the problems had been sorted at this stage then all would’ve been fine – the new LP recorded later that year and released just in time to cash-in on the buzz – but as it turned out the morass would continue for the best part of two years, and the Gift singles turned from a one-off to a trilogy. His ‘n’ Hers – the album that was finally put out on Island in 1994 – contains only one track from the Gift singles, and that originally as a CD-only bonus track.

The thing is, Intro seems to work better as an album than His ‘n’ Hers does. It’s not just the selection of songs, it’s the way they interplay with each-other, the way they are laid out for you. ‘Space’ – still vivid and atmospheric nearly twenty years after it was written – is the perfect opener.

It had been the perfect opener for their live sets for a good few years too – a natural progression from the drones and atmospherics of ‘Hydroelectric Dam’ and ‘Heart Trouble’. Taken as a single song, it’s then perhaps the oldest thing on Intro, but early versions were surely quite different from the finished product we know. The words at the start were always improvised, and the few versions we have vary hugely, though the basic concept is always there. There’s something dissatisfying about hearing these other versions, though – perhaps the lyrics are meandering and odd, maybe Candida’s synth is too intrusive – and comparison to the ‘official’ version never flatter. The best-known of these alternative versions is from the ‘Hit The North’ soundcheck, as it was later included for some reason on the His’n’Hers deluxe edition. It’s not bad exactly, the boogie at the end is joyfully furious, but the first half is a bit too Spinal Tap. So let’s just stick to what I’ll take as the definitive version – the b-side to ‘O.U.’, later included on Intro.

We start with that electronic hum – a sci-fi version of the keyboard drone from the start of Fairground, almost. Instead of melodramatic threat, though, we’re drifting into a soundscape with a monologue. It’s a guided dream again, or an astral projection. An easy journey to other planets. Life on Earth is humdrum tedium – “selling washing machines in the rain” – tasks and routines that tie you down. And now we’re weightless, floating free. That “we” is telling. Rather than being directed at the audience the monologue is presented to a partner who’s troubled by the heaviness of life. “You said you wanted some space…” Eastern religion has never been a theme for Pulp, but this letting go of earthly things sounds like Buddhist mysticism – or a sexual version thereof. We’re still in the acid house hangover of the early 90s, and taking off into space to touch the stars was very much de-rigeur.

Every rave has its comedown though – that moment a kernel of disbelief swells into a new reality;

“All the stars are bright, but they don’t give out any heat. The planets are lumps of rock, floating in a vacuum.”

And then, of course, “I think it’s time to go home” – the mystical morphs into the physical, time to stop stargazing and direct your gazes downward. This is where the talking ends, as it must. A muttered “get down” and we launch into Pulp’s funkiest moment yet. Jarvis steps back from the action and lets the rhythm section take over. Steve, Nick and Candida seemed to gel in this era like never before or since. Who knows if it was the Barry White, the acid house or the years stuck in a practice room without a gig or a session in sight, but they just seem to have instinctively been able to produce this dirty blaxploitation spy movie groove from thin air. Candida is the vital piece in this setup – she led the first half, and her keyboards push this section forward too, as it builds to a climax like the sex its meant to replicate, and suddenly dissipates with a sigh.

That release of energy sets us up for all that’s to come in the next eight tracks – all has been reset, and it’s time to start again. There’s no manifesto here – this descent to earth is if anything the rejection of the very idea of manifestos, but history has still been wiped clean, and here we are again with tabula rasa. Life starts in ’92.

“This album comprises the three singles released by Pulp on Sheffield’s Gift Records during 1992/3.
It is intended as an introduction to the group for those who may have missed these songs first time around. Welcome.”
– Sleeve notes to ‘Intro’.