lindtschultz asked: Hey Jey, you need to tell me what you think about Common People cause I have so many Emotions about that song but I bet you have loads of cool thoughts that never even would have crossed my mind.
This is Pulp’s “Common People.”
Pulp are a (mostly) Britpop band from Sheffield and “Common People” was one of their biggest hits. It’s considered to be a defining moment of the Britpop era, much to the band’s chagrin.
Basically, the song is about a rich girl Jarvis Cocker met at St. Martin’s College, who told him that she wanted to live the way he did, move to Hackney and live as though she were poor. And he’s going, no, you’ll never be able to do that, because you can leave. You didn’t grow up this way, you don’t have to live this way, and even if you choose to, you know you can always blink and it’ll vanish. It’ll never be your prison, he’s saying, at best it’ll be your plaything.
You’ll never live like common people
You’ll never do what common people do
You’ll never fail like common people
You’ll never watch your life slide out of view
Here, have a listen to Jarvis’ own interpretation.
The thing about it, though, is that it plays across so many different barriers. It’s absolutely true about class division; a lot of people who are very well-off seem to think it’s somehow ‘cool’ not to be. It’s why there’s such a market for things like torn designer jeans and styles imitating ‘punk’ or ‘ghetto’ clothing. It’s more than just that, though; it extends to any kind of privilege. People seem to think that it’s ‘hip’ to be part of a disadvantaged group, and it’s a dangerous line of thought. It’s also a line of thought that brings people into struggles that aren’t theirs and has them tread on the toes of those who really are struggling.
You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go
‘cause when you’re laid in bed at night
And watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your dad he could stop it all
Joe Strummer, I think, had a wonderful thing to say about it when he was describing how he came to write The Clash’s “White Riot.” He and Paul Simonon ended up embroiled in the riots at Notting Hill Carnival in 1976, which were a rebellion of black, primarily Caribbean, youth against the police and the establishment. Joe was very clear about saying that he and Paul pitched in (shouted, threw bricks, tried to set a car on fire but they couldn’t get the matches to stay lit), but that it wasn’t their battle. That is, they could help, but they could never really be a part of it. I’ve always thought that was a classy statement to make, that they could pitch in and help with someone else’s struggle without ever claiming that it was theirs to fight.
I don’t know – bear in mind, of course, this is all just my nonsense rambling – but I reckon Jarvis is trying to say that you can never truly know what it’s like to be something you’re not, and furthermore, it’s insulting to claim that you can. If you can afford to treat a disadvantage like a novelty, then you can never know what it’s really like to live it.
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you
And the stupid things that you do
Because you think that poor is cool
And if you listen to the extended lyrics, he says even more than that.
’cause everybody hates a tourist
Especially one who thinks it’s all a laugh
It’d be difficult, at this point, to argue that Jarvis Cocker is exactly one of the ‘common people,’ but he didn’t start out where he is now, and most people who start out where he did never end up any higher. He isn’t singing about being a British pop star here; he’s singing about being a struggling lower-class kid from a single-parent family who worked at a fish market and didn’t know what he wanted to do with his music or his life. And he’s telling the truth. You can play at something that’s never been part of your life, you can join in, you can act out the part, but it’ll never be yours, not in the same way as someone whose life has been shaped by it.