Friday, February 06, 2009

...Even though I've seen the Movie

The Cigarette Smoking Blog - the only person I'm ever likely to link to who writes for Takimag - has urbane and interesting things to say on the uncomfortable sex-pop interface. While spelling my name wrong repeatedly, but never mind. She also mentions as a point of comparison with Pulp, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model. Rather uncanny, this, as partly because I did have to go to Chelsea yesterday, I have been listening to the following song a great deal.

I'm not really a Costello fan, bar a few odd things - 'Pills and Soap', 'Shipbuilding' - but I was reminded of how good this was when flicking in desultory fashion through music television at christmas. Just look at the man, the incredible performance he's giving here - from feminine poses, sticking his arms behind his head, crouching as if hit by a bilious attack, to wincing, his toes pointed inward, sneering at the camera. The sex/class thing here is exhilaratingly horrible, with all this justified horror at Chelsea and all it entails mixed with desperate dependency - that hissed 'I don't want nobody else' puts particular shivers up the spine. Listen too to the way the (ridiculously good) rhythm section sometimes gestures at sexual griding, then shakes itself into asexual spasms. But it's all a very, very long way from 'His and Hers' or 'Acrylic Afternoons'. One gets the sense - not specualtively in terms of their actual, er, performance, but in terms of the performances of what are of course only semi-autobigraphical fictions and personae - that Jarvis really rather enjoys fucking, and that the class resentment and disgust merely makes it more exciting - and that he finds these women, much as he may loathe their privilege, similarly intriguing, and hence the records are full of both tension and ecstatic release. With Costello you know he wants it, but you also know it's going to be pretty shoddy - 'I'm no good with the machinery', as he snarls elsewhere on This Year's Model.

There's also a very interesting point raised on my comparison between Pulp and Ghost World, both of which by her account essentially hinge on living as if in, or in the former case, making a film - and 'how quickly that slides into judging our indulgences by whether they're good cinema.' But I suppose the difference about the cinematic, obsessively detailed studies of everyday life in Pulp circa 1990-4 and her example, 'This is Hardcore', is in the difference between taking the mundane in terms of surroundings, persons, etc and attempting to make it interesting, and taking the supremely mundane act of copulation and treating it as if it is some eternal, terrifying truth. This is what makes that scenario so appalling. There's no Pink Gloves or Acrylics, and we learn nothing about his co-star (oh, bar the 'leave your make-up on' - she could be a prostitute, someone he's just met or his wife, we have absolutely no idea). There's just the act and the camera - 'and that goes in there, and that goes in there, and that goes in there'. It's this minimalism which helps make it such an enduringly chilling record. Anyway, there'll be more on this, later rather than sooner.


Blogger it said...

I always heard 'This is Hardcore' (my favourite Pulp track and my favourite album, of course) as Cocker's gonzo fantasy which would make your claim about his fucking 'as if it is some eternal, terrifying truth' the truth of porn, rather than of the 'the supremely mundane act of copulation'. Gonzo pop? But maybe the intimacy/coldness sex/porn difference here is minimal...after all, what could be simpler than this is me on top of you...?

But do you really think it's 'appalling'? I can't help but think it's sehr sex-y (to be said in that China Mieville way). But perhaps his co-star is a nice middle-class girl (After all, who else would Jarvis have seen 'in some teenage wet dream'?) and nice middle class girls are precisely supposed to get it that way...ha ha ha.

9:04 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I don't know about that last sentence at all - 'teenage wet dreams' are not exclusive to working class men lusting after middle class women. Or to men in general...Obviously as a piece of music the song 'sounds' very sexy indeed, that sleazy crawl, the grand piano, the crooning and that oily horn sample (ooer etc), all are deeply alluring in a sort of Sinatra-in-Hell kind of way. Lyrically though, it runs through seduction, anticipation, getting the camera out, and then - surely at the end, just total ennui and degradation. What a hell of a show - but what exactly do you do for an encore? It's a horribly, horribly bleak conclusion. Not that ennui and degradation can't be sexy in their own way...but I just don't see this as anything other than relentlessly bleak. 'That goes in there' - come on, it's pretty horrifying stuff.

'Truth of porn' rather than truth of copulation, yeah, you're right. I don't see it as 'gonzo' though. This is a performance. 'Come over here babe, and talk in the mic'. It's the moment in an amateur porn clip where the man forces the woman to look at the camera. That chilling look. But you know, whatever gets you going...

12:56 am  
Blogger it said...

You're confusing particulars with universals as usual - Jarvis's projected wetdream is not the unconscious cum-fantasy of a class - trying to pay attention to your Pulp-sex-class hypothesis more than anything: note the 'perhaps', the specificity of Jarvis's lust, the self-critique, etc.

If 'This Is Hardcore' is not entirely bleak and misogynist it's because the complicity is intimate, a shared atomism at the hands of something larger than patriarchy, market logic or call it what you will. But if you think it's always going to be oppressive then there's nothing left, is there.

You think 'This is Hardcore' is only horrific, bleak, appalling. But in a better world 'this is me on top of you' and 'you are hardcore, you make me hard' wouldn't exactly be insults, would they?

1:48 am  
Anonymous steffaction said...

I was just listening to Armed Forces on the way from the pub and it probably is my favourite album. The fact that it was produced under the influence of Abba is probably the greatest thing about it, because despite this he continues being all Costello-like - he twists the (glorious) grandiose imagery and musical flourishes of Fernando or Waterloo into a lone solider grumbling in a pub, and all the heartwrenching songs about squandered love into toe-tapping ditties like Two Little Hitlers. The main problem with appreciating his songwriting is the way he mashes his lyrics with his strangulated voice, but that's what lyric sheets are for. It never stopped people liking the Manics or pretending to like Bob Dylan.

4:35 am  
Anonymous noel said...

"mundane act of copulation"

Oh Owen, you aren't doing it right!

5:30 pm  
Anonymous steffaction said...

On 'This is Hardcore', I don't see how it could be read as positive, or merely ambiguous on the question of porn. The entire orchestration of the piece, from the slowed horns up, sounds tired, bored, and invokes ceaseless, joyless repetition. The post-orgasmic section ('what men in stained raincoats pay for' etc) in particular, can't be anything other than tragic. Whereas the pre-orgasmic bits have got a certain mystique, and a tension, that dissipates by the end and what we're left with is the protagonist effete, agonising over his sexuality, and some footage.

6:26 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Noel - I am not against the mundane as such...

6:43 pm  
Blogger it said...

Well, it excites me anyway! I'd certainly be in Jarvis's film...

6:46 pm  
Anonymous noel said...

Owen did you see Jarvis on Sky Arts talking about, and performing his tunes with Pulp, if not I'll record it…if it comes on again, you'd like it I think…

1:04 pm  
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