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Jarvis Cocker says the unsayable

John Nuttall waxes lyrical about Jarvis's In the City lecture on song lyrics

Published on October 8th 2008.

Jarvis Cocker says the unsayable

One of the most eagerly awaited keynote speeches at In the City this year was Jarvis Cocker's Saying the Unsayable – a lecture on the role of lyrics in songs.

Jarvis has enjoyed a successful career with Pulp and as a solo artist but is probably best known by the general public for his wonderful stage invasion during Michael Jackson's sick-making performance at the Brit Awards ceremony in 1996.

A few years ago Tony Wilson suggested to Jarvis that he do an analysis of song lyrics as part of In the City. Unfortunately, he was unable to do it whilst Tony was alive and it was eventually commissioned by the Brighton Festival. However, as Tony originally suggested the idea, Jarvis finally got his wish to reprise the lecture at ITC.

He started with the fairly surprising statement for a lyricist that lyrics don't actually matter. To illustrate the point he played The Kingsmen's sixties hit 'Louie Louie'. This song was the subject of bans and controversy in the States when it was released, with claims that the lyrics were obscene. Jarvis displayed a letter from an outraged American mother to Robert Kennedy, then the US Attorney General, demanding that the “obscene” song be banned. After 30 months of investigation the FBI admitted that the lyrics were completely unintelligible and they had no idea whether they were obscene or not.

He then asked the audience if they knew the lyrics to 'Louie Louie' prompting Seymour Stein, founder of Sire Records, to belt out the first two lines from the audience in his Brooklyn accent. Jarvis's point was that even though no-one could decipher the lyrics, the song still worked, leading to the conclusion that lyrics are just there because they are expected to be but actually aren't all that important.

The section 'Should songs rhyme?' featured some horrendous examples of tortured lyrics featuring lines that, despite their awfulness, found their way into songs in pursuit of a rhyme at any cost. Lines such as ABC's “Mustn't grumble, have another piece of apple crumble,” reduced the audience to hysterics.

The question “Is there anything you can't write songs about?” was a pretty easy one for a man who wrote, “Cunts are still running the world” in response to the G8 summit-cum-Bono/Blair love-fest.

Jarvis Cocker strikes a strange figure dressed in seventies art teacher chic but his lecture showed a keen intellect often missing in 'pop stars'. At an hour and a half this was one of the longest ITC events but was finished off with a wildly enthusiastic, drawn-out round of applause from a mesmerised audience. Jarvis is a man who can definitely perform well beyond the normal limitations of pop music.

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

NasOctober 8th 2008.

I'm just a gun on a shelf. They throw me away after bank jobs. They file my end off. They use me. Bad people.

Botty Rider 2000October 8th 2008.

"no no, no-no-no-No, no no-no no, no no. Thhere's no limts. No no, no-no". Return to chorus.

Neil TennantOctober 8th 2008.

We're S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G.

Kenny LogginsOctober 8th 2008.

Was I mentioned??

Dennis/hattersleyOctober 8th 2008.

Nice one Jarvis,its all about free speech,and whats wrong with 70's art teachers,ive got elbow patches on my jacket still.

ShakiraOctober 8th 2008.

How else would you describe 'em?

desree haterOctober 8th 2008.

i dont want to see a ghostthats the sight that i fear mostid rather have a piece of toastexample of when lyrics go bad

CannonballOctober 8th 2008.

You just try and keep up.

Jimmy NailOctober 8th 2008.

It was a big river, but that was long ago... That's not now..

Bo Selector!October 8th 2008.

Meatloaf is 'a cilla black fan on a bike' in bat out of hell..

CartzOctober 8th 2008.

Im serious as cancer, when i say rhythm is a dancer!

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