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Jarvis Cocker: ‘I Was Like the Kofi Annan of Blur Vs Oasis’

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“Shall I read out the menu?” says Jarvis Cocker. Although I am trying to act breezy, I suspect he can see through middle-aged superfans who idolised him in the 1990s and has decided to take charge. Seated in the window of Italo, a bountiful deli-café in south London stacked with everything from giant olives to chocolate songthrush eggs, he takes a menu and performs an impromptu gastronomic monologue.

I could listen to Cocker say “focaccia crumbs” and “in the sandwich department we have . . . ” in his deep, mellow Sheffield accent indefinitely, but the spell is broken when he concludes with: “For the record I am having pea and mint soup with yoghurt, sumac crumbs and bread, followed by browned butter asparagus and pecorino on toast.” I copy his starter choice and then plump for a sandwich containing fennel salami, pickled fennel, capers, cornichon mayo, Asiago cheese, white onions and rocket.

I’m optimistic that it’s going to be tasty, given the charm of Cocker’s chosen lunch venue, with its arty, non-9-5 coffee drinkers seated outside opposite a community garden. “There’s the Blade Runner-esque landscape of Vauxhall and then suddenly you’ve got this leafy square,” he muses. Despite encouragement, Cocker declines a glass of wine: “I don’t drink in the day. Makes me too sleepy.”

Not especially rock ’n’ roll, perhaps, but then Cocker is now 58, and it’s been 27 years since his band Pulp released their best-known single “Common People” — a satire on class tourism and the glamorising of poverty, set to a catchy, keyboard-heavy tune. Inspired by a wealthy fellow student at Central Saint Martins college of art who told Cocker she wanted to hang out with “common people”, the song established him as a cultural commentator. Lanky and shy at school, he forged an anti-pop-star persona that saw him described as an “unlikely sex symbol” thanks to his breathy singing, self-described “slightly edgy geography teacher” outfits and an oddly alluring dance style that’s somewhere between an amateur magician and Elvis.

Pulp was considered part of Britpop, the movement that saw indie bands move into the mainstream — although Cocker doesn’t like to be identified with it (as he spells out later in our lunch). The band’s commercial success peaked in the mid-1990s but they “fizzled out” in the early 2000s, and since then Cocker has had a left-field portfolio career. He has made several solo albums, music for the Wes Anderson films Fantastic Mr Fox and The French Dispatch, formed a new band, Jarv Is, and presented TV and radio shows including a Sunday-afternoon slot on BBC Radio 6 Music. Most of his success has come in the UK, so I ask how he would describe himself to my 35-year-old American colleague who wasn’t aware of him. “A short-sighted musician and broadcaster from the north of England,” he smiles.

Perhaps inevitably, he has now written a memoir, Good Pop, Bad Pop. Although, in line with his sideways take on life, it isn’t a typical music biography, not least because it ends before he becomes famous. I point this out. “Well, thank God for that,” he replies. “I’ve been asked to do a memoir in the past and I was never interested. It seems like you’re preparing to die and I’m not quite ready for that yet.”

Instead, Good Pop, Bad Pop uses the absorbing device of decluttering his loft of random objects to tell the story of growing up and forming a band in 1970s and 1980s Sheffield. There’s the comprehensive school exercise book detailing his “Pulp Master Plan”; a manifesto for the band he started at school (originally called Arabacus Pulp, inspired by a term Cocker saw in the commodities section of the FT during an economics lesson); surprisingly Proustian old Marmite, Rose’s lime juice cordial and Imperial Leather soap packaging kept because he had a fear of change; and a “holy relic”, a ticket to the John Peel roadshow where he managed to hand a demo tape to the influential DJ.

The cultural specificity of some of the objects and the nostalgia they stir is very Jarvis. His lyrics evoke a retro cinematic snapshot of British suburbia and its drift between emotion and ennui. “Net curtains blowing slightly in the breeze / Lemonade light filtering through the trees,” he sang on 1994’s “Acrylic Afternoons”, a dreamlike vignette about an illicit encounter. However, Cocker adds that “I’ve written a lot of songs, but one thing I discovered was that writing songs hadn’t prepared me for writing a book”.

While we eat the zingy green pea soup, its chunky sweetness offset by sumac croutons and thin slices of toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil, a jovial man sidles over and asks to take his photo with my lunch date. “Believe it or not, I used to get called Jarvis because I looked like you,” says the fiftysomething fan. In fact, he looks comically dissimilar to the tall, angular Cocker, who sports heavy-framed glasses, cheekbone-length hair that’s somewhere between tousled and “I fell asleep on the sofa”, a tailored charcoal blazer and flared jeans.

And while the blazer is from tailor Edward Sexton and the shirt from New & Lingwood rather than the jumble sales he used to frequent as a skint teenager on the hunt for cheap vintage clothes, Cocker’s look is pretty similar to what he wore to play Glastonbury in 1995. That was the summer of the Oasis vs Blur chart battle, when the two British bands released the singles “Roll with It” and “Country House” simultaneously in a race to reach number one in the charts. (Blur ended up outselling Oasis.)

While Blur and Oasis were the key players in the so-called Britpop movement, which morphed into a bigger cultural moment dubbed “Cool Britannia”, Pulp were also considered integral along with Suede. Yet Cocker visibly winces when I mention Britpop.

“There are two words in the book which I asterisk,” he says, “one is Margaret ******** [Thatcher] and the other is the word you just said. That name is so vile because it’s got these connotations of nationalism . . . as the events of the last six years of Brexit show, that kind of jingoism is just horrible and corrosive. So that’s what put me off it at the time and why I still don’t like to use that word.”

Later, he adds that Britain has “got such a dark past and the country is founded on such crazy exploitation and imperialism. You can’t just look at a Union Jack and say ‘Oh it’s a nice pattern.’” More than 25 years on, there’s a reappraisal of the 1990s and the legacy of Britpop occurring. But, perhaps not wanting to sound too negative, he adds the caveat that “the thing it described in the early ’90s, this feeling of something from left field coming into the mainstream — that was an exciting time. And I’m really glad to have been part of that feeling of a bit of a movement.”

He found it exciting, he says, until “it became a bit careerist and everybody started competing. And the most obvious example is Blur vs Oasis.” He presented the music TV show Top of the Pops the week of the showdown: “I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like, ‘It’s not a war, everyone’s benefited because you’ve got these two great songs being released the same week.’ I tried to be the peacemaker . . . I was like the Kofi Annan of it,” he deadpans.

At this point our mains arrive, including Cocker’s asparagus, and I remember a line in the Pulp song “I Spy”, which Cocker wrote about being unemployed in Sheffield after leaving school, and in which a bitter narrator imagines taking revenge on the wealthy. “Take your ‘Year in Provence’ and shove it up your arse,” he sang. Asparagus on toast would probably have been similarly despised by the angry protagonist. Cocker says he’s not a “class war person” but he does think his trajectory of coming to London to study at art college is “much harder for people from my background to do now”, given the cost of rent and education.

My conversational skills slightly hampered by my deliciously pickly but overstuffed and impossible-to-eat-gracefully sandwich (“It’s good it’s in that wrapper because you can take it home”), we segue from Britpop into Cool Britannia and how UK politicians wanted a sprinkle of the pop fairy dust. Cocker laughs at the recollection. “Tony Blair [then leader of the Labour opposition] really tried to pick his way in with the scene that was happening. He turned up at the Brit Awards and kept going on about how he could play guitar and stuff. And he just seemed a bit opportunistic. And then I did get invited to some kind of wooing event.”

Over the Christmas of 1996, Cocker went to New York “to get away from all the hullabaloo. I was supposed to be completely under the radar. But one day I got a call in the hotel room and there’s this woman saying something like, ‘Hello, it’s Imogen from New Labour. Just wanted to know if we can count on your support.’ And it really solidified my mistrust. You’re stalking me, basically.”

Shortly afterwards he wrote a satirical song called “Cocaine Socialism”, in which he imagines himself invited to Whitehall by a politician. “All I’m really saying is / Come on and rock the vote for me / And all I’m really saying is / come on, roll up that note for me.” The band had thought about releasing it as a big single before the general election in 1997, but decided to delay until the following year. Cocker says he was “conflicted because I really wanted a Labour government to happen, but I thought this doesn’t feel like the Labour government. I guess we had slight ego issues at that point, thinking that it might affect the results of the election or something very self-important.”

I suspect part of the “hullabaloo” he mentions was related to an incident at the 1996 Brit Awards. During Michael Jackson’s performance of “Earth Song”, in which he wore white robes and adopted a crucifixion pose as child actors gazed at him in mock wonder, Cocker invaded the stage, bending over and waggling his bottom. The gesture, which Cocker said afterwards was a protest at Jackson’s “Jesus act”, got him arrested (he was released without charge), caused a media frenzy, swelled his celebrity status and had a profoundly negative effect on his mental health. When I ask if he regrets it, Cocker seems exasperated. “I really try to avoid talking about that because I’ve never wanted it to feel like I’ve tried to profit from it in some way. No, not regret as in I think it was morally wrong. It had an impact.”

Giving up on the second half of my unwieldy sandwich, I steer away from the prickly chat by asking Cocker how he felt about being famous, especially in what Vanity Fair once dubbed “the tabloid decade”. “I think it’s fairly public knowledge that I didn’t like it,” he says. Why not? “That’s another question that I have to find the answer to one day. I have some inklings, but by having gone back to the beginning of the story [in the book] I understand why things happen later on.” The “actual trigger” for Cocker clearing his loft was temporarily splitting up with his partner Kim Sion, with whom he now lives in Shepherd’s Bush, and feeling sick “of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I just found myself doing it during the lockdown. I must have thought on a kind of instinctive level that maybe this might give me a clue.”

As part of this psychic decluttering, which feels rather timely after the mass introspection of lockdown, Cocker has also been exploring how our personalities evolve, a theme that crops up in the 2020 Jarv Is album Beyond the Pale. Cocker’s father left home abruptly when he was seven, then emigrated to Australia. “My dad died about five years ago and I never had much of a relationship with him, but I think there was one part of me that, because he left when I was so young, felt like I couldn’t change too much because he might not recognise me if he ever came back. But once he died I thought, ‘OK, you can change now.’” It’s a heartbreaking thought, but Cocker counters it by going on to tell me that he’s decided to become an optimist, a stance he counter-intuitively adopted after “that horrible winter when Trump was elected and Leonard Cohen died”.

Cocker drinks a cup of tea and I have a flat white while we discuss the challenges facing the arts and the music industry. He finds it irritating that arts education gets “presented as some kind of luxury. Art should be fundamental . . . the last thing that will get taken over by computers.” In the age of digitisation, his book questions whether there is an inherent value in physical things over digital ones, but Cocker isn’t a technophobe so much as an ambivalent interpreter of the evolving “business of being human”. The book and the stuff in his loft are “like the record of a pre-internet brain. In the future, people won’t leave so much of a trace,” he says. “It’ll be like, ‘Grandma’s died. Here’s her hard drive.’”

Our meal rounds off and we head over to the till. I pay the bill and Cocker buys ingredients for dinner: spaghetti, tomato sauce and a hunk of Parmesan. He’s already told me he’s not much of a cook. When he goes to Paris as a “Eurostar dad” — his 19-year-old son with ex-wife Camille Bidault-Waddington lives there — he says “a lot of mealtimes would be based around Marks and Spencer’s ready meals”.

There’s something about Cocker’s slightly arch manner that injects everything he does with a narrative quality. He takes his lyrics from everyday life and even the act of buying dinner seems as if it could be pop song material. There are plenty of words that rhyme with pasta but I expect the man who paired “Saint Martins College” with “a thirst for knowledge” could do something clever with Parmesan.

Carola Long is the FT’s deputy style editor

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Shoppers Astonished As Price of Lurpak Butter Soars to Eye-watering Sum

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CUSTOMERS have shared their shock after a 500g pack of Lurpak shot up in price to an eye-watering new level.

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Key Passages From the US Supreme Court on Abortion Rights

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The US Supreme Court on Friday struck down Roe vs Wade, the 1973 ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, in one of its most consequential decisions on civil rights in years.

The arguments on both sides are lengthy and involved, and the final ruling comprised five separate opinions spanning 213 pages: the opinion of the court, two concurring opinions, an opinion agreeing only with the court’s judgment and a dissenting opinion.

Below are some of the most notable passages from each.

Opinion of the court, written by Samuel Alito

Much of Alito’s majority opinion matched a leaked draft from February 10, which was published by Politico in May.

To begin, Alito argued that the court overstepped when first deciding Roe.

As Justice Byron White aptly put it in his dissent, the [Roe] decision represented the “exercise of raw judicial power”, and it sparked a national controversy that has embittered our political culture for a half-century.

He argued that the case was wrongly decided, and poked at its reasoning. (He also cited Planned Parenthood vs Casey, another abortion case that affirmed Roe.)

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.

Alito argued that there is no right to an abortion rooted in American “history and tradition”.

We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”.

He reiterated the Roe court’s “errors” and lamented that the issue had been taken out of the hands of those who opposed abortion rights.

Roe was on a collision course with the constitution from the day it was decided . . . and the errors do not concern some arcane corner of the law of little importance to the American people. Rather, wielding nothing but “raw judicial power,” the court usurped the power to address a question of profound moral and social importance that the constitution unequivocally leaves for the people . . . The court short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who dissented in any respect from Roe . . . Roe and Casey represent an error that cannot be allowed to stand.

Finally, Alito wrote that court does not know, and need not consider, the implications of its decision.

We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today’s decision over-ruling Roe and Casey. And even if we could foresee what will happen, we would have no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision. We can only do our job, which is to interpret the law, apply longstanding principles of stare decisis, and decide this case accordingly.

We therefore hold that the constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.

Concurring opinion by Clarence Thomas

Thomas, widely considered to be the most conservative justice, agreed. He also said the court should perhaps go further and reconsider its decisions on contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, citing Supreme Court cases relevant to each issue.

For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents.

Concurring opinion by Brett Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh, another conservative, wrote to share his “additional views”. He emphasised that the court was returning the issue of abortion to the people, rather than outlawing it.

To be clear, then, the court’s decision today does not outlaw abortion throughout the United States. On the contrary, the court’s decision properly leaves the question of abortion for the people and their elected representatives in the democratic process.

He claimed the constitution was “neutral” when it comes to abortion rights.

In sum, the constitution is neutral on the issue of abortion and allows the people and their elected representatives to address the issue through the democratic process. In my respectful view, the court in Roe therefore erred by taking sides on the issue of abortion.

And he wrote that court itself must be “scrupulously neutral” — a point to which the court’s liberals took exception.

In my judgment, on the issue of abortion, the constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice. The constitution is neutral, and this court likewise must be scrupulously neutral. The court today properly heeds the constitutional principle of judicial neutrality and returns the issue of abortion to the people and their elected representatives in the democratic process.

Opinion by John Roberts, concurring in judgment

Roberts, the chief justice, concurred with the court’s specific judgment upholding Mississippi’s 15-week restriction on abortions, but not with the dramatic scope of its decision. He called it a “serious jolt to the legal system”.

I would take a more measured course . . . Our abortion precedents describe the right at issue as a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. That right should therefore extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further.

He reiterated that overturning Roe was unnecessary to deciding the case.

I would decide the question we granted review to answer — whether the previously recognised abortion right bars all abortion restrictions prior to viability, such that a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is necessarily unlawful. The answer to that question is no, and there is no need to go further to decide this case.

Dissenting opinion by Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan

The impassioned dissent by the court’s three-member liberal wing begins by pointing to the “half a century” during which Roe vs Wade “protected the liberty and equality of women”.

Respecting a woman as an autonomous being, and granting her full equality, meant giving her substantial choice over this most personal and most consequential of all life decisions.

They said they fear the “draconian restrictions” and punishments that states may now mete out.

Enforcement of all these draconian restrictions will also be left largely to the states’ devices. A state can of course impose criminal penalties on abortion providers, including lengthy prison sentences. But some states will not stop there. Perhaps, in the wake of today’s decision, a state law will criminalise the woman’s conduct too, incarcerating or fining her for daring to seek or obtain an abortion.

And in any case, they wrote, women’s rights have been curtailed.

Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.

The dissenters also took a direct shot at Kavanaugh’s neutrality argument.

When the court decimates a right women have held for 50 years, the court is not being “scrupulously neutral”. It is instead taking sides: against women who wish to exercise the right, and for states (like Mississippi) that want to bar them from doing so.

And unlike Alito, they specifically sought to address the real-world implications.

The disruption of overturning Roe and Casey will therefore be profound. Abortion is a common medical procedure and a familiar experience in women’s lives. About 18 per cent of pregnancies in this country end in abortion, and about one-quarter of American women will have an abortion before the age of 45 . . . [P]eople today rely on their ability to control and time pregnancies when making countless life decisions: where to live, whether and how to invest in education or careers, how to allocate financial resources, and how to approach intimate and family relationships.

They warned of the fragility of constitutional protections.

The American public, they thought, should never conclude that its constitutional protections hung by a thread — that a new majority, adhering to a new “doctrinal school”, could “by dint of numbers” alone expunge their rights.

Supreme Court justices often conclude their dissents by saying they “respectfully dissent” or, to hit a stronger note, that they simply “dissent”. On Friday, the court’s liberal bloc dissented “with sorrow”.

With sorrow — for this court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.

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Original Source: ft.com

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US Supreme Court Overturns Roe Vs Wade in Major Blow to Abortion Rights

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The US Supreme Court has struck down Roe vs Wade, the legal decision that has enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 50 years, in a dramatic ruling by the court’s conservative majority that will shake up American society, politics and jurisprudence for years to come.

In the decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the justices of the Supreme Court upheld a state law in Mississippi that bans abortion after 15 weeks. They also went further, saying that the Roe vs Wade ruling of 1973 was incorrectly decided. The court’s three liberal justices dissented.

The court’s ruling was one of its most intensely anticipated in years — even more so after a draft of the majority opinion heralding its final decision to overturn Roe vs Wade was published by Politico in April, triggering a highly unusual probe within the institution into the leak. 

In denying a constitutional right to an abortion, the court has effectively given a green light for states to enact abortion laws that can be as restrictive as they wish. Several states run by Republican-led governors and legislatures have already passed laws that mean more restrictions on abortion will be automatically implemented if Roe is overturned.

The sweeping opinion in the Mississippi case was made possible by the appointment of three conservative Supreme Court justices during the presidency of Donald Trump, who secured their confirmation through the then Republican-led Senate. The court’s conservative majority is now so strong that it can afford to lose the support of Chief Justice John Roberts, who is considered a more moderate conservative, and still prevail in key rulings.

Earlier this year, the Democratic-led Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson, a liberal nominated by Joe Biden, to be a justice on America’s highest court. Since she is replacing Stephen Breyer, another liberal, her appointment will not affect the court’s balance of power.

The Supreme Court ruling on abortion was released with less than five months to go before November’s midterm elections, and may alter the political dynamic heading into the vote, though it is unclear whether it can overpower the impact of high inflation and economic perceptions as a factor for voters.

With polls showing that a majority of Americans opposed to overturning Roe vs Wade, Democrats are hoping that the ruling will trigger outrage, mobilise its base, and attract moderate swing voters who will see Republican positions on the issue as increasingly extreme.

But Republicans believe that disappointment with Biden’s handling of the economy, and high consumer prices, particularly for food and petrol, will still carry the day and give them a strong chance of recapturing control of the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate. 

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