Story through Inventory

Bought my Other Half Jarvis Cocker’s new book ‘Good Pop Bad Pop’ for our 13th monthiversary, she’s a big fan of Jarvis and Pulp. I’ve admired him from a certain distance without ever getting in deep. I’m more the Punk generation and it turns out he’s 8 days younger than me, so the next musical generation as a performer. The one time I saw him on stage was at ‘The Story’ conference in Red Lion Square, Holborn – talking rather than singing, speaking about the Extraordinary. He spoke about how he started out trying to write extraordinary things, then realised he had to make the ordinary extraordinary to capture what was significant about his life.

Needless to say I found myself dipping into the book once it had been presented as a gift. It is subtitled ‘an inventory’. It is written very well, clear and conscious of the reader’s perspective, shot through with a dry sense of humour. And beautifully designed and printed. Reading the opening immediately reminded me of my own attic-load of accrued stuff. The book springboards from objects fished out of a London attic as Jarvis finally moves out of his Victorian pile. I had the same experience in 2020 – first emptying out my office archives in Kentish Town (by coincidence, as I look up from writing this on my phone on the train from Brighton, I see a pale blue mural on a Victorian building saying “Welcome to Kentish Town”) and then the loft of my London house of 22 years. In the process I came across numerous resonant objects from my past which collectively tell some kind of story.

You just have to tune in to that wonder that is all around you. It’s everywhere, honest. That’s the way life works. Extraordinary moments, the extraordinary comes from the extra ordinary.

Jarvis Cocker at The Story conference 2018

The creative who comes to mind with a significant relationship to objects is designer Paul Smith. I visited his studios in Covent Garden near Richard Seifert’s Space House when I was at Channel 4. It was filled with random little objects he had collected from which to take inspiration. Some mailed in by admirers. I too take creative inspiration from objects – colourful ones, well designed ones, pop ones, quirky ones, toys, souvenirs, orange ones, 70s ones, ceramics, Bakelite, art-related ones, shiny ones, old things, gifts, a French folding knife from Marco with a Napoleonic bee motif, a small plastic skinhead from Emma-Rosa.

I so enjoyed reading about Jarvis’s old exercise book, chewing gum packet, Northern Soul patch, that I decided to dust off a few of my random objects on Insta. Here are the first 3…

[1] a cassette single (1980)
[2] what used to be called a Transistor Radio
[3] Keith Haring painted on stage behind the bands
worn by father in Paris in 1983
worn by son in London in 2020

Even just this opening salvo, what does it add up to? What story does it tell?

A man who loves his music. Of a generation around 1980 (1978 to 1991 were probably the defining years). Strongly connected to Malcolm McLaren and what radiated from him – from Public Image Limited to Buffalo Gals, Bow Wow Wow to Joy Division. (I’m currently working on a music documentary which includes Public Enemy and Talking Heads.)

A person who, despite being very visual, loves radio. Radio has been an important part of my life since school days. I discovered Egon Schiele (when he was still little known) through Bowie on the radio. I used to listen to Phillip Hodson‘s late night phone-in in bed on this tranny (!) with people ringing in for counselling on the most debilitating of mental health and sexual challenges – I went on to make a film with him twenty years later entitled ‘Conflict!’, semi-improvised drama Mike Leigh style. (On the audio front, I’m now working on three podcast series.)

A bloke who loves jazz – and Caravaggio. And Keith Haring and street art. Who had a formative year in 1983 which included a trip to Montreux for the jazz festival, to Grenoble for Bowie’s ‘Serious Moonlight’ tour, to Evian to see his friend Mirjam (artist & air hostess), all in the context of a year-long sojourn in Chambéry, Savoie. (At the moment I’m also working on an art feature documentary which should be finished by Jarvis’s birthday – 19th September.)

This first trio of objects actually captures quite a coherent story of what makes this particular creative tick and foreshadows much of what I went on to do in the wake of them coming into my world.

The cassette single in a way gave rise to ‘Amy Winehouse & Me‘ (MTV)

The pocket radio gave rise to ‘The Radio Play’s The Thing‘ (Channel 4)

The T-shirt gave rise to ‘Big Art Project‘ (Channel 4) and ‘Big Art Mob‘, Instagram five years before Insta launched.

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