Through music, dance and film, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and musician Chilly Gonzales take a nostalgic look at the golden era of Hollywood
As frontman of Britpop veterans Pulp, Jarvis Cocker has proved his songwriting form when it comes to exposing the sadness and seaminess behind our social structures. And as a much loved broadcaster, he has finessed his storytelling chops on BBC radio. Now he has combined those skills and returned to the stage with a show called Room 29, written and performed in collaboration with his former Parisian neighbour, the pianist/composer/showman Chilly Gonzales.
Inspiration for the project struck when Cocker was upgraded to the eponymous room in Los Angeles’ (in)famous Chateau Marmont, which has long been the playground of choice for the stars of stage and screen, from Jim Morrison to Johnny Depp, from Billy Wilder to John Belushi, who overdosed there in 1982.
“When you book into a hotel room, you can’t help but think ‘I wonder who else has stayed in this room?’” says Cocker. “It’s almost like you’ve broken into somebody else’s room – you think ‘ooh, I wonder where they keep the hairdryer?’ You know the room is yours for a particular amount of time and that opens up all these possibilities and fantasies.”
With its location at the end of the Sunset Strip, Chateau Marmont has cast-iron rock’n’roll credentials, but Cocker found that he was drawn to the earlier history of the hotel, which opened in 1929, the same year that sound came to motion pictures. And so Room 29 is an examination of the golden age of Hollywood, populated by the likes of Jean Harlow, the original blonde bombshell, and eccentric tycoon and studio boss Howard Hughes.
“It was more like trying to tell some kind of origins story,” he says. “It was the birth of modern pop culture and celebrity culture as we know it now. I thought maybe we could learn more from those stories because that’s a time when people weren’t so blasé about screens. This was when we first started looking to screens to tell us something about how to live.”
The studio recording of Room 29 is already out there, featuring Cocker’s dulcet tones over Gonzales’s evocative chamber piano pieces. “We’ve called it a song cycle – we didn’t want to make a concept album because that sounded a bit too much like it would have to have a dragon in it,” says Cocker.
However, the stage show, accompanied by old Hollywood film footage, is the thing. The duo have already performed the piece in a number of intimate theatres, where audiences are given a key as they enter the auditorium.
“It’s a chamber piece, quite literally, so we want people to feel like they’re in the room with us and the stage is set out like that,” says Cocker. “The great thing for me is that I have a bed onstage. This is a lifetime’s ambition come true, that I can have a little lie down if things get too much.” Truly, in the words of the Pulp song, a live bed show.
WORDS: FIONA SHEPHERD
PHOTO: Jean-Baptiste Mondino & Alexandre Isard
WHERE & WHEN
Room 29, King’s Theatre, 22-24 August, 8pm
From £22 Tel: 0131 473 2000