TBT: "Common People," Shatner Version

The year 2004 was all about William Shatner's cover of Britpop band Pulp's '90s hit "Common People." It's weird, it's confusing, it was made into a ballet performance, and we still don't understand why it's so good. It was all Ben Folds' idea; he produced the song and had Joe Jackson belt out the chorus and a youth choir finish off the dramatic crescendo behind the crunchy indie rock guitar.

It's a rich old man sarcastically singing (or Shatnering, I guess?) the anthem of a poor young man whose frustration and bitterness and shame were apparently triggered by the presence of a beautiful, rich young woman who allegedly dared to express an interest, Marie-Antoinette-like, in the lives of the "common people."

Original songwriter Jarvis Cocker struggled as a musician for a long time before "Common People" rocketed him out of the gutter and into a life of wealth and fame. At first, he seemed to describe the song's narrative conversation between himself and the rich woman as based on a true story. After fan investigations revealed the probable identity of the woman--Greek artist Danae Stratou, who went on to become half of a progressive power couple with Yanis Varoufakis, one of the world's leading political strategists on ending systemic poverty--thinks got awkward. Cocker has increasingly tried to walk back his story. After all, certainly the woman didn't actually express the sexual interest in him that he pretended to scorn; she did not literally say she wanted to "sleep with common people" like himself. Artistic license was taken. Perhaps the woman was actually talking to someone else, and he just overheard a few words of their conversation. Maybe he was so drunk he doesn't even remember who she was or who the man was. No, it's likely he made the whole thing up. There was no Greek student of sculpture; it's entirely fiction after all.


It is fortunate for Jarvis that he also didn't literally just "dance and drink and screw 'cause there's nothing else to do." He learned to play instruments and went to art school and worked hard to channel his ambivalent feels about class tourism and rich people into art that has made him, ironically, very rich as well. He'll never live like common people again, and Danae and her husband are working to design a world in which no one else has to live that way either.


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