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On This Day In Music… March 11, 1996: Jarvis Cocker Cleared of 'Assaulting Children' After Waving His Bottom at Michael Jackson

'I was just sat there and watching it and feeling a bit ill, cos he's there doing his Jesus act,' Jarvis later explained.

jarvis cocker
Source: mega

'My actions were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some Christ-like figure with the power of healing.'

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It was the single greatest thing to have ever happened at the BRIT Awards, or possibly any awards show ever… and it was also the moment Jarvis Cocker was transformed from “quirky singer of quirky Indie band” to National Treasure.

On February 19, 1996, during a performance by Michael Jackson at the BRITs, the Pulp frontman jumped onto the stage, where he waved his bottom to the crowd while also making a wafting motion with his hands. After dodging a security guard, he then calmly returned to his seat for the rest of the show. The whole thing was caught on TV – watch below, with Jarvis’s intervention at around the 4.55 mark.

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What happened subsequently was an extraordinary three-week period that saw Michael Jackson bring all of his considerable resources to bear in an attempt to see Cocker face serious criminal charges for his actions… and a counter operation by the Pulp singer that included legal representation by surrealist comedian Bob Mortimer, a “Free Jarvis” campaign led by the cast of “New Lad” sitcom Men Behaving Badly, and, most decisively as it turned out, the last-minute intervention of none other than David Bowie.

Jackson had been invited to the BRITs to accept the made-up-for-the-occasion “Artist of a Generation” award, as well as perform his recent No. 1 “Earth Song”. If securing Jackson's first British TV appearance for 20 years was a coup for the award show, they also apparently gave the King of Pop carte blanche to turn his performance into an overblown demonstration of his Messianic self-delusion.

Still dogged by sexual abuse rumors, Jackson nevertheless performed “Earth Song” surrounded by dozens of children dressed in rags, all apparently bowing in adoration to the singer while he seemingly disposed healing powers on them. The climax of the performance saw Jackson, all in brilliant white, pose with arms spread wide in a crucifixion pose, as the children approached, one by one, to embrace him.

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michael jackson brits
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Michael Jackson performing 'Earth Song' - suffer the little children to come unto him, etc.

It was astonishing stuff. And too much for Cocker, who had also watched the performance in rehearsals before the big night.

“I was just sat there and watching it and feeling a bit ill, cos he's there doing his Jesus act,” he later revealed on TFI Friday. “And I could kind of see – it seemed to me there was a lot of other people who kind of found it distasteful as well, and I just thought: ‘The stage is there, I'm here and you can actually just do something about it and say this is a load of rubbish if you wanted.’

“And once I was there, I didn’t really know what to do then. So I thought I may as well bend over and show me bum.”

If the whole incident was incredibly funny, it was also a deft – and peculiarly British – puncturing of all the pomposity, self-importance and sheer bad taste of Jackson’s Christ-like performance. Cocker didn’t so much insult Jackson; he made him look silly, which is a far more effective weapon.

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Michael Jackson clearly did not like being made to look silly, and brought his own weapons to bear. As the show concluded, Cocker was apprehended by the police and taken to a dressing room to “discuss” the incident. And as word got around the Earls Court Exhibition Centre that the Pulp singer was facing assault charges, events took an even more surreal turn. Men Behaving Badly stars Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey began a “Free Jarvis” chant, and police answered a knock on the door to find Bob Mortimer, who introduced himself as Cocker’s legal representative.

“Bob used to work for Peckham Council in the legal department, so he offered to speak in my defense and deal with the legal aspects of the case,” he told TFI Friday. When asked how Mortimer felt about facing off against Jackson’s intimidating big-money lawyers, he replied: “I don’t know about that. As far as I knew the policemen just kept asking him for his autograph.”

Cocker was eventually escorted to Kensington Police Station (still accompanied by Mortimer), where he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting three of the children on stage, and, at 3 a.m., released on bail, after being told that he would have to attend court on March 11 to face any charges brought against him.

“The police have got until March 11, which is when I‘ve got to go back to the police station”, he said, “and then, if they’ve thought of anything, I’ll get charged with it.

“As far as I know [upsetting Michael Jackson] isn’t a crime in this country. It might be in America.”

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jarvis cocker flicking vs
Source: mega

'As far as I know [upsetting Michael Jackson] isn’t a crime in this country. It might be in America.'

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As the British press initially screamed their outrage at the stage invasion (“The night our young dreams were Pulped”, ran one headline), Jackson himself issued a statement, saying: “I’m sickened, saddened, shocked, upset, cheated and angry, but immensely proud that the cast remained professional and the show went on.”

Jarvis countered with a statement of his own: “My actions were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some Christ-like figure with the power of healing. The music industry allows him to indulge his fantasies because of his wealth and power. People go along with it even though they know it’s a bit sick. I just couldn’t go along with it any more. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision brought about by boredom and frustration. I just ran on the stage and showed off. I didn’t make any physical contact with anyone as far as I recall. I certainly didn’t push anybody off stage. I find it very insulting to be accused of attacking children. All I was trying to do was make a point and do something lots of other people would have done if only they’d dared.”

jarvis cocker press conference march
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Jarvis Cocker gave a press conference after all charges against him were dropped on March 11, 1996.

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But if Jackson thought that the British public (and press) would side with him, he was chronically mistaken. The jokey “Free Jarvis” campaign started by Clunes and Morrissey was picked up artists including Noel Gallagher (who told the Melody Maker that far from being arrested, Jarvis should be awarded an MBE for his actions)… and once the tabloids cottoned on to which way the wind was blowing, blew up into a nationwide phenomenon. But fun though it all was, Cocker was still on bail – and still faced potentially devastating charges.

And then, at the eleventh hour, a genuine savior, in the form of David Bowie. The “Heroes” star had received a Lifetime Achievement award at the same ceremony, and had his own camera crew covering the event. Their footage showed Cocker to have done nothing worse than waggle his bottom… and in the face of such incontrovertible evidence, even Neverland’s most ruthless legal eagles were forced to admit defeat.

On March 11, all charges were dropped, and Jarvis Cocker declared a free man once again. “Among many other things I’m grateful to David Bowie for”, said Jarvis, “that was amazing”.


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