Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales

Truth, Twenty-Four Frames Per Second

Jun 30, 2017 Issue #60 - Father John Misty Bookmark and Share

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Errol Flynn. Clark Gable. Robert Mitchum. Marilyn Monroe. Dorothy Parker. Greta Garbo. Charles Bukowski. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Heath Ledger. Gram Parsons. Jim Morrison. John Lennon. James Dean and Natalie Wood. Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. All were guests of Chateau Marmont, Hollywood’s most fabled hotel.

Opened as an apartment building in 1929 and converted into a hotel in 1931, Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohn famously told his stars, “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.” Regarded as one of the most discreet hideaways in Hollywood, its place in the histories of cinema, literature, and rock and roll have cemented the Chateau’s status as perhaps the most fabled locale in all of American pop culture. The hotelor, to be specific, one of its suitesis the subject of Room 29, a collaborative concept record by British songwriter Jarvis Cocker and Canadian composer Chilly Gonzales.

“We live in a world where there’s a lot of false heritage,” explains Cocker, who first stayed at the Chateau while touring with his band Pulp in the 1990s. “Every bar or restaurant you go into seems to have some sort of reclaimed wood on the walls, and they’re trying to make it look like it’s been open since the 1930s or ‘40s. Well, that place really has been open since then, and all the storiesall of the ones featured on the record, and many moreare all true.”

“You’re aware when you walk into it, that you’re walking into something storied,” says Gonzales. “Like a lot of Hollywood, it feels like it’s stuck in a different time.”

The inspiration came to Cocker during a more recent stay, when he was assigned to room 29 and found it contained a baby grand piano. He wondered what the piano might say if it could tell stories of all it had seen over the decades. It seemed to him like the perfect project for a collaboration with Gonzales, a friend with whom he’d wanted to work for years. The songwriting was done long-distance, with Gonzales, in Germany, sending piano tracks to Cocker, in Paris.

“I could take time with my ideas, and Jarvis could react to the music,” says Gonzales. “We were sort of a reverse Gilbert and Sullivan in that way.”

“I made the decision right at the beginning that whatever he sent me, the bits that I responded to, I would take as-is,” says Cocker, who had always previously been involvedbe it with Pulp, or his solo workin the musical aspect of songwriting. “There was a very clear division of labor on this record. He did the music and I did the singing, and that’s it. That was an interesting way to work.”

Given the hundreds of stories about Chateau Marmont and its thousands of famous guests, Cocker had to be selective about whom he chose to write songs. The ones he gravitated toward-including screen siren Jean Harlow, billionaire Howard Hughes, and Clara Clemens, daughter of Mark Twainhad all once been occupants of the Chateau’s room 29.

“As soon as I mentioned to people what I was working on, they’d automatically assume that you’re going to do something about John Belushi or Led Zeppelin,” says Cocker. “Those seem to be the two stories people know: that John Belushi died in a bungalow and Led Zeppelin drove their motorbikes through the lobby.”

“I would leave it to someone else to write a musical about all of the rock and roll overdoses that happened at the Chateau Marmont,” confirms Gonzales.

“I was really interested in the fact that the hotel had opened just as the movies got sound, and so the history of Hollywood and the history of the hotel were really entwined,” says Cocker. “And so, I was looking for stories that had a personal resonance to me. That weren’t maybe the best known stories, but said something about the appetite that moving pictures stoked within people.”

It’s an appetite that hasn’t diminished one bit since the Golden Age of Hollywood that inspired Room 29, and it’s because of cinema’s appeal on a basic, human level.

“You kind of want your life to be like a movie, don’t you? You want it to have a storyline, you want it to have plenty of sex and action,” says Cocker. “There’s a line in a song towards the end of the record which says, ‘This is what I’ve been dreaming about: life with the boring bits edited out.’”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]



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