May 8, 2015

Was Pulp’s ‘Common People’ inspired by Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ wife?



Thirst for knowledge?

She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge,

She studied sculpture at Saint Martin’s College,

That’s where I…

Caught her eye.

So begins Pulp’s hit song ‘Common People’, which tells the real story of Pulp’s frontman, Jarvis Cocker, meeting a Greek student while he was studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art in London.

Cocker’s lyrics are a lesson in writing pop songs, specifically the Britpop kind. What begins as him idly chatting a girl up in a bar becomes a social commentary about class divisions and class tourism (“Laugh along with the common people…Because you think that poor is cool.”) tempered with witty one-liners directed at a knowing audience (“She told me that her Dad was loaded/I said in that case I’ll have a rum and coke-cola/She said fine”).

But while the song has become famous and the lyrics have been memorised by every child of the 90s, the identity of the Greek class tourist has so far remained a mystery.

Until now. On Wednesday, the writer Agata Pyzik tweeted a link to a story in the Greek newspaper Athens Voice which posited that Danae Stratou, the wife of the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, is the woman from the song.

As Varoufakis spoke during the European Business Summit in Brussels yesterday, the story spread across the internet, and was picked up by the Independent. They explained:

Danae Stratou studied at St. Martins College of Art and Design between 1983 and 1988, the same year Cocker enrolled in a film studies course there during a break from the band. He told NME in 2013 that he met the Greek girl in the song during ‘Crossover Fortnight’, when St Martins students switched into another discipline for two weeks.

On Twitter, Stella Calvert-Smith confirmed that Stratou herself believed that she was the inspiration for the song:

It would be too perfect if the young student wanting to live like common people ended up marrying the Marxist finance minister who is fighting for the common people of Greece. And indeed, it might be too good to be true. Speaking to the Quietus, Cocker denied the claims, saying:

On that BBC Three documentary [The story Of… Pulp’s Common People], the researchers went through all the people who were contemporaries of mine at St Martins and they tried to track her down. They showed me a picture and it definitely wasn’t her. I dunno. Maybe she wasn’t Greek. Maybe I misheard her.

But the news also brought another candidate forward for the role, the artist Katerina Kana. In an interview with Lifo she claimed she was the inspiration behind the song. I ran her interview through Google Translate:

In St Martin’s was often the Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. We spent an evening together, drinking and talking. He was amazing and suddenly into the conversation I told him «I wanna live like common people» and that got dimensions greater than what had happened that night. Then, the song became the national anthem of an entire social order. I went to the concert in September. I went to go sto [sic] backstage, but they left us.

Perhaps we are no closer to knowing the truth, but the common people have certainly enjoyed the speculation.



Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.