The Philosophy of Momus
Song By Song Guide
The sound of Momus sitting in his flat in Brydges Place, Covent Garden, playing a bunch of gritty Muddy Waters samples by hand and screeching in a throaty voice some mad, Californian lyrics about drag car racing and drugs, completely off the top of his head. He had been listening to a lot of Beck at the time. He has never been completely happy about being Momus, which is what makes him... Momus.
The Madness of Lee Scratch Perry
They said, `You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.'
The man replied 'Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.'
Wallace Stevens, 'The Man With The Blue Guitar'
Wallace Stevens, in his poem 'The Man With The Blue Guitar', rebukes the public for its horrified response to Picasso's 'hoard of destructions'. Just like Picasso, Lee Scratch Perry pushed his medium, reggae dub, into a dangerous new area of distortion. Unlike Picasso he didn't return from the land of the mad. He continues to this day to suffer from the classic delusions of paranoid schizophrenia, which in some cases resemble the core beliefs of Rastafarianism. We must consider him happy.
It's Important To Be Trendy
The biologist Richard Dawkins describes fashion as a 'cultural virus' spread by copying. He calls the basic unit of copying the 'meme'. (For example, the wearing of baseball caps backwards is a meme). Memes tear through populations like the flu. They are especially prevalent in places where people crowd together: big cities, school playgrounds. Some current memes are listed in this song, which should not be taken as a critique of fashion. Momus adores New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo: places where new memes are hatched, commercialised, spread then abandoned at breakneck speed. Prudence (and physical cowardice) prevent him, however, from endorsing such non-reversible memes as body piercing and tattooing.
Oddly, Momus (who subtitled one of his albums 'Live Whilst Out Of Fashion') has never been considered trendy.
Quark and Charm, The Robot Twins
Impossible to walk long in Tokyo without seeing representations of the famous Astro Boy, whose superhuman powers are outdone only by his boyish cuteness. Quark and Charm is a blueprint for a yet-to-be-coded computer game. Imagine it played in primitive 3D on the new, pink-screened Nintendo Virtual Boy. The music bleeps out its simplistic little structure with relentless monotony. The Robot Twins, seven metres tall, crusade zealously on behalf of authority. They are so positive, shiny and invulnerable that, playing the game, one soon begins to stifle in an atmosphere of complete fascism.
In the poorest countries the men are macho. In the richest they become effeminate. Recently in Japan 'femicons' have started to appear: heterosexual boys who dress like girls and wear makeup. Momus, a connoisseur of foundation cream and long-time refuser of Rock, has long known that the gentle dismantling of the basic oppositions that structure our culture can be more devastating than bombs.
The sample 'Goddamnit you fucker I wanna be alone' is from a Pixelvision film by Sadie Benning. A young lesbian's rejection of male attentions parallels a male's rejection of his own maleness.
Momus visited Yokohama Chinatown by night in July 1993. It's a pleasure town for sailors, a blaze of bulbs and red and gilt restaurants, clubs and shops where you can, it seems, buy anything. But the song is a 'mad' improvisation in which furtive sex takes place in an intensely commercial atmosphere. What happens in a free, unethical commercial zone when you can buy drugs, sex, weapons? What happens when loneliness and impersonality can only be vitiated by immoral spending? In a world without ethics, regulation or religion, shopping becomes everything: stimulant and aneasthetic, upper and downer. How depressing. How intoxicating.
Our genes are Russian dolls, and, like a fractal, contain the mathematical possibility of entire universes which only need time to unfold forever inwards. Momus sings about AIDS sufferers, who, abandoned by 'helper' T cells, find their lives radically shortened, and vampires, who lenghten their lives by consuming the blood of others. He sings in the manner of a nursery rhyme like 'The House That Jack Built'. He screeches off at crazy tangents with a desperately distorted guitar.
These are phrases taken at random from the diary of Franz Kafka. The sentences are filled with the livid, gloomy insights of an insomniac bachelor on a coffee buzz. The song was written in Edinburgh in 1981.
Like 'Yokohama Chinatown', the song rams the needs of the soul against the painkillers and palliatives on the supermarket shelf. But it doesn't draw bitterly ironic conclusions. There may really be a way to assemble a commercial simulacrum of the lost girl, a Virtual Valerie. 'I will specify you line by line'. When the supermarket also offers satellite links, modems and virtual worlds, there may be something better than a Nicorette patch for loneliness.
In the real world of love relationships you must learn to relish even the worst quarrel. You must become involved, you must 'give good fight', for the possessive anger of your partner is just another face of the love of your partner. But, before you do, you may like to savour a Zen moment of aesthetic detachment. When challenged, when shouted at, count to ten. While you're counting, enjoy the tense, dynamic atmosphere that precedes the inevitable lovemaking of your reconciliation.
The Cabinet of Kuniyoshi Kaneko
This is fighting talk. For once resolved and unambiguous about a subject, Momus allows himself to editorialise. Taking as its pretext a CD ROM called Alice, in which the Japanese painter Kuniyoshi Kaneko illustrates Lewis Carroll's book with beautiful and delicate images of polymorphously perverse children, the song points out to the pro-censorship lobby the different moral codes that govern our behaviour in life and art (for, with interactive multimedia, we can really talk about 'behaviour in art'), reality and virtuality:
In life remain considerate, in art the Devil incarnate
Why deny the siren when it sings?
In games there must be no forbidden things
Slide Projector Lie Detector
We're living in the era of the mechanisation of memory. We act, and machines (the video camera atop the traffic lights, the credit card company's computer, the 8 track digital recording deck, the Polaroid camera) record. Mechanical memory does not decay as human memory does, mechanical memory does not take into account the fact that people change. My acts as an amoral batchelor suddenly look different now I'm married. If a judge or, worse, the person I love chooses to turn this mechanical evidence into a case against me, I'm suddenly vulnerable, trapped in the glare of a slide projector lens. I had forgiven myself, I had changed, but the record of my past remains the same, ready to spring alive in full colour at any moment. My future is strewn with the ingenious mechanical landmines of my past acts.
In my past there was sexual pluralism, there was a journey from microworld to microworld, from girl to girl. Now there is collision, and fusion. The love song of an elderly astronaut.
In Kafka's 'The Trial' Josef K's landlady expresses her feeling that his trial is like 'something refined, something complicated, far beyond the comprehension of a person like me'.This song expresses the same sense of slightly fearful wonder at the way a girl's hair falls around her ear. Maybe our shy prudishness, our fear of the otherness of the opposite sex, is necessary to our longing.
I Had A Girl
Momus 'lost' Shazna, his Bangladeshi girlfriend, when her parents flew her to Bangladesh in December 1993. This song was written during the six months her parents kept her there, attempting to arrange a marriage for her. He later 'solved everything' and justified the hope expressed at the end of the song by flying Shazna back from her ordeal with the help of the British High Commission in Dhaka. They were married in July 1994.
The Philosophy of Momus
The Loneliness of Lift Music
Long ago Momus, the Olivieri Toscani of songwriting, was known for provocative narratives of sex and death. His adamant neutrality when dealing with necrophilia, child abuse, and murder provoked condemnation from some, admiration from others. But most commentators missed the essential element in these songs: the flickering atmosphere of the moral twilights they painted, the pathetic beauty in the scenarios, and the odd sense of freedom experienced by their warped heroes. This song is in the school of 'The Beast With 3 Backs', 'The Guitar Lesson' and 'The Cabriolet'.
Paranoid Acoustic Seduction Machine
A surreal and automated tableau of perfectly blank lust, this 'song' borrows from Salvador Dali's 'Paranoid Critical Method'.
The Sadness of Things
Aah, more philosophy! A rumination on the Japanese expression 'mono no aware', translated literally as 'the sigh-ness of things'. This song is a collaboration with Japanese musician Ken Morioka of the group Soft Ballet.