thanks for your letter. I'm very flattered that you have chosen my love lyrics to translate and am delighted to help throw some light on them.
PAPER WRAPS ROCK:
1. 'Prudence is the proper doxy's friend': a doxy, according to my dictionary, is 'archaic slang' for a prostitute or mistress. The phrase 'proper doxy' is a paradox ('the paradox is heaven sent', says the next line), since proper can be an intensifier (a real doxy, a right slut) but can also mean 'decent, respectable'. I played the same trick in 'Murderers, the Hope of Women' with the phrase 'proper little madams' (since a madam means at once a grand lady and the proprietress of a brothel). So it ties in with the whole theme of the song, which attempts to demolish the old dichotomy in the way culture treats women as either madonnas or whores. Of course, around the same time as I wrote the song, a certain Madonna was making the same point in her own work.
2. 'She's Paris in a drag of plaster and papyrus': She's means 'she is...' The general idea is that Helen of Troy, the 'madonna' whose beauty got Paris into the Trojan war, has been so reduced in the history of culture to a pretext, a symbol, a cipher of meaningless virtue and inspirational beauty that she may as well have been Paris himself, dressed up in womens' clothes. Papyrus, of course, is paper, the first medium and therefore a symbol of verbal media with their enchanting, distorting influence (what gets told is what makes a good story, not what really happened). Plaster is used in the making of sculptures and therefore is a metonym of visual media. But I also like the play on 'plaster of Paris', a name for plaster powder. In fact the first draft of this song was a love song to my then girlfriend, an amateur sculptress, and said 'brush off the plaster of Paris, every good boy deserves favour'.
Which leads me to the EGBDF acronyms. The first draft of the lyric was structured round the characterisation of me as a musician and the girl (whose name was Helen) as a sculptress. EGBDF are the musical notes represented by the five lines in musical notation, and when children are taught to read music they are given mneumonics to remember this: 'Every good boy deserves favour' and 'Every green bus drives fast'.
CLOSER TO YOU: 'Wandsworth Town'. No pun at all. It's a district of south London.
2. 'Foundation painter': in England when you study art you usually start with what's called a foundation year in which you do several arts before choosing an area of specialisation.
3. 'I can kiss eggshells, I can be ginger': these are just images of delicacy and caution. I supppose there's an echo of the phrase 'walking on eggshells' (being very careful), with the twist that my caution could be sexually stimulating too. Ginger just means cautious or shy. And, yes, there is a faint connection with eggshell paint and also the suggestion of a recipe in the proximity of eggs and ginger. Cooking and painting are both very sensual and sexy things, don't you think?
4. A Dansette is a brand of mono record player popular with teenagers in the 50s and 60s (doing for the vinyl 33 RPM LP what the Walkman did in the 80s for the cassette).
The reason the words I sang aren't always in the book is that I did my texts from memory and forgot some of the lines. Maybe there are some Freudian slips in the things I chose to omit.
Some thoughts on the songs you list:
PAPER WRAPS ROCK: The concept of female virtue, a male idea foisted on women down the centuries, proposes that women's sexuality is valuable, on the model of an economic commodity, in relation to its scarcity. So there is a scornful portrayal of emblematic women through history as exquisitely desireable yet completely inaccessible. And the narrator of the song is simply trying to say 'Can't you see that your flirtaceous, cock teasing 'virtue' is the way the men who own you want you to act? The time has come to make good all this sexual promise... with me.' The idea of culturally female behaviour being actually male, to the extent that some women are almost male drag queens (and most transvestites play the 'woman' role better than women themselves do), is formulated most severely by Jacques Lacan when he says 'Woman does not exist'. And Lacan would no doubt point out the blatantly Oedipal subtext of this song, which is: 'Mummy, it's only Daddy who says you mustn't sleep with me'.
The song is a piece of rhetorical machinery designed to make women sleep with me. As such (and unlike 'Closer to You', which actually did persuade at least one woman into my bed) it fails miserably. It's too convoluted, too complex, too rhetorical, and in fact insulting to the women it intends to impress. And that's what the last verse ('She will forget you...') is saying. The words of this song, like all words, are just the 'pretentious knots that cover the paper... that wraps up rock'. The last four words do, however, hold out hope. In the children's game Scissors, Paper, Rock, it always rather interested me that paper beats rock.
If you don't know this game, the rules are as follows: two people bring out hands from behind their backs in the shape of scissors or paper or rock, with the rule that scissors win over paper by cutting it, rock wins over scissors by blunting them, and paper wins over rock by wrapping it. So, metaphorically, the paper (which represents media, words, songs, culture) can actually wrap the 'rock' of the body. But is this triumphant paper the paper of the father, that paper on which is written the paradoxical script of seduction and unavailablity which is the specification of the capitalist female, or is it the paper of the son, which simply says 'Make love with me now, because tomorrow your beauty will be gone'? I don't know.
A variant on the children's game occurs to me as a symbol of all my work. Stand opposite your opponent. Put your hand behind your back. Count to three and bring out your hand in the shape of Brain, Penis or Pen. But does penis beat pen, does brain beat penis, does penis beat brain? Listen to my records and decide.
CLOSER TO YOU: I first thought of structuring a song around the paradox of verses filled with descriptions of sexual perversity and voyeurism (following women on the street, spying on women, rubbing up against women on tube trains) followed by choruses in which the narrator excused his actions by saying 'But I was only doing it to be closer to you'. Then I saw Alan Rudolph's film 'Choose Me', which has a soundtrack by Luther Vandross, and wanted to add the irony of a soul style. Because soul music is an alliance of the religious and the sexual, and really what the narrator of this song wants is for a woman to be like a catholic priest and absolve him of the sin of lust.
But there's another meaning to 'Closer to You', which is that I want to be more like you. Girl, I want to have your place in culture. Because my theory has always been that an artist and a woman are very close in cultural space. So close that maybe they're in competition. They are both purveyors of beauty, put in the world to entertain the rich and powerful. So the condemnation of artists and wise men ('Solomon, Confucius, Franz Kafka, they'd never have done it if they'd been as beautiful as you') is a little bit ironic. Do I really condemn all my artist heroes? Do I really condemn my own songs 'Paper Wraps Rock' and 'Murderers, the Hope of Women'? Do I throw them on the rubbish heap the moment I see a skirt? Is biological fertility worth so much more than cultural fertility?
Let's get back to our game of Brain, Penis, Pen.
ICE KING: My girlfriend once read my diary and found that on a certain day I had been thinking that I loved her, but not saying it. That was a decisive step in our relationship. If I had merely been saying it, it would have remained rhetoric. Which in fact is what it later became, for we would tell each other 'I'm thinking it but not saying it', which simply meant 'I love you'.
In the light of this story, 'Ice King' is a diary left promiscuously open at a page saying 'I love her, but I'm keeping it to myself'. But the real motive, which is that the girl will only believe my rhetoric if she thinks I don't want her to know it, is disguised as an insecurity: that if I tell her I love her, and she knows she possesses me, she will lose interest. This tallies with a favourite saying of mine, a saying attributed to Balzac: 'In love there is always one who suffers and one who is bored'. So, if one wants to avoid suffering, one pretends to be the less dependent partner, bored and indifferent, merely tolerant.
But I think the song itself is a trick. A man who worries that he is really cold overcomes his worry by pretending to be a warm man pretending to be a cold man. In the terms of Balzac's formula the bored partner is pretending to be the suffering partner merely pretending to be bored. There are more layers of deceit than an onion has skins! But flip 'Tender Pervert' over and you'll hear a man troubled by his own homosexual tendencies overcoming them by pretending to be just pretending to be a homosexual. If defence mechanisms could be patented, Momus would by now be a rich man.
HAIRSTYLE OF THE DEVIL: The song is based on a real relationship I had. Since it's history now I can tell you the details. I was sleeping with my 'plugger', the girl in charge of the radio promotion of my single releases. I'll call her Vicky, she was an American of Greek origin. She was also seeing a man I'll call Mark, boss of a very hot acid house label. It was 1989, and the tabloid press in Britain were portraying the burgeoning acid house scene as an inferno of diabolical corruption. A certain desperation at my own lack of commercial success with my folky protest music and angelic imagery (I had posed as St Sebastian) made me think of signing a pact with the devil in the form of the very radio stations that Vicky had access to. I sampled a Kevin Saunderson rhythm track and made the first indie dance record Creation had put its name on.
So I became the devil's advocate, musically and lyrically. Musically by sounding like contemporary villains like Stock, Aitken and Waterman rather than The Velvet Underground as you were supposed to. Lyrically by singing, not my own role in the story, but Mark's. I was jealous of Mark, because he was all Vicky ever talked about. So I got my revenge by becoming him in a single that Vicky then promoted to the radio (with a picture of herself on the cover). And the devil must have been pleased, because it was played a lot. But, as usual with my songs, I think it was all a bit convoluted to become a genuine hit. And maybe the public were disturbed by the apparent homosexual subtext. Listen closely and it's really a song about the fascination of two men with each other, with the woman a mere pretext. 'There was just one thing it turned you on to talk about... The inexplicable charisma of the rival'.
Maybe not so inexplicable after all. I wasn't after Mark's body, but he was sexy, he was hot, in the way only culture can be sexy and hot. His label, his music, were having their day and I wanted that more than mere sex. So it's 'Closer to You' all over again. Making art about making the choice between girls and art.
AMONGST WOMEN ONLY: So much of my work is an attempt to escape from sexual guilt. I don't have religious hang-ups but I've been frightened by feminism in my time. And feminism is like a religion. Feminism told me it was wrong to see women as sexual objects. Feminism told me that pornography was the theory, rape the practise. It told me that the personal was political, that even love was shadowed by strategies of power. I still longed for love, still got erections from 'commodified' women's bodies, still fantasised. But I felt I had to disguise my fantasies, make them politically correct, to escape the guilt of a male under Patriarchy.
'Amongst Women Only' is at heart fin de siecle soft porn in the manner of Pierre Louys, soft focus masturbatory art like the photographs of David Hamilton or the songs of Serge Gainsbourg. But as a token New Man I made my fantasy of a girl pleasuring herself into a feminist story about sisters doing it for themselves (because the men just aren't good enough). A ploy, I'm sure you'll agree, about as subversive as putting a 'lesbian' scene in a porn film. But given a spurious respectability by the fact that all the lesbian action, all the female masturbation in the song is in fact a fantasy an abandoned male has to prevent him feeling jealous of the other men his girlfriend is probably seeing.
Another Momus defence mechanism to file at the patent office.
THE CABRIOLET: You could see this song as the final solution to the puzzle about whether girls or art are better, and the final refusal of the guilt feminism tried to make me feel for seeing women as beautiful objects. For the girl who dies in the car crash, and who, alive, had been an object of indifference, becomes, in death, a beautiful object, a work of art. And what happens is that the narrator, a cultivated aesthete, gets to fulfill his ultimate fantasy: to fuck a work of art. For the poor dead girl he fucks is as stiff and timeless as a porcelain dish in the British Museum's Chinese collection, as still and cool as Keat's Grecian Urn.
I hope he's happy, that cultivated aesthete, in his little corner of hell.
I ATE A GIRL RIGHT UP: But of course the gourmet we meet here makes the cultivated aesthete seem, well, cultivated. He is not a man but a monster, the Bibendum on the cover of the record, a big rubber monster who lives for immoral pleasure and who is nothing but a penis with eyes and a mouth (the mouth to eat what the eyes see). But even Bibendum feels guilt, for his cry 'Don't call me cannibal!' shows that some feminist arrows have penetrated even his thick rubber armour. Even in a universe of pure pleasure there are accusing echoes, maternal voices shouting about self-indulgence.
For what is Bibendum, that selfish cannibal, but a big baby at his mother's breast, eating her, drinking her in the first relation all men have with a woman? And what is his imperial arrogance but the hubris of a baby? 'I'd do it all again, it was yummy,' he sighs at the end, before burping and falling no doubt into a contented sleep. But alas we cannot 'do it all again', for beyond childhood there is only responsiblity, guilt, the penal code, respect for human life, Political Correctness...
VIRTUAL REALITY: Somebody recently pointed out to me that the Everly Brothers' 'All I Have To Do Is Dream' is a song about masturbation. My memory of listening to this song, aged ten, in our flat in Athens lies uncomfortably close to my memory of my first orgasm. Perhaps it was those innocent brothers who taught me how.
My 'Voyager' album was a return to innocence after the orgiastic abandon of 'Hippopotamomus'. I embraced science fiction melodrama, a gentle Japanese futurism, an electronic inwardness.
The Everly Brothers sang 'I can make her mine, taste her lips of wine, anywhere, anytime... Only trouble is, gee whizz, I'm dreaming my whole life away'. 'Virtual Reality' proposes the same eerie fantasia, all the more sinister for being so bland and sweet musically. 'What's real to me, what's make believe, I don't even care any more'. It's as if Odysseus, between Scylla and Charybdis, decided to lose himself in the singing of the sirens.
Even into these gentle dreams the feminists came after me, shaking their spears. I think that guilt must attract the self-righteous as blood is said to attract sharks. A woman called Barbara Ellen wrote in New Musical Express that this song described me 'sacrificing virgins in cyberspace'. But there were no virgins. There was nobody there but me.
SUMMER HOLIDAY 1999: The title and some of the images come from the film 'Summer Vacation 1999' by Shusuke Kaneko. But the middle section ('I long to see your face from every angle all at once...') I took from a letter a Japanese girl wrote me. Some of the most beautiful, and the strangest, compliments I had ever heard. And they made me long to love someone as she loved me.
My solution was to steal her passion and pass it off in this song as my own. This process reminds me of one of my favourite aphorisms, by Theodor Adorno. 'In the end, soul itself is the longing of the soul-less for redemption'. To find God, it is enough to wish strongly enough that a God should exist. To fall in love, it is sometimes sufficient to envy the love in the person who loves you.
ENLIGHTENMENT: Something strange happened to me between 'Voyager' and 'Timelord'. I met someone and for the first time in my life fell completely in love. She was a schoolgirl, a Bangladeshi Muslim. Our relationship was in flagrant defiance of every possible moral and legal standard. We snatched time together when we could, knowing that school, religion, the law, family, everything was against us. We spoke of the hours we had together as 'the Nowness of Now', because we couldn't take any future for granted.
But strangely it was through this 'abnormal' relationship that I discovered 'normality'. Love, faithfulness, promises, the exchange of rings, talk of babies and growing old together. Somehow it was like a children's dream of heterosexuality, a drama enacted in a doll's house.
When she wanted to go on the pill I decided to go for an AIDS test, so that I would know for sure I wasn't endangering her. As we sat together in the doctor's surgery waiting for the result of my blood test I wondered if she would stay with me even if it were positive. And it occurred to me that even if it were negative, I was already wasting away with the disease called life. Seventeen years older than her, I would wrinkle and shrivel while she was still fresh and glowing. Would she still love me toothless, hairless? And if so, why? Would that be me? Am I even now still me?
I shouldn't have worried. I didn't have AIDS. And Shazna might not be able to witness my slow decay from old age. Her family found out about us and sent her to Bangladesh, where she will remain until a marriage is arranged for her. She has told me to wait for her. It may be that all we have is the Nowness of Now, itself transformed into a memory trace, the Thenness of Then. Will they find a cure for hope? No-one can say.