Song By Song Guide To Ping Pong
1. Ping Pong With Hong Kong King Kong (A Sing Song)
A message came from Japan asking me to compose a song for a forthcoming movie about Pingu, the Swiss claymation penguin loved by toddlers all over the world. I made a thirty second jingle. The lyric went 'Pingu the penguin, riding upon your sleigh / Tell me what adventures you are going to have today'. The movie never got made and I adapted the jingle to the one you hear announcing 'Ping Pong the album'. It announces the theme of the song as avatar mask and pop music as a kind of electronic vaudeville in which we can explore many wild and strange characters in a kind of masked ball.
2. His Majesty The Baby
Dean Swift, the 18th century satirist, published a pamphlet called 'A Modest Proposal' which suggested that the Irish famine, combined with a population explosion, could be solved if everybody ate babies. My song takes its cue from Freud, who said that every baby imagines himself to be a king. Like courtiers, the women surrounding a baby can be turned into obsequious, fawning imbeciles. You evolve, you refine yourself, you imagine your culture, wit and poise will make you irresistible to women. Then you find that women are biologically programmed to respond to gurgling, smelly, egocentric goons. No, not Oasis fans. Babies. Come the revolution, off with their heads!
3. My Pervert Doppelganger
My home town, Edinburgh, was the inspiration for 'The Strange Case Of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde', the classic tale of a man with a pervert doppelganger. Perhaps I'm a typical product of that city: brought up in the Georgian harmony of the New Town, well-behaved, civilised and polite, but making nocturnal visits to the bawdy and murderous tenements of the Old Town, a seething cauldron of sex and violence. David Lynch will shortly make the movie of this song, with a genetically altered orang utang playing the part of my doppelganger.
4. I Want You, But I Don't Need You
As societies evolve, people structure their lives less around what they need (food, heat, shelter) and more around what they want (a Sony Playstation, a holiday on Mustique, teledildonics). Women are slightly more stuck in the economy of Need because they still need men to support them while they're needed by the babies they bear. But in a world where humans are cloned and women earn as much money as men, that stops being true. Women will be singing this song by about 2010, I reckon.
5. Professor Shaftenberg
I made a CD-ROM, and one of the pieces on it featured a mad psychoanalyst, Dr Heinboldt Muchenwald Murzenschlifferbach, who claimed to have discovered six new psychosexual neuroses. This song is really an extension of that. It introduces Shaftenberg, a swinger gone mad, a German heavily burdened with sexual sickness who nevertheless thoroughly enjoys his fetishes and, what's more, is actually sponsored by a major international airline. I see him as a cross between Iggy Pop looking for 'some weird sin just to relax with' and Japanese photographer Noboyushi Araki, whose photographs of Japanese women all bound up like sashimi don't seem to stop him being adored by the international fashion community and... Japanese women. Because, you know, the fetishes that enslave us also liberate us.
6. Shoesize Of The Angel
In 1989 I had an indie hit with my song 'The Hairstyle Of The Devil'. It wasn't about a devil's haircut, but about a man asking a woman about the other man she was seeing, and becoming fascinated, and finally meeting the guy. This is the same song backwards, not only musically but conceptually. Instead of being about 'the inexplicable charisma of the rival' it's about indifference and lack of charm and amazing co-incidences not happening. A bit like real life, really. Maybe real life is the plot of a work of fiction in reverse, and maybe it's the fact that nothing adds up and there is no meaning which makes life so much more interesting than fiction.
7. The Age Of Information
I met the writer Douglas Rushkoff at a digital conference in Amsterdam and he surprised me by saying that his solution to the problem of privacy on the internet was not encryption but being morally good. Everything that can be known will be known, so you shouldn't do anything you feel bad about others knowing you do. That doesn't mean you should become boringly respectable, though. Maybe the new transparency will mean a new tolerance for the complexities of human behaviour. Nixon got impeached when people heard his secret tapes, but the more people learn about Clinton's immorality, the more they seem to like him. I think the statement 'your reputation used to depend on what you concealed, now it depends on what you reveal' probably wouldn't shock Oprah Winfrey or the late Diana Spencer much.
8. The Sensation Of Orgasm
This was written in 1993 for a Finnish documentary about the french philosopher Jean Baudrillard. But the philosopher changed his mind about participating and the money was allocated instead to a documentary about Momus. In 'Man Of Letters' (available from Visionary Video, PO Box 30, Lytham St Annes FY8 1RL, England) I sang this song dressed up as a politician campaigning for the Orgasm Party. With the aid of charts and diagrams, this wily old pro told the punters that if they voted for him they would be repaid with fabulous orgasms. He then produced a sandwich from his inside pocket and began munching it.
9. Anthem Of Shibuya
Shibuya is the consumer district of west Tokyo where fashion and music trends rise and fall faster than shares on NASDAQ or the FTSE hundred. Teenage girls rule Shibuya. They come in from the suburbs, change into their oulandish space Lolita costumes in the toilets at Shibuya station, and walk the streets, spending money on pink gadgets, babyish clothes, records by Cornelius and Citrus, and speaking their own arcane slang which the businessmen who are queueing up to buy their underwear can't understand. And just up the hill from the world's best stocked record shops and most calculatedly naive fashion stores you'll find the dizzyingly baroque Disneyland of the Love Hotels, where rooms are rented by the hour. Super-sexual mangas are sold in slot machines on the street corner. And there's zero crime.
10. Lolitapop Dollhouse
This is a song I wrote for Kahimi Karie, who is the resident goddess of Shibuya even though she lives in Paris. It's about breaking out and 'playing the Fender Jaguar'. Japanese women are changing faster than Japanese men, and the sound of their domestic dollhouses being demolished is deafening. I think when I sing this song it becomes about my experience of marriage, which Ibsen described as a Doll's House. The end is indebted to Iggy Pop's song 'Success', when Iggy improvises all the things he's going to do when he becomes successful and David Bowie on backing vocals parrots the increasingly chatoic phrases, including 'Oh shit!'
11. Tamagotchi Press Officer
These cute and demanding little digital pets became the archetypal modern celebrities when every style and culture magazine in the world had to write a feature about the craze for them, and their makers, Bandai, deliberately held them back for a month or two so that queues formed at toyshops when new deliveries were expected and the few people who had them wore them like status symbols around their necks. What I noticed when I got mine in a shop in Chinatown was how stupid and limited it was. It sleeps, it eats, it shits, it dies. For an embittered old aesthete like me it's precisely that banal universality - we all sleep, eat, shit and die - which distinguishes celebrities from the merely talented. The closer an entertainer can get to the utter passivity of a tamagotchi, the more widely he'll be appreciated. The fewer insights he posesses, the fewer problems he poses, the more fans he'll accumulate. No interviews today! In fact, no views at all, ever.
12. Space Jews
The messiah of the Christian religion is a Jewish extraterrestrial, the result of a supernatural being from space's in vitro fertilization of a jewish mother. Jewish people are still cutting the human formulas with extraterrestrial ones, bringing us atomic physics, pyschoanalysis, and Nobel prizes out of all proportion to their numbers. I believe they are hyperevolute and extraterrestrial and have been sent, like Spock of The Enterprise, as guides to make sure that we have the logical means to fulfill our ultimate mission, the colonisation of the stars. If we have faith in it, Jewish brilliance will lead us to the promised land, which is space.
13. My Kindly Friend The Censor
The fact that this song will probably never be played on the radio is proof enough that censorship still exists. As writers, we're supposed to internalise the censor and do the work ourselves, taking out anything which might offend against norms of public decency. No matter how diverse and sophisticated a society becomes, it's the norms of the slowest, weakest and most conservative which ultimately determine what gets censored. The result is art which is never allowed to tell the whole truth. I hate lies worse than I hate vulgarity, and personally I would ride roughshod over the feelings of the narrow-minded in the interests of openness. Like keeping drugs illegal, censorship just concentrates bawdy words and heady substances in an underground ghetto ruled by criminals. 'Oh my kindly friend the censor this cannot be what you mean, to distill the very essence of obscene'. By limiting the spectrum of acceptable behaviours, Monsieur, you have criminalised a part of my humanity.
14. The Animal That Desires
The British artist Georgina Starr used my song 'Rhetoric' in her Paris show this year as part of a project imaginging a world in which the lyrics of love songs had become an authoritarian religion. We became friends and talked a lot about her new project, a musical set on the subway called 'Tuberama'. Georgina wanted to show what people were thinking as they sat in silence on an underground train. To help her, I wrote this song about a typically British, sexually repressed man who is intent on concealing his lust, as if he were the only sexual mammal in a world of sexless amoebas (exactly the odd and alienating illusion that censorship seems intent on perpetuating). In the end the man's loneliness makes him cry out 'Somebody please understand me! Tell me you feel the same way!' But the chilling answer comes back 'Don't be so ridiculous'. He has spoken out of turn and, in the words of the Japanese proverb, 'the nail that sticks out must be hammered in'.
15. How To Get - And Stay - Famous
I saw the Julian Schnabel movie Basquiat with my friend Anthony, the singer in Jack, with whom I'd just made an album called 'How To Make Love, Volume 1'. Anthony, who's ten years younger than me, really hopes he's going to be more famous than me, although he loves my songs and can't understand why I remain a marginal cult figure. We liked the scene where the young Samo says to his friend 'How long does it take to get famous in this town, three, maybe four years?' It seemed so simple, to define it that way and get started on a predicatable path of creation which would lead inevitably to glory. To me, it seems like a much more massive task. In my song I take God as an example. He makes this fantastic planet, it evolves for millions of years, he sends his extraterrestrial son to do PR for him, but people kill the boy and pretty soon even doubt the existence of their creator. How ungrateful can you get? People prefer Tamagotchis to gods.
My friend Alison Spritzler-Rose wrote a fantastic poem called 'The Museum Of Forgotten Things' which seemed to go on for hours, and described a trip through the whole of human history. My talk-song is a similarly rambling piece of time travel, from ancient Greek mythology through Shakespeare and the Bishop Of Winchester (who actually administered London's red light district in the 17th century), to a premier shell loft conversion in the Hollywood Hills. Sometimes I think I'm in love with death, and the dead traces of things, and time itself, which kills and silts and mists everything in a dust storm of fine sand and makes us close our eyes and imagine the world, like an archeologist without a trowel face to face with a sphinx without a riddle, or a crazy chemist sieving the sea for traces of snow from the middle ages.