Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
So what, I hear you asking, has Momus been up to on his holidays from Manhattan?
I'm in Edinburgh, catching up with my family, getting a visa for another year in the US, and soaking up the world's biggest and most diverse arts festival.
Here's a selection of some of the stuff I've seen so far:
Theatre: Some Berkoff about how crap it is to be an actor. The Earl of Rochester's never-before performed verse play 'Sodom' about a libertine king who decides vaginas are too flabby and vows henceforth to procure his pleasure in the back passages of his various courtiers and subjects. Needless to say it all ends in fire and syphilis, but the dirty verse is wonderful. Some Japanese mime, a bit too Ionesco and Magrittey. A wonderful Russian play called A History Of Communism As Explained To The Mentally Ill. A very good strobe-lit one-man show about the madness of Antonin Artaud.
Cabaret Stuff: I see a couple of people singing Brel and Gainsbourg. Philip Jeays is an Englishman who went to boarding school in Southport then discovered Toulouse and Jacques Brel. Now he writes witty songs which unfortunately make me squirm with uncomfortable recognition of my own slavish imitation of the great Belgian all those years ago. Sometimes you should try to hide your influences, or have more than one. Much more impressive was Francois Raffenaud, who blew me away with a rendition of Pierre Perret's mid-70s french smash 'Le Zizi' ('The Cock'). In the oral tradition of the troubadours I went home excitedly to, er, toss off my own version, Everything You Didn't Want To Know About My Penis.
Visual Art: a great show by Iranian Shirin Neshat about the Islamic ban on woman singers. A really interesting CD-ROM encyclopaedia by Alan Currall. He interviewed all his friends, asking them to define, from memory and sketchy knowledge, all the sorts of topics you get in reference books. Particularly funny is the bit where his dad tries to define abstract art. But the revelation of the fortnight was the Paul Klee show at the Gallery of Modern Art. This is the first and only UK showing of the private Burgi collection, and included a wonderful sketchbook. I was scribbling notes for hours, resolving to steer my album in the direction of magical, mystical Swiss-German inwardness as soon as I get back to New York. Klee has always been a benign influence on my work, but now I really feel he's opening up a fresh-smelling coniferous trail which I must follow if my mountain music isn't to descend into stale genre parody.
It's weird walking around Edinburgh. It's my hometown, but I haven't lived here much, and not for years. I find I associate certain streets with songs or parts of songs. Canonmills, by the Texaco station, always reminds me of 'Stop Mithering' by The Fall. Calton Hill reminds me of 'Tragedy and Farce' (I realise with a thrill of horror that the song lyric mis-spells this elevated clump of pseudo-hellenic funerary monuments 'Carlton Hill'). The Dean Bridge (over the Germanic mill-and-waterfall hamlet the Dean Village) will always remind me of Josef K's 'The Missionary'. Castle Terrace for some reason I associate with the rap in 'Professor Shaftenberg', maybe because I was here three years ago with the literary ex-lover (Miss X) who inspired it.
Of course I'm thinking all the time about my current lover, my most-missed Shizu-Chan. She's in Japan raising the money for another three months of irresponsibility with me in New York. She e mails me about a meeting she attended at the San-X Corporation in Osaka:
'San-X (the company which invented Tarepanda, the boneless, spineless, melting panda) has a new charactor, Kogepan, which means burnt bread. He's cramped because he thinks 'nobody would buy me 'cos I'm burnt.' He says 'You will throw me away, won't you?' On his chat page he says 'no one will come anyway', in his link he says 'you won't come back, will you?', in his BBS you're supposed to write something negative.'
I love the idea of a defeatist panda. Maybe it says a lot about how Japan feels right now, still trapped in the economic doldrums. I hope the Japanese zeitgeist isn't as scary as the wonderful Japanese horror films I saw this week, the notorious Ring Trilogy. The Ring is the story of Sadako, a witch whose image, seen by Tokyo teens on a defective video tape, leads to their death within a week unless the victim shows it to someone else. These films (I'd recommend parts one and two, but not the prequel, Ring 0) were so scary I was in tears throughout, but maybe that's because they got me missing my girlfriend.
Survival Of The Cutest
Best film I've seen all year is the new Lars Von Trier epic Dancer In The Dark. This torrid musical melodrama features the adorable Bjork as Selma, a girl going blind and trying to raise the money for an operation to stop her son suffering the same affliction. Things go from bad to worse for Selma, but the film is redeemed from pathos by the glorious fantasy-musical sequences, in effect a whole new Bjork album (lyrics by Von Trier) with elaborate Hindi-movie style videos. In the end melodrama and musical spectacle completely redeem each other, and the whole thing is deeply moving.
Anyway, the thought I had was that Bjork as Selma, an attractively childlike and even simple-minded character, embodies the qualities the Japanese call burrikko -- bumbling idiotic cuteness, a childlike impulsiveness which brings out the audience's parental instincts. And I thought that these qualities, often reviled in Britain where women are supposed to be feisty and bands like Looper are often dismissed as 'arch' and 'twee', are in fact the qualities which, if we time-shuttled forward a few decades, are almost certain to be the dominant behaviours of the future.
Human beings are said to be getting more and more childlike in their appearance (bigger heads, bigger eyes, less hair) and the switch in our post-industrial economies from manufacturing to services means that blue-collar machismo has become an anachronism. In a recent column I joked about Oasis calling their new single 'We Are Kittens', but actually if there is an Oasis-like band in 2046 it's quite possible that their hits will have titles like that. It's a tough kitten-eat-kitten world out there, and you've got to be cute to compete.
You've Been Dworkined!
Talking of machismo, I had an odd experience the other day. I was in Charlotte Square Gardens, buying a ticket for a Book Festival event (Jeff Noon reading his 'dub fiction' to the accompaniment of music by David Toop -- sadly predictable, although I liked Noon's idea of liquid music which you can remix by shaking its container like a snowstorm paperweight).
Wandering past the marquees, I paused to read an events blackboard. Sitting next to it was an American woman of enormous girth, a sort of greying mannish hippy with a touch of Jerry Garcia about her. I realised with a start that it was Andrea Dworkin, the ultra-feminist who shook me to my core when, in my late 20s, I read her book 'Intercourse' with its thesis that all penetration of women by men is -- while the sexes remain unequal -- violation, and all literature a graph of rape. I eavesdropped long enough to hear her say '...it would probably just play into my megalomaniacal passion for...' She sounded like a much nicer person than her books suggest, although later I read in The Scotsman that she advocates total separation of the genders and a mother's right to execute paedophiles.
I went to sit on the grass. The sun was shining and some children were playing. An attractive girl came and sat down right between me and Andrea. I never know what to do in situations like this. Do you look admiringly at a sunbathing girl or do you pretend indifference? This time it was much worse, because Andrea Dworkin was sitting right behind the object of my lust! Thank god my 'male gaze' was hidden behind big bulbous blue ski shades.
Dedicated Arbiters Of Fashion
Ah, those ski shades. Bought from Each and Them (formerly Center For The Dull) on Lafayette Street and unremarked in tolerant New York, they've been the subject of much derision in Britain. In London that self-appointed arbiter of mode, White Van Man, was moved to lean out of his cab several times a day and yell 'Oi!' at me. In Scotland I discovered a much more widespread reaction. Here it wasn't just people in white vans, but female office workers on their way to the pub, adolescents in four-door family hatchbacks and even two small boys of about 12 who shouted at me 'You look like a poof, by the way!'
This spirit of sartorial intolerance had also affected my mother, who welcomed me to stay at her Moray Place flat 'on condition that you wear nice summer suits and not your usual Oxfam cast-offs'.
Meanwhile, the lead news story was a series of vigilante witchhunts in Portsmouth against paedophiles. Cars were burned and children were shown on the TV news carrying coffin-shaped placards which read 'Kill The Paedophiles!' and 'Out With The Perverts!'
On Saturday I went to a Creeping Bent Records party featuring a set from Vic Godard. My old labelmate on el Records spent an hour giving us renditions of his favourite Velvet Underground songs, then roused the crowd with a few old Subway Sect numbers and stuff he's written more recently. The second half was more successful. Vic still looks great and has a cool devil-may-care attitude.
On stage and in the audience I spotted members of the Scottish musical glitterati of 1980: several Fire Engines, some Dirty Reds, an Aztec Camera, a Josef K, an Orange Juice, a Happy Family (that was me, by the way). Oddly enough, most of us looked pretty similar to how we looked back then. And most of us are still making records (Davy Henderson in Nectarine No. 9, Malcolm Ross solo and in The Leopards and me in a little outfit called Momus.)
The following night, at the Lars Von Trier apres-premiere party, I was sitting at a table with Stevie and Stuart out of Belle and Sebastian, Duglas out of BMX Bandits, and Norman out of Teenage Fanclub (oh, and Nick out of Momus). Oddly enough none of the Edinburgh glitterati of 1980 were to be seen at this star-studded party. Instead it was a sort of who's who of 90s Glasgow indie. I felt, consecutively, like the junior arriviste who handed Malcolm Ross a homemade demo tape at Josef K's last show in 1981 then the grave old elder statesman and Creation veteran.
Why Of All The Low Down, Dirty...
This morning I saw the final cut of The Low Down. And I must say I'm crushingly disappointed. When director Jamie Thraves contacted me back in January to ask if I'd be interested in doing furniture design for this Film 4 production about twentysomething London slackers, I jumped at the chance.
First of all I designed a whole range of chairs suited to the behinds of each major character. Frank had a slim repressed Celtic chair. John's was kind of pretentious and arty, painted lurid yellow. Ruby had a clever parody of an estate agent's swivel chair. I showed these to Jamie and producer John Stewart (Dave Eurythmic Stewart's brother!) and they were very encouraging, but pointed out in a kindly sort of way that this was not a Design Council documentary.
So I contacted a few oriental cabinet-makers and worked hands-on with Jamie in a furniture workshop for ten days, making reproductions of the kind of chairs and tables you'd realistically find in a grimy Dalston flat. Even the chair gormless protagonist Frank (Aidan out of 'Queer As Folk') smashes in a pivotal scene of peevish rage had a few subtle references to Second Empire french decorative style. It was my way of sneaking in just a taste of Analog Baroque without (hopefully) detracting from the film's realism or emotional impact. Director Jamie -- who appears in the credits now as fictitious furniture designer John Thomas -- hovered at my side the whole time, ever-eager to take a turn with the lathe.
Imagine my disappointment, on seeing the film, to discover that Jamie has reshot most of the scenes we worked on, replacing my beautiful designs with stuff he bought at Ikea. Oh, hang on, I wasn't the furniture designer but the soundtrack composer? I take it all back.
Off to Paris tomorrow, a bientot!