Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
The story so far. Our hero, The Count Of Commodore, is in New York. He's working one hour a week, doing weird cabaret shows at KnitActive. After a ton of flathunting he's found an apartment on Orchard Street and settled in. His girlfriend has flown in from Japan to join him.
So is the Ancien Regime Electronician going out? What kind of circles is he moving in? Has he made interesting new friends? Is he soaking up some of that crazy New York energy? Is he getting psyched up for a new album? What's it going to be about? What style is Gotham City going to push him towards -- machine folk, neo-electro, retro-baroque, or what? Are those new glasses getting him into some pseudy arty parties, and will he get impossibly affected as a result? Will he soon be seen fopping around with a trembling chihuahua on a leash, talking about the Neo Geo revival?
Well, my dear friends, stimulation is indeed happening. My hands are flat on the globe of the great Van Der Graaf Generator which is New York City and my hair is standing on end as though haircare professionals had added pseudo-ethnic extensions. Both my hemispheric lobes, the occidental and the orientalpetal, are being stimulated. Simultaneously.
Come with me, if you will, to the Meatpacking District. It's late at night, and it's dark. When I first came to West 14th Street a couple of years ago to see a Scanner show I noted that my friend Robin's bleeps and bloops were upstaged by the area's nocturnal wildlife, hispanic transexuals trawling the cobbled streets for trade. Well, thanks to mayor Giuliani's application to the city of Japanese management technique Kaizen (continuous improvement in a ceaseless quest for cleanliness and efficiency), the only trannies you see these days are queuing to get into drag clubs like Mother. The Meatpacking District has become ultra-chic, and the meat that gets packed now tends to be cultural rather than sexual.
A couple of weeks ago I was entering my favourite bar, Passerby on West 15th Street, which has flashing disco lights on the floor and guest DJ spots from bands like the glammy, white noisy Actress, when I stumbled on some people putting up an announcement on the noticeboard for adjacent gallery, Gavin Brown. It was Warren Fischer and the Gavin Brown events organiser, and they were putting up a notice saying that Fischerspooner would be playing six performances per night in the gallery on three nights the following week. Since the band had vaguely heard of me, I got added to the guest list.
I'd read about Fischerspooner in Index magazine, in a cover feature entitled 'Into stranger regions of fun'. I'd been intrigued by singer Casey Spooner's very Sigue Sigue Sputnik get-up, and found his diary of a week in London (hanging out with Jamie Shand-Kydd and Norman Rosenthal) intelligent and interesting. So I went.
It was one of those 'We must stop meeting like this' evenings. Takako Minekawa was there (she'd just been in my show the week before, and I'd bumped into her at the rather disappointing Whitney Biennale show too). As were several other scenesters I'd been bumping into in all the usual places. Fischerspooner performed on catwalks, clawing their way around the room and over the audience's heads. There were about eight viking maidens in platinum pigtails singing backup and doing choreographed routines. The lighting was all white neon. Casey Spooner had Adam Ant hair extensions which made him look like someone at an audition for A Flock Of Seagulls, but was also wearing a clash of Flash Gordon flying suit and delicate 19th Century flower prints. Very sci-fi. At a pivotal moment in the show lots of flaps were unzipped by assistants and he was suddenly lit up by a huge cinema spot and wind-machined by a huge fan. It was total Michael Jackson circa Thriller, and the little crowd of media content creators burst into applause and squeals of delight.
The whole thing was an odd mixture of performance art, fashion, and retro 80s electronica. It lasted about 20 minutes. In between songs there was a mixture of live and taped conversation between the valkerie girls and Casey. It was banal, stupid, self-deprecating, surreal. Casey tripped at one point, and you weren't sure if it was part of the performance or a genuine accident.
Musically, Fischerspooner sound like a really early Mute Records band. It's a clean, somewhat trancey electronic sound. There are songs, although the best is their cover version of Wire's 'The 15th', which is simply glorious (but then it was on 154 too). But music is not the main thing with FS. It's a sensibility thing.
A Bad Production Of Godspell
I ran into Casey at the Thread Waxing Space on Broadway a couple of weeks later, and my friend John-Robert Howell introduced me. It was an appropriate place to meet, because Thread Waxing Space is a gallery that specialises in art/rock crossover. Last year I saw Playing With Matches, the show Beck dedicated to his Fluxus grandfather Al Hansen, here.
Casey looked totally different without his early 80s extensions, and seemed to walk with a limp. This modest bespectacled fellow was the Clark Kent to the Fischerspooner vocalist's Superman. He told me there was no conscious intention to revive the 80s (whaaaa?), and that the Index cover feature and the Gavin Brown shows had kindled surprisingly little interest in the band. Naturally I offered them an Analog Baroque contract on the spot.
When I heard, a few days later, that members of the Fischerspooner clan were performing at the Soho Rep Theater in a 'rock opera povera' called Rhymes With Adventure I hurried down. Although this production, a sort of deliberately bad school production of Tolkein and 70s rock musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, was in a very different style, I sensed some of the same impish playfulness at work.
The decor was all old mattresses, shabby and stained and decorated with pictures of mountains and lakes and old lamps. The cast were dressed up as Romans, with fascist eagles and lions on their breast-plate T shirts. The songs were all called things like 'Unicorn, Come To My Aid' and 'The Dwarves Of Yore'. It was funny, like a school play or an amateur production of Godspell. This time, instead of Antmusic and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the style was borrowed from Hazel O'Connor and Klaus Nomi. In fact, I was excited to see these people playing the same games with folk imagery and bad taste prog themes that I've been doing in the new Kahimi Karie stuff.
A Day Of Shopping
I've been showing Shizu around. New York is a kind of Disneyland, and I want to show her the magic. Yesterday we left the apartment on Orchard Street and looked at some murals of pagodas in the school next door. Then we went to an art gallery on Rivington Street, with an installation making the floor a bumpy slope up into a hayloft of synthetic white straw. Shizu emerged with her super-loose socks all strawy.
After a quick look around Kostabiworld, the new Ludlow Street factory of artworld villain Mark Kostabi, we ducked into the Essex Street market, a Dominican and Puerto Rican covered market full of fruit, fish, frilly clothes and stalls manned by toothless hispanic traders. We peeked into the window of a barber's shop that could have come from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. (This style -- let's call it Kid's Baroque -- is what I'm trying to capture in the Earl Of Amiga shows.)
A Great Idea
We continued to Other Music, where I bought the new album by twee Japanese Casiomeisters Yukari Fresh, browsed through lace and musty children's books at a fascinating Ukranian folk goods store on East 7th Street, then the canny Urban Outfitters, where most of the goods come with faux folk embroidery, ethnic or granny blanket motifs, then the New Museum bookstore on Broadway, where I found and bought a copy of Krafft-Ebing's seminal Psychopathia Sexualis.
This 19th Century work, a big influence on Freud and Kinsey, is an anecdotal encyclopaedia of sexual fetishes. It's a great read, and as I dipped into it, my head still full of the folk tales I'd been fingering in the Ukranian shop and the cool marketing of folk style going on across the road in Urban Outfitters, I had a great idea.
Why not make an album of folk songs about sexual fetishes, set to synthesisers? Folk songs are usually about mining disasters or clipper mutinies, but why shouldn't they be about archaic hysterical sex fetishes too? Most of the stuff in Krafft-Ebing is as quaint and redundant as a sailing ship or an ARP Odyssey synthesiser. Things that once struck us as terrifying and medical could now light a warm glow of nostalgia in our hearts. The songs should have a childish gaiety, be light and celebratory. They would make us all feel a warm glow that something as enchanting as sexual fetish is still possible in a world dominated by interest rates and tax returns. Why, it could even be a musical!
Folk, Fake and Fuck
The songs would use case histories from Psychopathia Sexualis in pretty much the same way I used people's life stories in Stars Forever. They would play with the associations of the words Folk, Fake and Fuck. The Folk (ballads, reels, laments, shanties, forebitters) would be Fake Folk, of course, played on early monophonic synthesisers. But the Fuck would also be Fake Fuck, because that's what fetish is. It's an evasion of the 'real thing', which is fucking. It's a fake fuck, a transmuted fuck, a substitution of the authentic with the fake, and therefore of the raw realism of biology with the cloudy cathedrals of our fantasy.
A joyful celebration of this perversely human substitution would be a liberating prospect, a way of shrugging off the weight of guilt. A world in which the authentic was not prioritised over the fake, and 'healthy' fucking had no precedence over fetish, would be a rather splendid one, it seems to me.
That's the world this record would create. It's a world Mayor Giuliani would almost certainly try to stamp out. But in my musical, sung perhaps by polymorphously perverse schoolchildren in sets borrowed from a Dick Van Dyke movie, the Mayor would be a baddy, and would drown in a large vat of toffee.
I know, I know, it sounds like every other Momus record I've ever made (not to mention 1998's abandoned animation script Young Doctor Scissors). But I'm getting a yen to do it all again, to play those games again and strike those poses again, to be stupid and playful and situationist and transgressive again. To write the songs that make the young girls cry. To tread the boards sporting the twirly moustache of the British pantomime villain. To make you gasp, and blush, and scream, and smile, and feel a little bit better about that lady's stocking you keep in a silk-lined shoebox.
I'm burying deeper into the New York underground, and I can exclusively reveal that, despite the best efforts of the mayor, bubbling in that vat of toffee over there, it still has a touch of velvet about it.