In Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, the eponymous detective employs a method he describes as “Zen Navigation” in solving crimes. This involves simply tailing anyone who seems to know where they are going, since it is likely that it will be somewhere he would wish to be as well.
In this song Momus employs the same tactic, albeit with lascivious intention, as he follows beautiful people off a plane and into Chicago, where they lead him to a brilliant record shop called Reckless Records. There are three Reckless stores in Chicago and one in London, specialising in indie music and exactly the leftfield genius Momus is known for.
The track begins with vinyl crackle, and a stately beat begins, with a squelchy synth sound playing the main melody. The music is slow, an indie beat with sound effects, not least reminiscent in pace of Momus walking stealthily behind his targets.
“The most beautiful people in the world
Were two rows ahead there on the airplane
I decided to trail them there and then
And when we touched down
They led me to Reckless”
The sound effects are animalistic, Momus has captured something rare and beautiful. As he describes seeing “implausible girls” who are both pregnant and drunk, a descending keyboard line sounds a comic tone, as if drunken itself.
“The most beautiful people in the world
Were thronging the streets
Walking on Broadway
Completely implausible girls
Pregnant and legless
Led me to Reckless”
Describing now the reason he adores the shop, the sound effects increase in volume and intensity, and a more sweeping synth sound grows in volume.
“When I walked in the store I just sighed
I thought that I’d died and gone straight to heaven
All my favourite bands side by side
The ones that I never find
I found them at Reckless”
Momus now mentions that one of his own personal nemeses, Cynthia Plaster-Caster, with whom he had an unsuccessful artistic experiment, lives next door. She is 73 as of 2020, so how much you would want her to manipulate your assets is entirely your concern.
“If you visit Chicago I’d suggest
You don’t waste your time
Just head for the store I adore
Cynthia Plaster Caster lives next door
She’ll cast your penis
Isn’t it priceless?”
The song ends with the main melody failing to resolve one last time, and fading vinyl crackling. This song is another corporate style advert, seeking to advertise the shop by flattering its customers, succeeding mainly in painting a somewhat stalkerish image of the singer.
Momus seems to have gathered little information on his next target: the song becomes more of an intervention on behalf of her relatives, who are concerned about her diet and health. The track is soft, beginning immediately with Momus’ voice, drum rhythms and a gentle acoustic guitar sound.
“Kokoro Hirai cannot write today
She’s in hospital, reason is too much chocolate
We are her relatives Taeko and Kazuko
We’re writing to see if you can make her stop it”
Momus has a slight Japanese accent for some lines in the song, your feelings about which may vary, but it is somewhat less offensive than his occasional forays into a Jamaican patois.
“Kokoro Hirai keeps chocolates in her room
Chocolates in her bag, chocolates in her pocket
She eats them every time, everywhere
Five to six packages a day”
His use of an accent, as in the word “chocorates”, for instance, is probably to mimic the voice of the relatives that he has talked to, and he also keeps their slight infelicities with the English language, such as “packages” of chocolate rather than packets, and the line “It mean easy and idly”. The chorus, as such, below, lifts the melody but remains soft and plaintive, like hospital linen.
“She also loves toys
She also loves teas
Her motto is ‘Nonbiri bonyari’
(It mean ‘easy and idly’)
But mostly Kokoro Hirai loves chocolates
That’s why she lies in hospital today”
A harsher synth sound accompanies the following complaints about Kokoro’s behaviour.
“Her behaviour is making us uneasy
Sometimes she makes us feel bad
She seems to be happy eating her chocolates
But we think they’re driving her mad”
On the other hand, a gentle keyboard tinkles behind the descriptions of Kokoro’s addiction. She seems to be treated as, and behaves as, a child, the infantilisation only enhanced by the broken english reminiscent of childish speech.
“If we shop with her in a convenience store
We will witness a surprise scene maybe
She will buy a shop basket full up with chocolate
Milk, bitter, white or strawberry
She don’t mind the colour, she don’t care the price
If it’s chocolate, to her must be nice”
Momus’ voice is, while clearly mocking, also quite flat and comically serious as he goes on. This is to clearly indicate the link between the hospital and the consumption of cocoa solids.
“Especially in winter there are many kinds of chocolate in store
So winter for her is a paradise
She also loves toys
She also loves teas
Her motto: ‘Nonbiri bonyari’
(It mean ‘easy and idly’)
But mostly Kokoro Hirai loves chocolates
Which is why she lies in hospital today”
The seriousness is especially obvious for its comic satiric nature in this final verse, where the “warning” is clearly being mocked for being, perhaps, not hitting the target. After all, if Kokoro Hirai is really eating too much, that of itself is not the problem, the relatives might want to consider why she has started doing this.
“Her behaviour is making us uneasy
Sometimes she makes us feel bad
We have issued her a warning about too much chocolate once
But she never paid attention to our words
She also loves toys
She also loves teas
Her motto: ‘Nonbiri bonyari’
(‘Live easy and idly’)
But mostly Kokoro Hirai loves chocolates
Which is why she lies in hospital today”
The song ends with a whimper, rather a downbeat attempt at salvation. It suffers very much from, I think, a lack of any real information about its target. In the notes on the album he admits he hasn’t heard from her since, so we have to just hope that she returned from hospital safely and didn’t get Augustus Glooped.
An entire internet mailing list / newsgroup, basically, funded this song. The indiepop list describes itself thus:
“The Indiepop mailing-list is devoted to discussion of independently produced pop music, the kind that tends to come out on small-run seven-inch singles with handmade sleeves. They call it “wimpy” and “twee”, but Pop Kids everywhere know that the true spirit of Punk Rock lives on not in the mass-marketed alternative scene.”
The list began in 1994 and is still running. On 12th January 1999 Michelle Cross wrote on it:
“Maybe we’d all be pacified if the Indiepop list collectively bought a spot on the album – hey, if 200 people agreed to do it, it would only cost us $5 each – and a 5 word essay each? Heh, wonder how he’d pull that one off. (Geez, I feel like I’m trying to stump him or something…)”
The Indiepop list regulars agreed, and thus Momus received what he described as “no easy task”, which I interpret as meaning he yelled a lot and threw a rhyming dictionary around his studio room. The result is the longest track on the album, and includes numerous miniature portraits. The music is repetitive so that Momus can speak the descriptions over it, a chord sequence with synth backing and a chorus of Momii comically repeating the newsgroup name. Many of the entries on the list work as writers or academics to this day, or work in artistic fields.
Some interesting entries on the list include:
Maura Smale: the first to post on the list for the song.
Stephen Cramer: Who apparently wrestled Matt Jacobson.
Johannes Schneider German Historian/Librarian
Xavier Kim from the band Clock Strikes Thirteen
Rob Enbom, heavy metal musician of several bands to this day.
Dan Zmud, experimenter with magic mushrooms and worryingly doesn’t produce any results on Google. I hope he got back in from the forest.
“Andy Coles didn’t want to spoil
The relationship of consumer to artist and so he never wrote”
So in a bravura set of verses Momus describes forty individuals very briefly, including Shirley Beans who he says “put this song together in Brooklyn”: perhaps she compiled the list of names for him. It is a clever and concise description of a scene, the type of musical forum which existed for ten years or so across the internet and was destroyed by the advent of social media. As a snapshot of this time, it has at least left all forty as stars forever, for our fifteen people at least. As Mike Appelstein said on ilxor.com, after appearing on the song with his wife Callie who he met on the list:
“I feel that I got my $25 worth to have my name in the Indiepop List song. Someday I’ll play it for my daughter to show her that her dad was once hip and with-it.”
Also on ilxor.com Momus had this to say about this song:
“Yeah, the Keigo Oyamada song was awful. Never try to rewrite Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy”.”
It is surprising that he did try, since “Ode to Joy” was the basis of the opening to the song Walter Carlos, and the melody of Keigo Oyamada is also an adaptation of Beethoven’s piece. Momus’ tribute to Cornelius’ alter ego is reminiscent of an English church hymn. A synthesised/vocoder effect is placed on Momus’ voice as he addresses Keigo’s pets: two cats named Nova and Caesar, the names themselves indicative of Keigo’s eclectic interests and nature, reflected very much in the music of Cornelius, which was key to the evolution of Shibuya-Kei and renowned worldwide by 1999. Keigo was also at one time the boyfriend of Kahimi Karie, although that had amicably ended by this stage. The vocals, organ sound and tinny beats bubble along with the tale told. Binaural microphones are twin microphones used to record sound for “realistic” 3-D sound which should sound live. Cornelius uses them to record field noises for his albums.
“When the ape’s binaural microphones are pointed out to sea
He’s not fishing for your food but whistling a symphony
Caesar, Nova, cats of the ape, please forgive your master
For Cornelius helps this slow old world to turn a little faster”
Keigo has some kind of guilt about touring and performing while leaving his cats at home, and Momus turns this around to imply that the cats in fact have the hardest task.
“Keigo Oyamada tours the world, but who looks after you?
You catch rats and mice while Keigo edits desktop video
Though your life is hard please know your sacrifices are worthwhile
For Cornelius is the genius with the world’s most brilliant music style”
The vocals are double tracked and the percussive backing doubles up now, as the track builds somewhat. We are reassured that the cats’ master is returning soon.
“Courage oh my little cats, somewhere someone remembers you
Give your master Oyamada-San the credit he is due
For one day he’ll pick you up and feed you liver giblets
Playing Beethoven he’ll heap your plate with all your favourite titbits”
Given the similarity of this song to “Walter Carlos” it is somewhat inevitable that a Clockwork Orange reference appears now, as the cats are described as droogs: members of Keigo’s gang. This final verse seems a little forced in fact, and the reference to Elysium: the ancient Greek paradise for heroes: suggests the cats are in fact starved to death by the time Keigo returns, which is not I think the intention.
“Sometimes, oh my kitten droogs, it seems that he’s forgotten you
Glorying in global fame or jamming in his studio
When you’re feeling cold and hungry, sunk in an oblivion
Oyamada-Sensei will return to feed you in Elysium!”
It is a rather underwhelming song, perhaps the ghost of Walter Carlos casts too much of a pall over it. Perhaps the cats really did die. Either way, it is not a song which tells us much about its subject, despite the fact that Momus and Keigo were genuinely close friends. Which has to be considered a failure. On the other hand, cats.
Team Clermont is a team of music promoters and publicists. Their company and site are ongoing in 2020 and Nelson and Bill are still there. Team Clermont have a message that is almost messianic and certainly determined:
“We believe in artists who bust their chops until 4 am to get that song just right. We believe in the songwriters and craftspeople who are so driven they feel they live or die by their craft. We honor those who are so fiercely independent that they know no other way than doing it all day & all DIY.
We do all of this because we believe simply that music changes the world. Craftspeople change the world. If your craft is what you do, let us help you share it with the world.”
Momus interpreted this as an ongoing battle against mediocrity fought by the Wild West gunmen of the music industry. So this is a homage to western and country music, with relevant sound effects and artistry. As such there is a call and response, with Momus answering himself in between lines with a far away call of “five southern men…”, the five southern men being the founders of the empire. The song begins with the beat and Momus’ voice, castanet sound in the percussion bringing the New Mexico to us. A synth comes in on the line about “indie music”. His mentions of Hefner and The Creatures will bring nostalgic indie feelings to us all, but were current references then.
“Come grasshopper let’s tell the tale again
Of Team Clermont, five southern gentlemen
Their mission’s indie music and their weapon is the phone
Battling indifference on the college radio shows
To Hefner and The Creatures and a host of other schmoes”
A heavily plucked guitar sound out of Ennio Morricone joins the ensemble. Their battle against mediocrity is demonstrated by their taste, Metallica damned by no praise and indie legends raised against their impressive tombstones.
“Five southern men
Five ponchos, five sombreros, and a phone
The shadows of five horsemen on the desert horizon
DJs who play Metallica tremble as they come
Saddlebags packed up with something deadlier than guns
The new Kid Silver, Daniel Johnston and DJ Krush albums
Five southern men
Team Clermont men”
Momus now describes the five founders of the company: presumably using descriptions they have provided themselves, and so their accuracy cannot be determined by myself. Lucas for instance may object to Momus’ description of his fishy habits, since it will probably stem from one drunken (implied by the mention of Pabst) discussion about possible uses of a flatfish’s mouth.
“Lucas, like Clint Eastwood in a tux
Brings lore straight from the back woods
About what fish are best to f (richochet) k
Jumps off his trusty steed and shoots the technicolor breeze
Right beside a cactus there on his hands and knees
One too many Pabst Blue Ribbons on top of those green beans
Five southern men”
Nelson as mentioned is still at Team Clermont (they all might be, but those two are mentioned on the current website in particular). The instrumentation has increased in layering over the verses, with the keyboard playing patterns under the main melody.
“Nelson is an outlaw tall and thin
He screeches like a parrot and you’ll swear a bird flew in
Brian Bowen, tall and free amongst the Georgia tumbleweed
With his plastic black rimmed glasses and his jacket made of tweed”
Thank goodness that’s the style of a dying breed
Five southern men
Team Clermont men”
Finally, and inevitably, whistling is added to the outlaw mix, and we meet “Grandpaw” and Bill:
“Grandpaw Jimmy, he’s the long arm of the law
He spins yarns about the good old days of rock and roll
Ol’ Bill Benson has a coffee mug forever in his hand
His goatee beard is gone but that Pabst Blue Ribbon can
Still lingers on, still lingers on
Team Clermont men”
The faux-backwoods accent adopted by Momus as the song ends with a bullet is a harbinger of the sound that would appear on the next studio album, Folktronic, and we hear in this song a first attempt to portray some kind of surreal, vaguely sinister Americana in stereo. The portrayal of Team Clermont as hillbillies, or Western gunmen facing down the mediocre in music is appealing, but rather on the nose perhaps. Imagine a parody of Wild West film songs, and you have already heard this track in your head. Although the humour is appealing, the obviousness of the musical backing here does not seem to match the stated intention of the company itself: hardly is this backing going to “change the world” or represent any kind of indie music philosophy.
Currently a senior English Teacher in Reno, Brent seems to have been a storyteller in the time of Stars. Momus considered him a prankster and did not know what, if any, of his story and answers was true. Certainly he was a fan of many avant garde artists and musicians, and this was the basis for the ensuing track. As such there is a “renaissance fair”, folk aspect to the track, which begins with lute and medieval brass parping synthetically away. A trad melody is followed and the final lines are repeated by a chorus.
“This chronicle purports to be
A true account for all to see
Of the picaresque adventures
Of Mr Brent Busboom
The picaresque adventures
The picturesque inventions
The life and the opinions
Of Mr Brent Busboom”
More percussion and beats come in to accompany the second and more unlikely verse.
“(The life and the opinions of Mr Brent Busboom)
When you grow up in a hick town
Never let it get you down
Build up all your irony
And bang on a big bass drum
Busboom, a precocious boy
Born in Champaign Illinois
Compiled a redneck dictionary
Entitled it The Hictionary
(He compiled a redneck dictionary, entitled it The Hictionary)”
The tale becomes a little more personal now, as he attacks a killjoy teacher in ways out of Animal House. Although we don’t know exactly what the method of black mail was…
“At high school Brent took on John Flynn
Headmaster and puritan
Who declared ‘disruptive to the school’
An oil in the painting show
Of Nancy Reagan on a rug
Upon her head a crown of drugs
Busboom contrived to blackmail Flynn
And the painting went back in
(The painting went back in the show but John Flynn had to go)”
Bill Bernbach was considered to be one of the most influential and inventive marketing and advertising creatives of the 20th Century, and one of his most memorable campaigns for US cereal “Life” involved two brothers who were amazed that their brother Mikey – who hated everything – loved this new cereal brand. Busboom had his own take on Mikey’s journey of discovery.
“At Reno University
Brent showed his true perversity
With a paper on commercials
By the ad man Bill Bernbach
Busboom’s essay made the claim
That Bernbach’s cereal campaign
Had drawn its inspiration from Milton’s Paradise Lost!
(Life Cereal: as crunchy as Milton’s Paradise Lost!)”
Busboom also claims to be a descendant of a famous Creationist.
“If you want to know a bit about prejudice
Just ask an old Creationist
Like William Jennings Bryan
Who got Darwin banned in schools
Brent Busboom, his descendant
Took paintbrush and amended
The Nevada state motto to
‘A great place to get screwed'”
How true this is, and where he did the amending, is not revealed.
“(So welcome to Nevada, a great place to get screwed!
And never let a monkey make a monkey out of you)”
The final verse relates a final tale, which again could be the product of his fiction factory, but certainly does not taste just like heaven.
“Well he went to work in a burger bar
But he lasted only five hours there
They caught him spreading pamphlets
Saying the meat was human flesh
‘Our butchers will recycle you
To make the best of death
Why not donate your body for a burger made of flesh!’
(A burger made entirely of recycled human flesh)”
Given the unlikely nature of some of the lyrics, it is impossible to ascertain the accuracy of the portrait and his final descent into Soylent-ism seems designed purely to shock.
In “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star” his entertaining but brief volume of reminiscences about the rock music industry of the 60s – 80s, Tom McGuinness, one time member of Manfred Mann (long before their cover version of A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy) related the tale of a particularly enterprising Manager/publicist who charged his band for literally doing nothing: stating that he would generate a buzz by “working flat out to create an artistic vacuum”.
The idea of passivity becoming an activity: the commission of no act becoming an act in itself, is the theme for this portrait. In fact, the shyness of Natsuko Tayama becomes almost an act of aggression, not just passive-aggressiveness, but outright confrontation: “I am shy” becomes a declaration of war against the not-shy world.
The song begins with faux-scratching, the dapper D.J. introducing jangling guitar playing a fierce riff before Momus with distorted voice launches into the rap. The chorus is introduced by the guitar riff, so placing stress on the shyness. There is a strong humour here and a comment on rap in general, that it places such emphasis on expression of the self, and one’s own beliefs, that it ignores the actual lived experience of most of us, who have no such voice. The shout of “Superfly!” of course refers to Curtis Mayfield’s song and album of that name, and the blaxploitation film it accompanied.
“I am Natsuko Tayama
The shy soul sister
I got a whole list of
Things on my chest
I want to express
But I’m too shy
To talk to a guy
So I don’t even try
Cos I’m shy
The pastiche continues as Momus describes the effects of shyness in the same way rappers boast of their sexual prowess, making sure to dismiss mere alcohol as helpful in this context. “When I’m on the mike: you can stop right there, I’ve never been anywhere near, I wouldn’t dare..” is particularly good, skewering the ego and conceit of many rap artists and the fraudulent belief that all anyone needs is a microphone in front of them and they can become an outgoing superstar. More to the point though, Natsuko is violently proud of her refusal to “take the mic”, her stance is “I’m shy, what are you going to do about it?” As an introvert who abhors social situations, I am fully in agreement.
“Well my face goes flush
I flash a goofy grin
I stammer and I stutter
Don’t know where to begin
And I don’t change much after sake or gin
(She don’t change much after sake or gin)
When I’m on the mike
You can stop right there
I’ve never been anywhere near
I wouldn’t dare
Cos I’m shy
Well you can stop right there!
Squalls of electronic noise and feedback are in the background as her background is weaved into the rap. Jonas Mekas was a Lithuanian-American avant-garde film-maker, who worked with Yoko Ono and John Lennon among many others. Natsuko suggests here, through the song that she would like to disappear as the artist, being only a conduit. There’s a suggestion here too of shyness as a movement, a protest group.
“You know I skipped off school
Too shy for knowledge
I studied silent film when I went to college
Like Andy Warhol and Jonas Mekas
We’d like to be transparent
You can look but don’t touch
Or we’ll kick your ass!
Cos we’re the shy class
Again details about the person herself are dripped in… she has a stammer, and believes in shyness as being alluring.
“I’m Natsuko Tayama
I find there’s glamour
In being a wallflower
With a stammer
I love what I am
And you won’t change me
So take me how I am
Cos I’m super-shy
Natsuko doesn’t like extroverts, loud people: I agree. They are exhausting and extremely annoying to the rest of us. Flirtation is another dull ceremony I would rather not engage in, any more than a church service or exorcism. The song calls for a revolutionary stance on quietness:
“Well you know
People make me quiver
And people make me shiver
Loud people make me want to jump in a river
I can’t pluck up the courage to flirt
I’m the world champion heavyweight introvert”
The song ends with another burst of guitar and abruptly is gone, with the final shout:
“I love what I am
I’m the best
Funk the rest!”
Another great song here, with a spot-on take on a problem I fully comprehend. The extroverts and, I dare say here, the neuro-typical majority, celebrate extroversion and display all the time, aggressively, loudly and with an assumption that to be, LOUD AND PROUD, is superior to quiet introspection. They have their “I am what I am…” songs to shout out everywhere, now it is time for the quiet people to shout out with pride as well: “I’m barely here, I want to be invisible, Deal With It”.
Appropriately enough, girlie power succeeds girl power.
Girlie Action are a PR media management and representation firm who are based in New York and looked after Momus’ press in the US at the time. Miracle workers, they got him articles in Spin and Rolling Stone, as well as Time Out and Raygun. Staffed mostly by women (at the time) and founded by Felice Ecker and Vicky Starr in 1994, the company was described by Momus as a sister company to Nasty Little Man, the publicist firm responsible for looking after the Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and notably the Beastie Boys (thus the album title Hello Nasty).
We get a fast paced electro beat and listening to the song now, the vocoded voice saying “Girlie Action” really sounds like Madonna’s vocoded voice in “Music” asking if we want to boogie-woogie: which was released the following year. There’s a funky bass and Momus multi-tracks his voice at times, it’s a song which feels very full, perhaps over-stuffed with discordant backing noises and synth lines.
The opening lines capture the fun, quirky, bohemian nature of the organisation succinctly:
“Look at Dawn, she’s strapped on
A pair of inflatable David Cassidy knees”
Momus is just one of many artists seeking attention from the girls: I’m unsure who Benjamin is in this context. The verse drops in the “model” to emphasise the range of artists that Girlie Action represent. Which reminds me that Madonna’s Music was based on Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express.
“And another hundred bands just got off of the plane
Seeking attention, hungry for fame
My brother Benjamin he’s a physician
But I was the conventional one… I’m a musician
I could have been the model I saw in the lift
If I hadn’t been born with this terrible gift
Here in New York I’m just a drop in the ocean
What I need now is some incredible press promotion”
I think it is fair to say that rhymes for “Lafayette” were hard to pin down. “She crosses the zones” is rather clunky as well, but makes the point that Girlie Action were a nationwide success.
“Well Heidi does national, she crosses the zones
Felice is always wearing earphones
Vicky’s got an office above Lafayette
And on a clear day you can see Tibet”
The offices were sent many hundreds of cassettes, no doubt, all with similar pleading messages:
“Here’s a cassette you’ll love our sound
We’re playing tonight at the Mercury Lounge in the round”
And now my Christmas present dilemma is solved: we have all wanted to look like the lead singer of The Magnetic Fields at some point.
“Look at Dawn, she’s strapped on
An extra-long Stephin Merrit nose (see how it glows)”
The eclectic nature of the organisation and the way it embraces all styles of music is brought across simply in this couplet: Zydeco is perhaps easiest to describe as Black Cajun music from Louisiana.
“And the man from the Voice doesn’t want to know
Doesn’t he dig thrash zydeco?”
The song ends quietly, with a final line which is about the endless conveyor belt of fame-hungry victims that feeds the monster of the music industry: but are lucky to meet lovely people like those at Girlie Action.
“And another hundred bands just got off of the plane
Seeking attention, hungry for fame”
The Minus 5
If we are to take Stars Forever as a concept album, and we must, I think, then we are through side three of the double album. And side three of a concept album is always the worst part of it. Go and listen to a few if you don’t believe me. We are on the home stretch, and now a song that is very lyrically concise, clever and unpicks exactly what Momus is doing on the album.
The Minus 5 – led by Scott McCaughey (of the Young Fresh Fellows) – often worked with Peter Buck of R.E.M. amongst many other rock royalty. The song opens with a steady bass beat and piano redolent of music hall past, as Momus invokes precisely those memories. Momus sings of how the famous of the past can pass from public memory. There wasn’t a real Zebediah Lane of this nature, as far as I know.
“Who can now remember Zebediah Lane?
The great singing sensation of 1909
With his chicken and his monkey and his ukelele
He achieved what seemed like undying fame
But now his multi-platinum wax cyclinder rolls
Like his name, have crumbled away”
An electronic crash like thunder accompanies the next question, as Momus considers the great names that The Minus 5 and its leader have worked with, and their continued fame.
“One hundred years from now
Who will still be famous?
Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5
John Crist of the Dashboard Saviours
Or their collaborators
Pearl Jam, REM, Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices
The Walkabouts, The Posies (Ken and Jon)
The Presidents of the United States Of America
(Not them, the other ones)? “
The immediate points to ask are: are Scott McCaughey and John Crist, even in 1999, actually famous NOW, let alone in 100 years? It is also hard to imagine some of those names really fading entirely from view, although I had myself forgotten entirely about The POTUSA and The Walkabouts. If I were to put money on it, I would say that REM and Sonic Youth will still be remembered in 100 years, the others not so much. To be clear, that is not a qualitative judgement, but based on how much they will be archived. However, Momus is saying that the importance of Scott and John may not yet be clear, that their value as people who enable and frame work by others will become clear later. The song could also be interpreted as astoundingly arrogant, of course, Momus seeming to suggest that the people whose portraits he is making are irrelevant compared to fame that will eventually be granted to the artist…
Momus lists the “collaborators” in an increasingly exasperated sounding voice, as if jealous or astounded by the fame of the people he is describing.
The song lifts for the declaration below, a true statement for our times really: just ask Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley whether they feel they have been granted “eternities of honour”.
“Massive popularity is never enough
Not even worldwide acclaim or universal love
Can guarantee eternities of honour
For our names”
The song descends again as Momus describes the role of the éminence grise, who “repositions”, remixes and generally upsets what has been done by other artists, and gains greater fame in the long run because of it. With his most commercially successful work for the Japanese charts being undertaken mostly in the shadows, Momus would empathise entirely with this line of thinking.
“As Velazquez and Picasso will happily explain
History remembers the names
Of those who creep out of the shadows
And reposition the frames”
The Minus 5 / Young Fresh Fellow are known for Power Pop, and a Power Pop guitar solo follows, synthesised, distorted and dirty sounding enough to force our attention onto Momus quiet vocal that follows, as he gets cleverly to the heart of the argument.
“Beam me up, Scott McCaughey
Let’s take The Minus 5 at warp factor 3
To a planet just like Earth, to a city like Madrid
To a place just like the Prado Gallery
We’ll spend the day just looking at Las Meninas
Asking ourselves ‘Who was that king? What was his name?
The one who let his family get in the way
Of the self-portrait Velazquez was painting?'”
It’s Velazquez who got the immortal fame, not the person he framed and celebrated in his art, just as in culture, it can be the writers, producers and svengalis who ultimately are remembered. The drums drop out now until the end, as Momus describes again the position that individual creatives such as Scott and himself are in.
“Wearing shades at night is never enough
Not exceptional skill or below zero cool at Minus 5 degrees
Can guarantee eternities of honour for our names
As Scott McCaughey and I have no doubt realised
History remembers the names
Of those who creep out of the shadows
And reposition the frames”
The song ends with a flourish of drums, and leads into the next, a song which thoroughly backs up this idea: the performer with enough intent can celebrate any life, it is their own genius they actually aim to promote.
While wandering alone through Haight Ashbury, Momus was taken pity on and fed by Michael Brill and Jenny Doll, who subsequently ordered this song for their son Noah. He was three at the time, but has certainly changed as you can tell from his social media pages now he is in his twenties. (Tag line: “Could God fuck a Squirrel?”). His Music likes on Facebook are extensive and include Nihilist Cunt, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and The Scissor Sisters, but not, at the moment, Momus.
The question has to be: can Momus play nice when he absolutely has to, since this song is for a three year old, can he curtail his natural snarkiness and wit? He has had leeway on other songs to be somewhat pejorative to his customers, accusing them of coprophilia and the like, but really has to rein it in here. The song is bouncy, bass led and funky. Momus sings quietly of the Golden Child’s qualities without any darkness, except that of the Knight:
“Well there’s a kid in San Fransisco
Who has really got the moves
And when he dresses up as Batman
He can fly across the roofs
Well he’s only three years old
And he is less three feet tall
But when he flies across the sky
You’ll see he’s really got it all”
The chorus is uplifting and introduces an organ and funky backing vocals. I wonder if Noah really could sing just like a nightingale… my own son’s musical efforts at age 3 I would have described more as Mark E. Smith shouting into a bucket after drinking six Red Bull Vodkas. (The rest of the sentence after “Mark E. Smith” being unnecessary there, I know). Given the type of music Noah now seems to prefer, I think his nightingale days are behind him.
“Little Noah Brill
Little Noah Brill
Well he can fly just like a blackbird
Sing just like a nightingale
Little Noah Brill
Little Noah Brill
Well you ain’t seen anything like him
And I know you never will”
Noah’s daily routine at this point – school in the U.S. starting at age 5 generally – includes walks in the Golden Gate Park with his stuffed toy and his – I assume friends – Ethan and Sarah. I guess he is still friends with them, there are various Ethans and Sarahs on his friends list. As for the tarantulas, I would like to think that is fantasy, but Wikipedia suggests Coyotes and Mountain Lions roam the park, so who knows.
Now, we are then asked to believe that Noah has a personal chef who prepares sushi and avocado rolls for him, making him a hipster even then, and the near paragon of a millennial. I hope this isn’t entirely true, because my instinctive hatred of a spoiled brat who has a personal chef to make him sushi is indicative of my reverse snobbery. Really, though, a personal chef?
“He likes to take his stuffed dog Fluffy
To the Golden Gate Park
To hunt with Ethan and Sarah
And when he needs a bit of sushi
For the strength to fight his foes
His personal chef Tagashi
Makes him avocado rolls”
The last verses describe more of his loves. Keith Haring was an American artist active in the 1980s who died of AIDS related complications in 1990. The “radiant” baby is a famous image used often by Haring of a baby crawling with radiant lines emanating from them, a representation of purity and potential. “Dope” and “phat” we can forgive… it was the 1990s.
KidPix is a drawing program for children, originally released in 1990 for the Mac and still going, with releases on all platforms through Steam. The G3 Mac second generation was debuted in San Francisco in 1999: the G4 followed soon after. We also get an example of three-year-old wit and wisdom in the last lines.
“Keith Haring’s Radiant Baby
He finds totally dope and phat
Like the KidPix animations
He does on his G3 Mac
He loves his mom and daddy
And he loves to stay up late
And when they say ‘Get to bed you monkey!’
He say ‘I no monkey, I wide awake!'”
The song repeats the chorus now until the end with alternations that teach us more about him.
“Well he can save the world like Batman
With his six Buzz Lightyear dolls”
“Well his dad is Mr Michael
And his mom is Jenny Doll”
Ending with the following promise, yet to be enacted, and frankly we could do with some help:
“He’s going to save the world like Batman
Though he’s still just very small”
The song ends with the organ chord holding and a sudden stop with the bass line descending. It’s a fun song, and he does indeed hold back and just describe Noah’s life, although perhaps the personal chef thing is in there to hint at a spoiled lifestyle. And for the record, God can do whatever he wants, as long as he brings some nuts.
In promoting the album Momus managed to often mention that one of the songs was actually a marriage proposal, potentially ruining the surprise. Another problem (very much a 1999 problem) was that Shawn shared an email address with his girlfriend Emily. He was eventually given an advance copy of the album and was able to surprise Emily with it in their car, and she said yes. Are they still together? Not sure, there are more Kruegers to look through than you might think on social media, and like many of the Stars Forever they are frustratingly not friends with or following Momus. Let’s leave them driving into the sunset together. The 20th Century needed a happy ending. Momus would soon after move to New York, at not-the-best-time to do so, with the 21st Century beginning, as we know, very badly.
Momus takes as template for this song the Carpenter’s We’ve Only Just Begun. This is a song which has since been used in the Stephen King horror adaptation 1408 and had already been used in 1994 in John Carpenter’s Lovecraftian horror In the Mouth of Madness to accompany confinement to a psychiatric hospital.
The song begins with simple piano, a pretty melody and Momus able to sing in a fully self-referential mode. The chords at the end of the third line of each verse remind me of, I think, “For Your Eyes Only“: certainly there is an epic Bond-ness to the general shape of the melody.
“It’s been hell to keep this secret for so long
The fact that Shawn wants to propose to you in a Stars Forever song
And Emily, for all I know you may already know
I had to open my big mouth
To Spin and Rolling Stone, didn’t I?
I tried to keep this secret on my own, but how could I?”
The self-referentiality continues with a callback to a song on Little Red Songbook, and a self-effacing mention of his own appearance. The verse downplays Momus’ own romantic credentials, with the “plastic roses” representing the fake nature of his seduction in this instance, since he is doing it for someone else, even borrowing a knee to kneel on. A gorilla kissogram refers to a costume – again a fake appearance – of someone hired to sing/dance/strip for someone’s birthday or special occasion. A gentle more whistle like synth sound accompanies the second verse, which ends with a tom-roll bringing in a fuller “band” sound.
“When I told you I was born to be adored
I never thought one day I’d find myself kneeling at your door
A bunch of plastic roses from a funny one-eyed man
Even this one knee I’m on
Is another man’s, Emily
I’m your sinister gorilla kissogram, Emily”
The full-band sound generated for the middle eight includes multi-tracked backing vocals from Momus, and is almost indistinguishable from the middle eight in the song he is aping. (or gorrilaing). It’s a beautiful melody and sequence, building to an instrumental coda which builds up percussion and cymbal splashes, to end almost abruptly onto the piano chords that opened the song. The lyric is an interesting discussion of memory vs evidenced event: a theme of Momus’ work being the gap between reality and imagined/desired events. The first line is reminiscent for me of a Kinks lyric from their Village Green album: “People take pictures of each other, Just to prove that they really existed… of a time when they mattered to someone”. The Momus verse also contains a personal confession, reading between the lines, of infidelity and unreliability.
“Photographs are prototypes of memories
Memories are better than the truth
Promises and facts are often enemies
Emily, that’s the story of my youth”
In the quieter verse following, Momus almost spits out the first line, as he considers his own adventures in matrimony. His divorce from Shazna was finalised in 1999, and this must have lended the song more poignancy for him. He also freely admits that it was he, not Shazna, who managed to “get it wrong”. A synth chord sweeps through the lines about Shawn being lonesome, a cold wind blowing. Toms are used to emphasise moments of the lyric. The line about doing it all again with “anyone” is interesting, as there is an implicit contradiction in desiring a monogamous relationship, but being happy to engage in one with “anyone”. This Momus seems to desire multiple, simultaneous, monogamous relationships.
“Marriage, though I seemed to get it wrong
Can be beautiful, believe me
As lovely as a song
And Emily, for all I know your answer may be no
But if you go that road, Shawn
Will be lonesome for so long
Though my chance has been and gone
I’d still do it all again with anyone”
The synth drops out and the sound returns to the opening piano, although the whistle sound comes in along with some percussive splashes. The first line echoes the opening, the second refers to the Carpenters, and also presumably to the song “If I Were A Carpenter” by Tim Hardin. I cannot recall what Elton John had done at the time, exactly, but he had a reputation as a diva who was hard to work with.. still does. The lyric refers again to the gorilla costume, and again to the idea of fakery, that beneath the disguise is a real person, Shawn, who is the person Emily should really be impressed by. In the end he just directly tells her she should marry him. Imagine if she had said no…
“It’s been hard to keep this secret for so long
But not as hard as being a Carpenter or a friend of Elton John
And under my disguise, a gorilla kissogram
Beats a heart that’s warm
But the heart belongs to Shawn
I’ve been trying to take your breath away
For a better man
Matthew Jacobson attended the wedding, and attests that the couple remain together. Shawn is a landscape painter. https://instagram.com/shawn_krueger?igshid=1leukrul6a9sj
That is the end of the main thirty songs on the album, but as promised the album also includes the results of the Karaoke Parody contest. It’s kind of like a Taskmaster challenge: “Write the best Momus Parody: Your time starts in 1989”. Although Momus did promise to write up something about each of the parodists on imomus.com, he never got around to it, so there is no way to know if any of them are really, for instance, Stephen Merritt or Neil Hannon in disguise. But you never know. The parodies now act almost as portraits of Momus himself, as if the targets of his own portraits are having their own say. The whole exercise becomes an ouroboros, the parodists describing the portrait painter holding a mirror up to the world of the parodists.
New Flame, Same Old Story – Christian Carl
Christian goes route 1: an offensive song with many of the tropes one might expect from a Momus song by now. He goes to the zoo, to the sound of the karaoke backing for Old Friend, New Flame, and watches animals having sex.
“I said ‘Look at the turtles
Fucking like rabbits’
She called me a perve
So I squeezed her tit”
This girl however lives in the real world, slaps him and rejects him. However his assault on her he sees as an expression of desire:
“Hippos shit on hippos
So when I shit on you
Take it like a hippo”
He considers that if she were an animal their relationship would be fine, but:
“Instead you’re a person
A sore tit you’re nursing
Cos you just can’t relate”
In terms of Momus Lyric Bingo, we have bestiality, probable misogyny, sexual assault disguised as affection, dodgy rhymes (person and nursing?): no wonder Momus approved. It looks like Christian Carl released an album as The Artificial Hearts called Heavy Rock in 2006, which can be found on YouTube, and he described as a lost soundtrack for a lost David Lynch film.
Not Intended For Children – Bill Hardy
Bill Hardy (of Maine) – Google suggests he is a 19th Century folk musician, which he may of course be, brings The New Decameron backing track to bear on the supposed debauchery of the hippopotamomus, in a droll and sarcastic tone of voice. He begins with an echo layered declaration:
“Ladies and gentlemen
This song is not intended for children”
His opening rhyming couplet is brilliant and in two lines pretty much sums up Momus’ career to that point, somewhat more succinctly than I have managed. The third line kind of spoils it. I’m also not sure that he is as safe as he thinks he is.
“He’s a bit risque
Not the least bit gay
(In the happy way)
Ping pong he plays
He wrote ‘Space Jews’
And ‘The Cabriolet’
But he won’t grope us
I also feel that the next section contradicts itself somewhat: those stickers, which were new enough in 1999 to still be worthy of ridicule, were very much an indication that censorship was at our throats. The chorus is daft and funny.
“With advisories of explicit language
On every album
The censors are kept at bay
Mo-mo-mo-mo-mo Momus isn’t gay”
The following outlines what Momus is like now, and runs back in time to consider how that came to be. There’s reference to Beck in there,
“He’s a voyager
Somewhat sinister, sir
With an analog synthesiser
Hides a devil’s haircut
When bubblegum and glam rock reigned
A young Momus dug the J5
And Jane Birkin’s shapely legs”
After another chorus, we are back to the general “not for children” dynamic. Unfortunately lewd and Moog only rhyme if you pronounce Moog incorrectly (Dr. Moog himself preferred a pronunciation we would probably write in English as Mogue). I like the implication in the next two lines that there are some Momus songs that are, in fact, intended for children. I struggle to see which they might be, other than “Noah Brill”, of course. The nursery rhyme styles adopted on Hippopotamomus were not aimed at children, as I have explained in excruciating depth elsewhere. I like the reference to “Three Wars“.
“With a Mini Moog
He can be lewd
Most of his songs
Are not intended for children
Where the Zeppelin flies at your command
Dr Robert Moog made the Moog he plays
And then it came
A song from Bill from Maine”
And then it went… I know no more about Bill from Maine. Please get in touch and fill my gap.
Coming on an Intern’s Dress – Mr. Kate Jenkins
Ah… Bill Clinton and his semen-tic evasions. He did not have sex with that woman, perhaps, but he certainly provided material for countless sketch shows and comedians. Accused of an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, her stained dress was provided as evidence. If only that was the extent of our problems now.. such a scandal would hardly raise an eyebrow in these times, and quite frankly if it was consensual who cares, but of course with such a power imbalance between the participants, how could such consent be proven beyond a doubt?
So Mr. Kate Jenkins… presumably married to Kate Jenkins, embedding a subtle dig at gender disparity in his very name (it seems hard to believe that women were once called Mrs. “Husband’s Name” until the 1980s or so). Using the infamous song “Coming in a Girl’s Mouth” as backing, outlines his considerations. He mirrors the lyric of the original but makes each line have a political interpretation.
“Tell me what’s the political meaning
Of coming on an intern’s dress
Do I wish to document each sexual conquest
Or to lead the press on the trail of my sticky mess
Or just to splatter creamy stars and stripes across her chest”
I am never sure – in the next verse – what meanings “spunk” has universally, but here the double meaning is a slang meaning of courage and determination as well as pure semen. It is interesting that the President is compared to “Royalty” here.
“Or is this a hot demonstration of my big erection
Some show of presidential spunk
Or maybe Nature’s call to commander in chief
To spread the royal seed across the nation
Is this really incredibly universally significant newsworthy sex
The final lines call back to Nick Currie’s first album The Man on Your Street with The Happy Family, also about a President behaving badly and consorting with many.
“That could be it
But either way
Just give me
Some fabric to come on
To show you’re the favourite
In my harem”
Thank you indeed Mr. Kate.
Nicky My Friend: Diego Zapparoli and Paula
The team of Zapparoli and Paula state unequivocally what they want to do to Nicholas Currie. Or, rather, to Momus. It’s Paula’s lascivious voice, but perhaps it’s Diego’s desire that is actually undoing the Lament configuration. Paula outlines the sexual contract between groupie and artist. We are in “Harry K-Tel” land for this song.
“I’d like to suck your cock
From its bottom to its top
Oh but please don’t get me wrong
Think of it as a reward
You might think I’m crazy but I hope you don’t
I’m just grateful for all of your songs
So full of witty quotations”
The middle eight seems to play into the idea of a bluestocking, outlined on Hippopotamomus.
“How should I call this fever burning in me while they play?
Paula talks about her English lessons, where she has been dropping in words and phrases learned from Momus albums into her homework. Which should earn her extra credit, and probably a visit from social services.
“Nicky my friend, my English teacher once asked me where did I learn
The notions I put in my homework, in particular those kinky words
I don’t think I replied, though both you and I know where all that comes from
It’s no mystery and no secret
I just get them from your songs”
The idea of an English class based purely on the lyrics of Momus certainly beggars the imagination, but I am sure I would do it given the chance. Paula seems to compare the throbbing gristle of her idol to a microphone now, before bigging-up her own lyrical efforts. I do not know a great deal about giving oral sex to men, but one thing I do know: singing into it probably won’t work.
“I’d like to suck your cock
I’d get rid of my skirt and tweak my own nipples
While holding the microphone
Beggars the imagination truly
But I guess that making this would soon turn me
Into the wittiest of the groupies”
Mr. Jones – Jack Curtis Dubowsky
A more straightforward attack here, not so much on Momus but on Bob Dylan, and his mystique and imagined betrayal of his own philosophy and working class credentials. Also for attacking Donovan – the similar British folk singer – and for being a Space Jew.
“Bob Dylan at the height of his fame
Was overly obnoxious again and again
He put down poor Donovan
Tell us, Bob, why really, why really pick on Donovan?”
Finally pinned down on the subject of who “Mr. Jones” is, Bob finally admits:
“Mr Jones is a man
Who doesn’t know who Howard Jones is”
This being, of course, the early-eighties new-wave singer/keyboard player who famously discarded his mental chains.
Jack Curtis Dubowsky is a musician and ensemble leader who composed the soundtrack for the movie Rock Haven in 2007, and numerous other indie films. His music has been performed by the Snopea Chamber Ensemble, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco and other groups. He has a music house called De Stijl Music.
Jack got in touch with me and has contributed the following about the track he created:
“I’m excited to learn of renewed interest in the Momus album “Stars Forever” (1999) which includes a version of this track.
I was a huge fan of Momus’ “The Little Red Songbook” (1998) and was inspired to enter the “Karaoke Parody Contest.” While weighing ideas, I noticed that “Mr Jones” was in the same key and the same tempo as Howard Jones’ “What is Love?” It was too good to pass up.
At the time, I was living in San Francisco in an apartment in the Castro above a flower shop. I did the recording at home using an early ProTools system. Listening back to it now, I’m surprised to find it’s one of my better vocal performances, and I was trying to imitate Nick, not sound like myself!
I supplied Nick two versions: one with a sample from “What is Love?” and another that didn’t have the sample, but I played the signature bass riff myself on my Roland JX-3P to avoid any clearance issues. Nick agreed that the sample version (presented here) sounds better, but due to his recent legal hassles, opted for the safer “No Sample” version.
Over the years I’ve seen the track appear on various lyrics websites, with incorrectly transcribed lyrics. This video presents the actual lyrics, scanned from the paperwork in my original CD-R. (Original files and session are certainly backed up somewhere in my archive, but would take a while to find.)
Here are some notes about my lyrics.
“He put down poor Donovan” refers to the film “Dont Look Back” (1967).
“With his flower in a garden” refers to the album “A Gift From A Flower To A Garden” (1967), truly a masterpiece.
“That banana and a gold record” refers to “Mellow Yellow” (1967). Some online lyric sites incorrectly transcribed this as “ain’t a gold record,” which is incorrect. I tried to paint a recalcitrant, not dismissive, Dylan, who finally realizes Donovan’s greatness and superior strengths as a vocalist, humanist, and melodist.
“passed the height of his fame” In my opinion in 1999, which has proven incorrect, I believed Dylan’s influence and cultural import would fade.
“Overly obnoxious he remained” Yes that’s my Dylan impression there.
“Who really picks out your clothes?” I have a long fascination with the relationship / opposition / binary / spectrum of authenticity and artifice. Dylan represents authenticity, but of course even this is performed. But yeah Dylan is not known for his outfits.
“Dylan himself a Space Jew” refers to “Space Jews” on Momus’ “Ping Pong” (1997).
“With a big house out in Malibu.” When I was in High School, we used to go out to Point Dume. Some friends pointed out a house where they said Dylan lived. Have not fact checked this. But a great couplet if I do say so myself.
“Wasn’t keeping up with the new wave scene, probably just as well.” What I like about this line is that it can be read two ways: as a slight against new wave, or a slight against Dylan, which is what I had actually intended. Although the ambiguity didn’t bother me; I thought that was a bonus. You could see it as raising Dylan above new wave, as in Dylan being too good for new wave. But you can also see it as saying we don’t need a new wave album from Dylan. This kind of refers to the period in the mid-eighties where older rock stars suddenly bathed themselves in Linn drums and synthesizers.
The end chorus or coda: I tried to do the Momus thing of having vocals in different registers, so there’s high vocals and vocals an octave down. Nick had left some of his vocals in the karaoke track, and it was a minor challenge to deal with that. Listening back to it now, I find that one moment where Nick’s vocal sticks out in the left channel quite amusing.”
Here is the “with sample” version: https://bit.ly/39mt0xh
Jack provided a full biography as well:
“Composer, author, and filmmaker Jack Curtis Dubowsky works in concert music, improvisation, and live performance. His work serves LGBTQ and other communities.
In the 1980s-90s, Dubowsky played in queercore bands Diazepam Nights and Helot Revolt, performing at benefits for ACT UP and Queer Nation. He produced performance artist Glen Meadmore’s album, Hot Horny and Born Again (1993).
Dubowsky has scored documentaries and dramas including Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies, Redwoods, Rock Haven, That Man: Peter Berlin, and I Always Said Yes.
Dubowsky produced and directed the experimental documentary Submerged Queer Spaces (2012), available on Amazon Prime Video, which examines architecture and gentrification.
Dubowsky’s choral music emphasizes social justice, and is performed internationally, including at every GALA Choral Convention since 2004. Harvey Milk: A Cantata (2012) is performed by university, high school, and community choruses nationally; it uses previously unpublished Milk texts. Dubowsky’s socio-political choral opera Halloween in the Castro (2009) lampooned San Francisco city policies.
Dubowsky’s concert music employs acoustic instruments, composed material, and structured improvisation, as in Mist (2013), commissioned by the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. The Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble has played theatres and performance spaces nationwide, presenting live scores to silent and experimental films.
Dubowsky’s book, Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness (2016 Palgrave Macmillan), bridges musicology, cinema studies, and queer theory. Easy Listening and Film Scoring: 1948-1978 is forthcoming on Routledge.
Special Collections at California State University Northridge holds the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Papers, which include scores, 500 hours of recordings, and 100 hours of video.
Dubowsky is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Recording Academy, and is a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He has taught and lectured at universities in the US and the UK. He has an MM from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.”
The Taste of Pink Champagne – El Topo
“El Topo” – the mole – a 1970 film by Alejandro Jodorowsky – was an extraordinary piece of work, a Western influenced by psychedelic ideas. Perhaps this “El Topo” is in fact someone in disguise, a “mole”? Who knows…
It’s “Harry K-Tel” again, but interestingly El Topo doesn’t use the original lyric or really use any of Momus’ lyrics beyond a couple of references. This is a genuine pastiche: using the Momus ploys of relating the everyday activity of a person to relate to some sexual depravity, not necessarily outlined in detail, and not necessarily a “normal” everyday activity. There is something very Momusian in having a spreadsheet of previous “flames” and conquests, that mix of the technological and the visceral, the fidelity of a saved document recording instances of infidelity.
“I love the taste of pink champagne
Open it baby I can do it all again
Open it baby
Love, a vicious game
Love a little insane
Tell you what
I’ll take your name
I will pop it on the spreadsheet called
The freudian imagery now, of his father crying when his “pink champagne” (which he never touched) was poured away, is clear.
When I was a very young boy
I didn’t want to fly or drive a train
Once I’d start I’d never stop
My daddy kept a bottle hidden
Cried when mother poured it down the drain
He never touched a drop
Of pink champagne”
The comparison of imbibing fizzy alcoholic slop with some kind of sexual perversity is outlined here: the liquid literally “fucks me in the brain”.
“Open a box of bendy straws
I love that pink it starts to bubble when you touch it
Rises to the top and I can’t stop
Till it fucks me in the brain
More pink champagne!”
In true Momus fashion the character will engage in their obsession with no regard to the circumstance in which it occurs, remaining innocent and bereft of guilt.
“Well I drank it with some dancing girls in Rio
And I drank it with an angel on cocaine
I’d even drink it from a dog bowl someone left out in the rain
And I’ll drink it making movies in a studio that’s stained”
Finally declaring a bacchanalian – or rather, epicurean, notion of pleasure.
“And I’ll drink it till the world explodes
And all that there remains
Is the taste of pink champagne”
These words are carefully written, and I feel that El Topo was a musician, but who, exactly, I have no idea.
Edit 29th November: Perhaps disappointingly, Momus has revealed who this was:
“The Pink Champagne song was by one David Butler, an Irish friend of mine who also befriended Derek Jarman and worked for a long time (maybe still does) for the PRS”.
Onan the Barbarian – Richard Knowles
According to Discogs, this Richard Knowles is a songwriter, engineer and producer, who amongst many, many other things wrote “You Get What You Give” for the New Radicals, and has arranged for bands such as I am Kloot. Oh, and co-wrote “Heaven is a Place on Earth“… which is where one begins to think that there may be many Rick Knowles and Discogs is confused. It is certainly hard to believe that if that was his career, that he would be happy with his Discogs entry consisting of: “Songwriter, engineer and one winner of the karaoke parody contest from The Little Red Songbook featuring on Momus’ album Stars Forever“. It would be like David Bowie’s Wikipedia entry identifying him as “Singer, Songwriter and cast member of “The Hunger””. With all due respect to Momus, I don’t think that if I had written “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Onan the Barbarian“, that the latter is what I would lead with when self-promoting.
In reality, Richard Knowles is an established singer/songwriter, for various bands, but notably Voice of the Rain and Man of Arun, and their website can be found at lowredmoon.ch. His background is quite folk orientated, and this comes across in the treatment given here. We are using “Coming in a girl’s mouth“. Richard muses over what it means to ejaculate into a sock (never understood that). His main concern is the laundry. Also, the relative sexiness of private parts covered in wool.
“What is the cultural meaning of coming in an old sock
Have I found my true vocation: bespoke tailor to my cock
Or is it just to dress my deepest naked fantasies in wool
That eco-friendly outfit that’s machine rewashable”
Quite closely mirroring the original lyric, a philosophical assertion and comparison is brought in.
“Or is it crude association, if the shoe fits wear it?
Well you know what they say about big feet”
The title is of course a corruption of “Conan” the Barbarian, from the books and films about the fantasy muscleman. Onan is an Old Testament character who felt God’s wrath for allowing his seed to fall on the ground instead of into his wife to generate more followers. (The revulsion of religion to homosexuality also seems to stem from the lack of children – and therefore new followers – that results).
“Or is it Onan The Barbarian saying
‘No soft tissue paper can hold me
I’m the wolf dressed as the shepherd leading a fleeced flock of tumescent sheep
That lyric is a good approximation of the occasionally garbled imagery that plays in Momus’ more sexual lyrics. Probably the best example of actual “parody” yet. Finally we witness the character “pump” into the sock or other available fabric, with a prosaic and again laundry related ending. (Persil is a detergent).
“Alone on the stage
But even one-act plays need rehearsal
So look to the lights
And when crystallised
Probably my favourite of the parodies, this song does come across like something which could occur on a Momus album, as does the final one.
Suggestion to Jealous Men – Oliver Schopfer
A writer, poet and photographer, Oliver contributed an entirely original lyric to the project, against a soundscape borrowed from various Momus tracks – actually bypassing the Karaoke tracks completely. His poem is beautiful and spoken gently, in a pastiche of the speaking style of Momus, but without any irony or sarcasm. It suggests the concept of being envious of your beloved’s contact with objects around the home: an odd concept in 1999 but with the Internet of Things and AI impinging on our immediate future, perhaps this could become a genuine concern to some.
“Mr Brown’s wife was so beautiful
That he locked her in every morning before going to work
Jealousy of course was his motive
But what if his wife watered her plants with an open hand?
What if she talked to her flowers for hours?
What if she smiled at the television screen?
What if she kept staring at the walls
And looking at herself in the mirrors?
What if she stroked the door handle?
What if she walked barefoot on the kitchen floor?
Mr Brown you’d better pull your whole house down
Before locking your wife in it”
Ending with desolate sounds – from Hippopotamomus, I think, the final parody is succeeded by wacky sped up intro music to an interview with Momus – at least his answers – interspersed with clips from the album. It’s a twenty minute promotional piece for Stars Forever included as a bonus in which he explains his reasons for the album and discusses some of the stories behind the songs. The final clip of Karin Komoto fades out on the most extraordinary album of 1999, and the most unusual album of Momus’ career. Second most unusual. Third…maybe. In the top ten.
Stars Forever raised Momus’ profile considerably both in the UK and in the U.S., prompting articles in the Guardian in the UK and The New York Times in the U.S. The next project would be almost a mirror image of Stars Forever, including an attempt to grant eternal anonymity rather than fame. Three major developments would lead into the 2001 album Folktronic. This would also be more of an art project with an album attached than an album in its own right, a distinction which would influence his work for the next decade or so.
Firstly, Momus had an increasing interest in the “analog” of analog baroque, particularly the history and recording of folk music and its role in popular culture. This interest began with his father’s early experiments in recording Nick’s voice, and runs through to his reading about Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist who recorded folk music in early 20th Century America and thereby “discovered” numerous subsequently famous blues and folk artists. Momus became fascinated by the idea of “new” folk music: digital folk music, what that might be and how the new oral tradition might sound.
Secondly, in August 1999 3D Corporation asked Momus to write a mini-album for Kahimi Karie. This required five songs with a budget of $25,000. His interest in Analog Baroque music had led him to listen to medieval music (crumhorns, sackbutts and the like) and the music of one band in particular, Gryphon, mixed this style with progressive folk and rock. Momus listened to various prog-rock albums off the back of this interest from artists such as Gentle Giant, Gong and Rick Wakeman, and various aspects of prog-rock – the structural freedom, the mix of styles, its very opposition to his own musical ideals – attracted him to it. The Kahimi Karie project became a prog-rock album, but perhaps some new style of ironic-prog, aware of its issues and limitations.
Thirdly, Momus was on the brink of dropping everything and finally moving to New York. His reasons for doing so and his impressions of America we can fully examine in the next entry, about Folktronic and the beginning of Momus’ move away from music as a primary form of expression.