As we have seen, the Analog Baroque ideals of the previous few years were to mutate into something with a more egalitarian purpose. While patronage was available to the select few, “folk” music was of the many. I’ve used inverted commas there because the idea that there is some kind of genuine, handed-down set of songs, rituals and incantations that has always been called “folk” is something of an illusion. In his most recent documentary Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Adam Curtis detailed the story of Cecil Sharp, the musician who in the early 20th Century collected many English folk tunes and detailed English folk dances. In an interview with Wired, Curtis postulated that Sharp’s collection of a folk body of work was also the creation of a myth:
“that’s not to say people didn’t sing songs. But this idea that there was this thing called the music of the folk, he sort of invented that, and he did it with this country dancing, and it’s so recent. And it was really a myth of England.”
Sharp also travelled to America and tried to record “lost” English folk songs there in the Appalachian mountains, significantly refusing to record anything of a non-white origin considering them of lower quality. He found however that music from the region was unique, structurally and lyrically.
This idea of collecting and collating music as ethnographic field-work fed into the Folktronic project, inspired by the work of American Ethno-musicologist Alan Lomax, the “tape-recorder man” who would feature on the album, as would the Appalachian mountains with their unique pentatonic folk music. Crucially, the new work would be concerned with the fakery of folk music, especially in its modern interpretation, and how this was a cause for celebration. Furthermore, Alan Lomax made a series of documentaries for PBS collectively called American Patchwork Series, which would provide the name for Momus’ own record label in subsequent years. His recordings were feted by people such as Bob Dylan and Brian Eno, and sampled by artists including Moby.
An article in The Face magazine called Who’s Faking the Folk caught Momus’ attention, dealing as it did with the trend towards inauthentic new-age folkery of the Beth Orton, Gomez variety. It pointed out the obvious contradiction in these products: if the consumers of new-folk and new-age merchandise actually lived the values those products espoused, they would turn on capitalism and consumerism and become self-sufficient, the last thing those products’ creators would want. His question became, what would be wrong with honestly, openly FAKE folk music?
Folkism, Rockism, the drive for honesty and purity in music, for “authenticity” was compared by Momus to a fundamentalist system, as extreme as the divide between halal and haram. Since “authentic” folk music was always seen as something of the past, it was not allowed into depictions of the future, never played on synths or electronic instruments, even when electric guitars were introduced into folk music it caused uproar. This is of course an absurd position: folk music if it exists is music of the people of the present time, not of the past, it has to evolve. Folk music can be written now, and it can be about computers and vaccinations.
Momus asked for submissions for a Fake Folk sampler: imaginary folk songs once composed on synthesizers and radiophonic gadgets. These would be folk songs for the era of Analog Baroque, the time between the creation of electronic devices and their assimilation into the modern era. He described the appeal of 8-bit graphics and music as existing because the limitations of the computer and its technology became an important feature of the art, whereas the smooth, fully realised graphics of modern computing technology remove the technology used from the end product entirely.
“I want to make a parallel world in which sincere jokers compiled a National Folk Synthesiser Archive composed of faked field recordings of hillbillies playing early synths, gap-toothed agricultural workers plugging in ARPs and Korgs for the village hootenanny while bearded, bespectacled researchers, sent by Marxist government bureaus to compile an Elektronische Volksarchiv of Folk Artificielle, set up UNESCO standard-issue ethnological tape recorders. The record will probably be called Fakeways: A Sampler. Anyone can submit material, with or without vocals, and those chosen will be paid in shetland wool and electronic sporrans. (Oh all right, then, money. You drive a hard bargain, Ebeneezer.) Nobody sounding like Billy Bragg or Beth Orton stands the remotest chance of inclusion.”
This coincided with Momus moving to New York, a decision that had been coming for some time. Finally, his work on a soundtrack for the film The Low Down (Directed by Jamie Thraves and starring a young Aidan Gillen) had provided a bankroll for the move. A sample review from imdb.com does not mention the soundtrack but says:
“I actually felt quite angry after I watched this film because it’s annoying low-level indie rubbish like this which actually holds back the British Film Industry from succeeding internationally.”
Momus’ blog of 4th March 2000 talks about leaving England behind, for all its:
“games with class, the tension between money and roots, south and north, the fear of sex, the hatred of Europe. Royalty, crap Anglicised Planet Hollywood Americana, football”
Based in New York with his then girlfriend Shizu, Momus was quickly mentioned by the New Yorker and Time Out, with a residence at the Knitting Factory called Electronics in the 18th Century. He soon met various kindred spirits, people he did and didn’t know. David Byrne attended a show, and Momus met and jammed with Harmony Korine and Arto Lindsay, Momus clearly enjoyed the creative rush and the freedom of expression the city had at that time. He experienced as Brian Eno did “Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan” looking at the skyline, and inspired by Eno’s 1981 ambient film wrote a song of that title. Of life in New York he said:
“Life will never be normal and dull and mean-spirited again. It will all have this edgy push, this happy rush, this friendly insane babble, this creative drive, this openness to the new and the foreign, the strange and the beautiful. For me, anyway. That’s it. I’m here.”
This is of course, before 9/11, before the flux point that has blighted everything since, and led in my view directly into Brexit, Trump and the rise of neo-nationalism as well as fundamentalism. This was for Momus a time of huge optimism and change. He would not return to live in the UK again.
By May 2000, Momus released an audio documentary, Fakeways: Manhattan Folk. Delivered by the fictional Fakeways Institute, the CD recording includes interviews, reliable and unreliable narration, music and ambiance all centred around the notion of Fake Folk. The interviews include the real/unreal robot anthropologist Sinclair Scientific, Stephen Merritt talking about Harry Smith, Fischerspooner, Steve LaFreniere and others. The article which introduces this CD also talks about an upcoming album to be called Fake Folk, which would become Folktronic.
Momus was led in this by various sources, including the book In the Country of Country by Nicholas Dawidoff, which illustrates the history of American Country through a series of portraits. Another influence on the album was the work Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard Von Krafft-Ebbing, published in 1886, and a reference book of sexual behaviour in humans. Momus considered that the (by our standards) relatively commonplace fetishes and activities related in the book would make good material for a musical, or at least for an album of Fake Folk music, which would also provide opportunities to play with the words Fake, Folk and Fuck. The fetishes described by Ebbing were, in Momus’ eyes, a diversion from actual sex, in other words, fake fucking.
After the album was released, it became the centrepiece of Momus’ first art show Fakeways: Myths and Songs of Momalia at the LFL art gallery in Chelsea. Here he set up one teepee in which you could hear music from the album, and another in which you could record your misremembered lyrics, the recording of which became part of the installation in a form of “Chinese Whispers”. Digital looking 8-bit imagery of forests and folk songs and eagles adorned the venue. For a price Momus would write your digital self into a song which also became part of the ceremony. This foray into the art world became the start of a period in which in theory music would become less important than other forms of creativity for Momus, a determination which lasted very little time indeed.
Folktronic was released in January 2001, on Analog Baroque in the UK and Le Grand Magistery in the US, as well as Quattro Disc in Japan. A sampler CD with the first three songs on was also produced. The cover shows a digital forest against a blue/white gradient, snow covering the ground which is defined by the grid-beneath-the-illusion effect we were very used to seeing around the turn of the millennium. It’s an effect which appears in various forms in The Matrix, and very clearly on the DVD cover of The Thirteenth Floor. It appears in Tron, in the Galaxy Song in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, before transforming into a fecund lady, and winds through the titles of Sapphire and Steel in the form of a path. Normally the grid is green on black, rather than the white/green of Folktronic. It’s vaguely echoed in the ubiquitous cover and t-shirt of Unknown Pleasures.
The CD sleeve opens with a green inner fold, other Momus and Cherry Red releases listed and a phone number given for orders, as well as a website address. The releases available include Analog Baroque releases by Toog, Mister Svenson and Stereo Total. The track listing states that the album was recorded at the “Fakeways Institute” between June and September of 2000. Momus stated he recorded much of the album while naked at his workstation, sublimating some kind of orgone energy into the recording.
The gatefold centre lists several website addresses: with Momus’ website still hosted at Demon at this point apparently. There is a description of the art exhibition in October and November at which the “Chinese Whispers” experiment described above took place. There are also Flash presentations on the site by John Robert Howell and Mumbleboy (Kinya Hanada). In 2000 Flash – then owned by and called Macromedia Flash – seemed like the future of website design. Animated, interactive and easy to use. Now: 2021, it is an obsolete technology, damned by its lack of security, difficulty in scanning it for Search Engine content and its reliance on plug-ins, superseded by HTML5 Canvas conventions and its core components absorbed into Adobe Animate.
John (aka Jack) Robert Howell’s website link, artandleisure.com, is still there, preserved from the time. You can still download the .mov file referred to if you like. The Flash files will not work, of course, at this time. There are one or two dodgy and broken links there, especially external.
Mumbleboy’s website milkyelephant.com/mumbleboy is still there, also preserved like a lark’s tongue in aspic, a reel from 2011 and a blog post from 2014 amongst the latest entries. His art prints and merchandise can be purchased from suzuri.jp/mumbleboy.
The sleeve also lists thanks to all the individuals involved in the project, and the sleeve designer, Florian Perret, along with the creator of the tree shape used, Hiroyuki Tatsuno.
The US version of the sleeve has an image of Momus on the cover, with a blocky head (all the artwork here is reminiscent of Minecraft, released in 2009), with his shadow being the outstretched wings of a mountain eagle, repeated and stretched into the distance like a totem.
The album itself, produced as if lo-fi folk, is rough and yet easy to listen to, addictive, mesmerising. On some particular day it might be my favourite Momus album. My CD for some reason spins easily in the CD sleeve, so when closed and flipped over the whole thing seems to vibrate, as if a hard drive is spinning up. It’s a disc that vibrates with some weird energy, transferred from the imaginary land of Folktronia and bottled like mountain moonshine.
The first song on the album was accompanied by a Flash animation by John Howell and acts as a curtain raiser to the theme of the album, similar in intent to the opening track of Ping Pong.
Appalachia is a region of the United States roughly stretching from the southern part of New York state to Northern Alabama. The mountains of Appalachia include the Blue Ridge mountains and and the Great Smoky mountains. The people and region of Appalachia were long the source of myths and misunderstanding, considered backward and economically depressed. Named in 1528 after a Native American village and tribe, Appalachia is considered prime hillbilly territory by the world at large, a place populated at best by the likes of Dwight Schrute and the other staff of Dunder Mifflin in The Office: An American Workplace, set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, at worst by the residents of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes or John Boorman’s Deliverance.
The album is full of samples and anachronisms, not least in this opening. The synthesized banjo riff that kicks off is straight from Deliverance but soon followed by electronic fuzz and distortion, through a ring modulator, as Momus sings his praise for the “Appalachian mountain girl”, the beauty he pursues. Momus notes that even “noise-meister” Arto Lindsay (whose band DNA had featured on Eno’s sampler No New York in 1978, and had worked with everyone from They Might be Giants to Bill Frisell), complained jokingly about the distortion. The lyrics start in a clichéd way, saying the girl is “coming home to me ” to “keep me company”, but “electronically”. “If you should ever fade away, I would fade to grey” he adds, a reference to the band Visage and not the last reference to avant-pop that will be made.
A distorted baroque keyboard interlude occurs, a parody of Bach which provides respite before the distortion returns, with 8-bit sound effects and a repeat of the verse, but this time it is an “Electronic mountain girl”. There’s a link you could make here, back to the Virtual Valerie of his 1995 album, also an electronic girl, except there’s a symmetry: Virtual Valerie was an electronic girl encroaching on the real world, here it is the other way round.
After a second Bach interlude the song returns for a final, and loudest, run through, with a barely audible whoop from Momus at the close, and the baroque keyboard played once more to close the song.
Smooth Folk Singer
Kicking off with a groove sampled from – somewhere, perhaps Leadbelly, the concept is of a successful folk singer being warned by his mother on her death-bed to take care of his talent, not to abuse it. Momus sings in call and response style to himself, responding to each line with “Smooth Folk Singer”. The joke here is firstly, that folk music is simply not the type of music that really drives people wild, and secondly the constant conflation of the words “folk” and “fuck”. “Be careful with your folk, child!”, the mother warns the singer.
Each verse ends with the beat dropping out and the response to call “One Time, Two Times”, the phrase made famous by Wyclef Jean on The Fugee’s cover of Killing Me Softly. The lyrics go on to reference Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker and Sleepy John Estes. Part way through the song a stylophone starts playing alongside the groove, and the lo-fi nature of the process is evidenced by the police sirens that have made their way onto the recording.
Toward the end Momus describes the intended effect of his character’s songs:
“I’m a solid sender, my heart is full
(Smooth folk singer)
Of political agendas and primitive cool
(Smooth folk singer, one time, two times)”
“Solid Sender” is a phrase used in various songs of the 30s and 40s, and the name of a track by John Lee Hooker, to indicate either a talented musician with a message, or someone who is remarkably composed and confident. Momus at the time describes himself as believing the album “was going to be hugely popular in America, as big a seller as 69 Love Songs.”
When Beck opened for Johnny Cash in 1995 Cash was very impressed with him. “I listened to him backstage and I was so impressed with the way that he could do Appalachian music, like a Hillbilly, he’s really good at it”, Cash can be seen saying in interview. This led to a cover of Beck’s song Rowboat on Cash’s covers album Unchained. Momus recalls Cash saying that Beck had “mountain music in him”. Although Beck’s list of influences at the time was huge, there was no doubt that country was in there somewhere. Momus was also influenced by ethnic fiddle music and the exhibits he saw in what is somehow still called the National Museum of the American Indian in Battery Park. The trashier side of adopted-folk he saw in bands like Rednex, whose smash hit Cotton Eye Joe was infesting charts everywhere, and their fake folk template fitted his own work well.
Mountain Music is based around samples from the Country and Western collections Momus had in his synth, a Technics KN600, rendered more synthetic and robotic for the purposes of the song. The sampled music sounds uber-synthetic, appropriate for the song. It’s fast, catchy and undoubtedly ersatz. The lyrics of the first verse perfectly capture the fakery involved:
“I’ve got that mountain music in me
But not since I was born
I learned about it yesterday
From a CD-ROM
I’ve got that mountain music in me
I’ll play it till I’m dead
Like a synthesiser sequencer
I’ve got it in my head”
There’s a fair argument here about authenticity. If you learned about “mountain music” yesterday from a “CD-ROM” (a storage format now itself a folk memory) and can play it perfectly, is it not genuine? Where does the “genuine” reside? And as the chorus suggests, folk music if it continues to be a genre in the future, will have to talk about current technology and events. It sounds funny to sing about “24-track” recording as a folk song.
“Singing ah ah yuppy digital deck
Johnny Cash, Jupiter, 24 track”
I’m not sure if Jupiter here refers to a sequencer or the Roland Jupiter Keyboard, regardless the anachronistic nature of folk music with technological signifiers is the important thing.
The next verse declares that such music, with a synthesizer mixed in “might become a symbol of this world we’re living in”. The collision of traditional forms with futuristic recording technology continues:
“I’ve got that mountain music in me
Deep in memory
Time-stretched in my sampler
On my Rio mp3
I’ve got the mountains on a Minidisc
Right next to my heart
And when I press the play button
I hear the music start”
RIO was the name of a company which produced some of the first mass use and popular portable digital music players. They were sued by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) for royalty payments, however the Court of Appeals eventually concluded that such MP3 players did not fall under the definition of a Recording Device when files were transferred from a hard drive. Essentially, this allowed the rapid expansion of the digital music industry. MiniDisc of course was a potential rival format to CD and DAT which was eventually squeezed out by digital music.
The next verse outlines how pure and simple country music was never quite as it seemed:
“It never was so simple
It never was so pure
The folks who made it never were
So ignorant and poor
They travelled round the world
And never stayed where they belonged
And if they had we’d never have
These lovely mountain songs”
The music features glitches, banjo loops, stomping mountain drums and country backing vocals. Momus goes on to give a specific example of a “fake” genuine country song:
“‘Moon Of Alabama’ is my favourite country tune
it’s got lyrics by a communist and music by a Jew.
And when those fellers wrote it they were living in Berlin
I guess that is a symbol of the world we’re living in”
Referring of course to what we also call Alabama Song (Whisky Bar), by Weill and Brecht. The song ends with the chorus repeated with further contradictory references. Half way through there are some reversed sound effects. He refers in the lyrics here to Bruce Haack, an experimental electronic composer who spent time with native Canadians and used folk idioms. The discourse of folk with technology is summarised in the final line, as Dylan, Beck and all the folk musicians may as well be on the deck of a futuristic spacecraft. The civilisation outlined in the Star Trek movies will need its folk music as much as any troglodyte society does.
Ay ay yuppy, digital deck
Johnny Cash, Casio, Dylan and Beck
Grand Ol’ Oprah Winfrey, Massive Attack
Johnny Cash, Casio, Bruce Haack
Ay ay yuppy, Dylan and Beck
You and me might as well be on Star Trek”
A cautionary tale of getting the life you might want to lead: we all envy the simple folk their simple life, without always considering the complexities. A clatter of percussion taken from John Cage opens a sample from a field recording of folk music from New Mexico, a fiddle tune reminiscent of a Scottish Jig, which is interrupted by and contrasted with a stabbed out tune on a synthesizer which could be straight out of The Pleasure Principle.
Synthesized guitar and percussion accompanies the jangling verse, which illustrates the more idyllic mountain cabin life:
“The simple men live the simple life in big log cabins
They’re best of friends with a simpleton and a horse called Dobbin
Their yards resound with the simple sound of blackbirds and robins
And their wives make simple samplers with thimbles and bobbins”
The collision of two worlds: that of the field recorder and the culture that is being recorded: is of interest to Momus. He describes the incongruity “of Jews descending from the cities to pass amongst — or pass for — yokels” and compares them to Bowie’s Man Who Fell to Earth driving past astonished hillbillies in a limo.
The chorus is a very catchy part of the jig, a dance through the cabin with the yokel’s women:
“We envy them, the simple men
The simple men we envy them
We envy the simple men”
The second verse is more sinister, or at least brings the spirit of M.R. James into examining the world of the mountain men. An interesting mention of “gollum” in the year that the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings was to be released.
“They’re terribly superstitious, fear the ghost and the gollum
They sit in a chair in the mountain air and breathe in the pollen
Their tweeds and plaids are homespun adorned with a sporran
They’re always at war with the valley folk because they are foreign”
The mention of tweed and sporran helps to cement in your head the similarity of this music with the folk music of Scotland. The description in general, especially the last line, makes the verse sound like a good description of The Brexit Party in the UK.
After the second chorus and a further synth break, we get a quieter section with soft electronic percussion and Momus breathily intoning thoughts on the subject, identifying the yearning those who are higher on Maslow’s pyramid have for the simpler days of the base camp, perhaps not remembering why they left it.
“Funny how it seems the more that we evolve
The more the basic problems of our lives get solved
The more we yearn for harder, simpler times back when
We envy them, the simple men”
A synth line then drags us into the frenzy of the dance again, and it’s really quite energising, with more percussion kicking in, the synth break not fully interrupting the flow of the music this time, and the third verse flowing straight on. The third verse heads straight into the darkest elements of the mountain men’s lives and gives us several good reasons NOT to envy them. This includes beating their wives, which is permitted because it is in the good book.
Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible and of the Pentateuch. It contains the law Moses gave to his people before entering the Promised Land. It could be argued that it doesn’t explicitly give permission to beat wives, but it certainly suggests they should submit to their husbands, and includes bizarre proscriptions such as:
“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.”
Deuteronomy also insists that men and women must not wear each other’s clothes, a few verses later decides that adultery or sex outside marriage must result in stoning to death, and between these verses explains that if you find a nest with a mother bird and chicks, not to take the mother bird if you take the chicks. It’s fucking demented and written by someone with both ADHD and psychosis. But to be fair, it never actually says you can beat your wife up. Children, yes.
“Their pigs have lice and their rats have mice and their dogs have rabies
They dig in the muck to make graves they mark with the names of their babies
They beat their wives, it serves them right it’s in Deuteronomy
And for their simple daughters they reserve clitorectomy”
It should be pointed out that the traditions of Appalachia do not include clitorectomy, Momus is both exaggerating for effect and meeting the requirement for a word which rhymes with Deuteronomy, a burden which he has brought on himself.
The chorus which follows finally (you have to hear the song to appreciate this) has a double snare beat between its first and second repetitions, which has been infuriatingly not present up to this point. (Imagine hearing “shave and a haircut” and never getting the “two bits”.) A final synth break leads to another quiet section in which Momus talks about the duality again of our desire for both simplicity and complexity, with ideas from Theodor Adorno.
Adorno believed primitive man was encouraged to believe that he was not in control of his surroundings by the myths of primitive culture: anything which happened was the result of God, or gods, and one had to subjugate themselves to the control of things that could not be changed. Adorno reasoned that modern man had simply replaced mythology with science in this process, and we were no more free or in control but simply subject to other systems than mythology: science, economics, technology and commerce. That humanity in its primitivism led to brutality, and an irrational belief that things had been better or different in “simpler” times where the requirement and method of self-preservation had been more overt:
“Funny how the symbols of humanity
Turn out to be the images of brutality
Projecting soul on the soulless again
We envy them, the simple men”
But we shouldn’t.
Finnegan the Folk Hero of HTML
If Folktronic has a key text amongst the songs that adhere to its intended concept, it is this song. If folk music can be made now, can be “fake” and yet authentic, then it has to talk about modern subjects in the same way that folk music would have addressed a lost love sinking into a swamp or a pretender to the throne hiding in a tree. Or, as in this case, commemorating a folk hero, a Robin Hood or Rob Roy of the internet. Also such a folk hero could be a white collar worker, could work in programming, could even be a website designer.
A gentle beat and sampled violin with, again, a vaguely Scottish air as Momus in gruff voice dictates the tale to us. What he describes is a website, with images linked to an image map linking to other images. In 2001 this would genuinely have been a coding job, with WYSIWYG editors being relatively primitive (although around since the mid 90s) and likely to destroy your code. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting website ever, but has a nursery rhyme / folk tale feel to its design.
“In a field of corn
Is a master’s shoe
Click the master’s shoe
There’s a blue-tailed fly
Click a blind man’s foot
See a horse’s tail
It’s down to Finnegan
The folk hero of HTML”
Momus then outlines what is still a large problem in the industry:
“This is the tale
Of a clever sod
Was his gift from God
He slaved all night
Coding the master’s site
Never paid a cent
What was his by right”
Low pay, long hours, the expectation that you are there 24/7 to fix any problems which arise: these remain the working conditions that designers and coders struggle with when not working freelance, which brings its own set of issues. What is needed is some kind of hero to rise up and smite the evil corporate overlords, which brings us to Finnegan’s revenge as he wakes up to his situation. His very name brings to mind Fionn mac Cumhail, (Finn McCool) the Irish mythological hero, and after whom the James Joyce book Finnegans Wake may in fact be named.
The melody lifts as Momus describes what has happened since Finnegan fell (died, vanished?): it’s nice to think of a website as something that needs to be fixed, like an engine. Momus backs himself on vocals and there is a chorus effect on the synth.
“How the website burns
Since Finnegan fell!
Let’s pray that he returns
From web designer hell
He’s the only one can fix it
Fix it good and well
Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML”
Some squelchy noises accompany the melody and percussion now, representing the somewhat calamitous state of the website, along with further fiddle samples. Support for Quicktime in Windows ended in 2018, and Flash died in 2020. The Java Applets that used to infest websites have long gone as well, with all these technologies superseded, mainly by HTML5. These additional add-ons and plug-ins are no longer required or safe to operate. We now learn that Finnegan is literally dead, starved by poverty.
“He could stream Quicktime
He could code in Flash
He could make your icons dance with Java
Then empty out your trash
But Finnegan’s dead
Rotted clean away
Because the bastard master
Never gave him any pay”
The next verse features a call and response from Momus to himself, a greek Chorus echoing the tragedy, and this is played up for laughs, after all, it is just a website at the end of the day. An URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the full address of a resource or asset on the internet: for instance, the URL for this page is everything in your address bar at the top of this page. This is not the same as a domain name, which in this case is wordpress.com. Momus pronounces it as “earl” rather than U.R.L, and there seems to be no agreement on which pronunciation is correct, if it matters at all.
“404 Not Found” was and still is the standard error code a client computer will receive from a server when it requests a webpage/address/resource that is not currently there, although a well maintained site will have some alternative page which pops up, with an “Oops!” type message. Finnegan has taken down those friendly error pages.
“How the bastard yells
’cause the website’s down
When he taps his URLs
All he gets is ‘404 Not Found’
By the coffee machine
Screaming Finnegan’s name
But the folk hero is dead
And there is no-one left to blame”
The lament continues, with the question arising of who “we” refers to: is the singer another employee at the firm? I feel like the “cracking” here should be “hacking” but it isn’t clear. There’s a higher keyboard sound which plays a counterpoint at the end of this verse and brings it down to a quieter level.
“We’ve lost our shirts
Now Finnegan’s gone
If he had got his just deserts
We could’ve been cracking merrily on
’cause there was just one man could fix it
Fix it good and well
That’s Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML”
The instruments mostly drop out now to allow a quiet moment of reflection, before they come back in for a lengthy instrumental coda. There is obviously great humour in a verse which is intended to mirror the ghost stories sung about in folk: instead of the hero haunting a forest and being heard on a moonlit night, he inhabited the internet, so that’s where he is heard. This is, of course, ridiculous, as the internet is by definition never quiet or silent, and being international does not have “moonlit nights”. The “spiders” and the “bot from hell” both refer to automated programs designed to scan the pages of websites and add them into search engines: Google, Ask Jeeves, Altavista, Lycos and so on use(d) “spiders” to follow links on website pages to find every accessible page and index them. “Lycos” in fact comes from the Latin name for the Wolf Spider. I have just found, by the way, that Lycos and its chat room still exists. Good Lord what trouble I got up to in there twenty years ago.
“When the web is quiet
On a moonlit night
There is phantom code
On the master’s site
Some say it’s spiders
Or a bot from hell
Like hell! It’s Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML”
The instruments return and a Jen Synthesizer plays a triumphant wailing part over the backing, Momus describes it as “trilling like a penny whistle”, with very pronounced portamento. It ends with an ascending melody line and seems to indicate the triumph of the folk hero, even in death.
The German sociologist Max Weber coined the phrase “protestant work ethic” for his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” in 1904. The concept was that since hard work, prudence, frugality and so on were the likely behaviours of one predestined to be saved, that Protestants naturally behaved thus performatively, and moreover took part in the worldly work of Capitalism: in fact, that modern capitalism could trace its roots to European Protestantism and Calvinism.
Anyone who aspired to high office in American life might be expected to have come up from the grass roots, to be self made, and to have aspired to the Protestant work ethic. Those graced with fortunate wealth would not reach heaven, and so would not bear their qualities.
This was not to say that the fundamentalist religious spirit did not produce art, but the art produced was of a clear, descriptive nature and in line with religious restrictions: think American Gothic, or the work of Grandma Moses. However by the 1990s the art world of, for instance, New York was somewhat more outrageous. From the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe to the body art of Ron Athey, Chris Burden and others, art had progressed considerably beyond the naive. There were scandals involving the National Endowment for the Arts, a US organisation which offers support and funding (public money) to artists displaying “excellence”.
The American Family Association (a Christian Fundamentalist association) had objected in 1989 to works funded by the NEA, especially by Mapplethorpe, and the work of Andres Serrano. The main piece objected to was Piss-Christ, a photograph by Serrano of a crucifix in a jar of Serrano’s own urine. The piece which fairly clearly (well, yellowly) is about Christ’s humanity and death, our consumption in transubstantiation of his body and bodily fluids, and the artist’s own mortality. But art commenting viscerally on religion did not sit well with the fundamentalist movement, who considered it blasphemous. Serrano, himself a Catholic, tried to defend it, and Sister Wendy Beckett (a Catholic nun and famed art critic) declared it a comment on “what we are doing to Christ”. Nevertheless the NEA lost funding over these controversies, and arguments about the photograph continue to this day.
The notion of extreme art, including physical torture and destruction, seemed to reverberate in other media in the 1990s, perhaps as part of the millennial movement in general. David Bowie’s album 1.Outside features a murderer who stages his victims as art, and several then current artists are named in the lyrics and liner notes. Films such as Seven followed similar ideas through, and the theme continued into the 21st century in elements of the genre known as torture porn, and in the operatic nature of the TV series Hannibal.
Taking the hymnal work of otherwise experimental composer Charles Ives as a cue, this track has a marching beat to it, but a hymnal melodic structure. The skittering beats have a trumpet or horn sound playing a martial tune, indicating the battle that is to come, with sound effects of thunder to represent the righteous anger of God. The softly delivered verse outlines what I have explained, with a chorus of multi-tracked Momii explaining what will happen as a consequence, lightning and thunder added.
“No more decoration
No more piss Christs
Or donkey shit virgins
In the next life
No more tax on hard-working citizens
To finance these abominations
O the shakers from Shakerville are here
Quakers and puritans appear
Smiting Sodomites with a mighty rod
Bringing Protestant art direct from God”
The second verse describes the work of the Protestant artist, with her coldness and lack of imagination depicted as an icy wind. What follows is a middle eight which has Momus singing declamatively about how we can prove our worthiness to God: the natural endpoint of the “protestant work ethic” has to be an accounting of what we have achieved and whether it is enough to enter paradise.
“A gallery like a church
Woods of pine and birch
A protestant artist is at work
And through the wood
An icy wind whistles through the pines
The lord is coming down now, we must show
How we’ve been investing, if we’ve reached his goals
You never know tomorrow may be your tax control
The Lord is an accountant, an accountant of souls
Don’t practice deceit, keep your receipts, keep your receipts”.
The next verse describes the Protestant artist again, in unflattering terms and with clear reason for overuse of the word “grey”.
“The seamstress is making a little girl’s dress
She stitches the seams with little grey threads
Frigid and severe, she sits and sighs
She’s got a grey room, she’s got grey eyes”
The chorus is repeated with the addition of these lines: an interesting way to attack the religious right, as being both forthright and yet proud of what they feel is “meek” and humble, similar to the aggressively shy girl from Stars Forever. The chorus is now accompanied by shouts of “oi!” rhythmically, giving things a distinctly Russian feel.
“Spouting gibberish at Sodomites they meet
Righteous with the arrogance of the meek”
A new short spoken section follows, with a slightly comic underpinning bass line. His delivery here takes me back to the sound of Closer to You. Again we have the talk of salary / financial performance, and its link to entry into heaven. Also there is an interesting question, and only the very abnormal describe themselves as normal.
“Are you justified, are you qualified
What’s your salary, will you pass the gates of God’s great art gallery when you’ve died
I’ve seen what’s in your diary
Can you honestly tell me you are perfectly normal?”
Perhaps it is Henry Darger’s diary he is reading, or perhaps his own Black Lett’s Diary from 1979 (available to read here https://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/137744909368.
Momus returns to declamative mode to declare that even if the Lord does return:
“The lord is coming down but I don’t care
You’ll never break my spirit, you’ll never raise my hair
Human creativity is all right by me
Ron Athey, Chris Offili, Karen Finley”
Ron and Chris’s names are accompanied by an odd backing vocal, with an effect, emphasising I think the alien and “otherness” that they necessarily represent. Finley, whose art included provocative vocals and discussion of rape, whilst dousing her naked body with food substances, was the victim of censure by the American Right and one of the artists who was considered in the case against the NEA. Her vocals were sampled on S-Express’ Theme from S-Express and she had an acting role alongside Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Chris Offili was one of the “Young British Artists”. His painting The Holy Virgin Mary had caused controversy as it depicted a black Madonna surrounded by images from blaxploitation movies and pornography, and incorporated elephant dung as a medium. This caused a lawsuit brought by Rudy Giuliani when exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Ron Athey had been accused (wrongly) of exposing an audience to HIV after performances involving blood-letting.
The chorus is sung again, repeated and the song finishes abruptly with the fading sound of thunder.
“The puritans are marching bravely on…
Invincible for God is at their side
Their maker, art critic and guide”.
As a diatribe against censorship this is not as effective a polemic as, say, The Cabinet of Kuniyoshi Kaneko was. This song is a little bit confused in its arguments. While defending human creativity it does not really explain what is so great about the particular aspects of creativity being discussed, or what is actually wrong with being “grey”: it’s still art, right? It seems to set up a battle between forms of art and expression which is more divisive than helpful. The battle lines should really be drawn between those who seek to control access to art and those who seek to free it. And the “accounting” lines related to Max Weber, while they fit into the main theme of the album, feel as if they belong somewhere else. If we want to bring accounting into it at all, maybe the song could discuss Chris Offili’s sale of The Upper Room to the Tate Gallery – of which he was a Trustee, for £600,000: a sale ruled as illegal by the Charity Commission. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/jul/19/topstories3.arts Keep your receipts.
This song is somewhat more sympathetic in its portrayal of the characters involved. As Momus says on his own Fakeways documentary, if you only receive imagery of Folk Americana through electronic media: “there’s no gap between media pastiche and sincere self-expression, whatever that is”. While on tour, rushing through American heartlands and through the country of the folk, this is the sincere impression gained through the car window, and – why not – from Brecht, Dylan and singer-songwriter David Ackle’s album American Gothic.
The song is set in small town America, where store-keeper Abe proposes to Mary-Beth (who is “unusual in the mind”). The whole story is like the embroidery on a sampler from an asylum, where the inmates can only watch Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons, 70s drama series about the life of a frontier family in the late 19th Century.
The song is a simple melody played on synth brass and piano. It sounds like the melody of a song that might be played in the local school in The Waltons. However the percussion brings a military sound to proceedings, as if someone, somewhere is going to get their marching orders. The scene setting and story telling here is excellent, with the final line declarative and perfectly matching a change in beat.
“Mary-Beth is living in a world of her own
Sitting in the schoolhouse she sews all day with twine
Making up a picture, making up a song
Some people say she’s unusual in the mind
They say that she’s unusual in the mind
My name’s Abe, I run the general store”
A buzzing synth line comes in, perhaps helping to represent the buzzing in Mary-Beth’s brain. The rhythm and melody bounce in the same way perhaps that Mary-Beth is rocking back and forth. Lord knows what she is knitting onto her samplers, but “folks” believe that the contents of her brain represent America.
“Mary-Beth’s a strange one, pretty in her way
Sitting in the classroom, a-rocking and a-swaying
A-Sewing and a-knitting to the rhythms of the rain
Stuff from what she’s seen mixed with stuff from in her brain
And some say that you’ll see America in there
Folks say you’ll see America there”
Abe has a strange dream, to represent this perhaps a ghost Momus echoes some of the lines. The verses you will note use repetition of a line / part of a line or a theme in the penultimate two lines each time. This builds up an expectation of that repetition which is finally broken in the last verse. It also helps to emphasise elements of the story, and suggests unusual speaking patterns for both Mary-Beth and Abe, speaking to their mental ailments.
“One day I had a strange dream and Mary Beth was in it
I dreamed I plucked a bunch of flowers and went to make a visit
I marched up to the schoolhouse and bent down on one knee
Asked Mary-Beth respectfully if she would marry me
Asked Mary-Beth if she would marry me
I said ‘My name’s Abe, I run the general store'”
“Mary-Beth gazed down from the chair where she was sitting
Said ‘Abraham I thank you, and I will, on one condition
Change the name of the store you keep, call it US Knitting
And move it stone by stone to the top of Sugar Mountain
Move that building up to the top of Sugar Mountain
We will rebuild the general store”
A short interlude with bubbling synth noises comes in and passes us to her description of life on the top of the mountain. Mary-Beth speaks of the coming of Christ and repeats the idea of “seeing” the whole of America.
‘There we’ll sell my samplers, make paintings and sing songs
Wait for the Lion of Judah who is rising like the sun
Our pets will be the eagles, our crest a rampant bear
And we will see the whole of America from there
Some of it is pretty, and some is pretty queer
But we’ll see the whole of America there’
A key change allows for a triumphal instrumental break as the dreaming Abe considers her offer. He agrees and repeats her desires to her, building to a crescendo. Notably, as his whole verse is a repeat of earlier lines, there is no repetition at the end of this verse.
Mary-Beth’s proviso didn’t seem so strange
I told her ‘That scenario is easily arranged
We’ll live on Sugar Mountain, I’ll bring my General Store
We’ll call it US Knitting and sell samplers by the door
Our pets will be the eagles, and our crest a rampant bear
And when the Lion of Judah roars a mighty roar
We’ll see the whole of America there’
The song ends quietly as Abe’s dream ends. Perhaps he does end up moving to the top of Sugar Mountain. Perhaps he never does and Mary-Beth’s life ends in an asylum: where she can see the true heart of America. The song plays with this notion, where can you see the “true” version of anything? In someone’s mind or heart, or from the top of a mountain?
Jarre in Hicksville
The theme and the concept of the album start to eat themselves in this song, a meta exploration of music and its effect on indigenous cultures. Yet although this could make for a dry and dusty slice of academic frippery, this is in fact a very affecting song, with a strong emotional heft borne from the samples used and a sense of the desecration described.
Outsider Art and Music is that which is created by people outside of the art world: people with little or no formal artistic or musical training, people who are furthermore no part of the industry or culture. The definition suggests that they are people who by circumstance are in that situation: you cannot choose to be outsider art, for the same reason you could not lock yourself on purpose in a perspex box for 44 days and then claim to understand what genuine starvation is like.
So in “Hicksville” in Appalachia, the local yokels have their own indigenous musical culture, and that culture is transformed forever – destroyed or augmented depending on your point of view – when an unlikely figure visits: the electronic composer Jean Michel Jarre. Growing up, I heard Oxygene and Equinoxe many times, as my sisters had copies of them: one of 12 million copies of Oxygene sold. Unfairly, he became classified by many as “easy listening”, not helped by his rather corporate image, so was extremely popular as background music for yuppy parties in the 80s, and his subsequent albums: Magnetic Fields, Revolutions, were hugely successful commercially. Both Oxygene and Equinoxe were fine compositions, balancing a classical aesthetic and compositional structure with ambiance, experimental sections and catchy, popular melodies. His kit list was also hugely impressive, and his Harp: a series of lasers which triggered notes when he passed a hand through them: was particularly iconic. His live shows were visually spectacular, with fireworks, lasers, the laser harp and many guest stars. There is no doubt he is a major influence on electronic music, ambient music, rave and dance music produced since then.
Momus was partly inspired for this track by the minimalist composer Mamoru Fujieda and his piece Patterns of Plants. This is a piece written by using a device to measure the fluctuations of electrical signals on the leaves of plants. The resulting data was converted into sounds and from those sounds, music was notated. These pieces have been performed and recorded on piano by the musician Sarah Cahill, who said of the work: (Ainu are the native people of Hokkaido).
“(they) resonate with Baroque music, but also with the folk music of Ainu and Celtic cultures; with the lyricism of Lou Harrison; with medieval chant; and with a modal language that hints at alternative tunings, even when played in equal temperament, as they are on this recording”
Momus was also inspired by the work of Harry Partch, an experimental American musician who divided the octave into 43 different intervals and was a pioneer in creating music using such microtonal divisions.
The song begins with gentle, very Japanese sounds on a synth koto. Momus vocals are very quiet, and subdued, but also double tracked. The tune is beautiful, melancholy and perfectly captures both the joy the locals find in the new technology, and the sadness that their own culture is overcome by it. There’s a hypocrisy in that sadness, of course: no-one bemoans the loss of any aspect of Western Culture if traditional Appalachian music is added to it. Surely the development of culture works both ways?
“Jean Michel Jarre came to Hicksville, too ra loo ra aye
The music, smoke and lasers blew the people all away
He ruined the musicians, they’ll never play again
Without adding a lick or two they heard in ‘Oxygene'”
The instrumental sections in between the verses are sporadic, almost atonal. When the second verse continues there is a new synth sound added, playing a counterpoint above but following the melody down, and is quite beautiful in its harmony – or lack of it.
“Jean Michel Jarre in Hicksville at the time of the eclipse
Frightened all the ladies but delighted all the kids
He played a bank of synths they’d never seen before or since
And on that day they threw away their wooden violins”
After the next instrumental section, the third verse adds a fairground steam organ sound, which adds to the idea of carnival, that the locals celebrate their new music.
“They’ve built themselves a synthesiser, smashed their old guitars
Made laser shows with a mirror and smoke with their cigars
They play on stoops and porches now for tourists and for friends
A choice of ‘Revolutions’, ‘Equinox’ or ‘Oxygene'”
The combination of the fairground sound, the higher synth line and the atonalism, along with Momus’ soft and far back vocal, make this a very haunted, even hauntological sounding piece. There is something very sinister, something very “Something Wicked This Way Comes” about it, as a dark shadow overcomes the stage, and an eldritch spirit arises, to fulfil the Korg Prophecy.
A narrative tale of Alan Lomax, the original “Tape Recorder Man”, and Bob Dylan’s supposed electric betrayal. It’s an unreliable narrative of course, and includes the creation of a whole new musical form. The whole story of Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 is unreliable, with writers unable to agree on how many people were there, who was playing what instrument or why people were booing, if they were in fact booing.
What is definite is that the “folk” community considered him one of their own. In 1964 at the festival he was introduced by Ronnie Gilbert (a member of the Weavers) with the line “take him, you know him, he’s yours”. Dylan recalled in Chronicles, his memoir, that: “As far as I knew, I didn’t belong to anybody then or now. … but the big bugs in the press kept promoting me as the mouthpiece, spokesman, or even conscience of a generation.”
In 1965 Dylan released an album Bringing it All Back Home which was half electric, and later that year the single Like A Rolling Stone was clearly electric. It was released just five days before the Newport Folk Festival though. Alan Lomax, described in the introduction above, introduced the first act of the festival rather sarcastically: it was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and this led to a fight between Lomax and Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. In retaliation, perhaps, Dylan decided at that point to play an electric set the next day, and the Butterfield Band played with him. Momus’ song is an exaggerated retelling of those moments.
The song opens with scratchy samples from Lomax recordings, actual and artificial hiss and crackle, and Momus’ voice as from an ancient recording device. The opening line is from the song The Ballad of Casey Jones, a folk song written in the early 20th Century (which seems contradictory in itself) about a train engineer who gives his life trying to stop a crash. There are many versions, but one in particular by Johnny Cash. A “rounder” is a rough person, a frequenter of bars and saloons. It does not seem to be a word linked to “roundhouses” but may simply refer to someone who returns, again and again, to drunkenness.
Momus in this song is in the role of Bob Dylan, he does not imitate him as such but does use a similar half spoken voice, and stresses particular syllables of each line in the same way that Dylan would.
“Come all ye rounders if you want to hear the tale
Of a tape recorder man
He travelled far and wide through the dusty countryside
The tape recorder man”
It’s a call and response song, with “tape recorder man” being the response.
“Collecting songs of love, collecting songs of blood
Sometimes songs of evil men and sometimes songs of good
And sing irie aritty ardie and sing irie arrity anne”
The next verse describes Alan Lomax’s concerns about the technology he was using: that machines would make us all sound the same. That is a current concern of course, as a result of pitch correction software and the rise of AI generated songs. Lomax and the other musicologists of his time thought it essential to record what might otherwise be lost or ignored. They were probably right to do so.
“He said the age of the machine would make us all the same
The tape recorder man
And we should tape record the songs the old men sing
The tape recorder man
Because when the old were gone, there’d be no more songs
Just mechanical din
And sing irie aritty ardie and sing irie arrity anne”
The next verse describes the first day of the festival, where Lomax introduced the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in a less than flattering way. This isn’t what he said, but the sort of message he gave.
“At a music festival he presented to the world some of the folk greats
Then, with a condescending smile, he introduced us all to some electronic fakes
Saying ‘The old folks don’t need gimmicks to make the music new
But here’s a group of college kids who apparently do’
And sing irie aritty ardie and sing irie arrity anne”
Lomax then goes backstage to find an imaginary and very anachronistic band who sound like The Pogues, which is probably the only appropriate band who rhyme with the correct pronunciation of Moogs. Dylan confronts him in the dressing room.
“And he left the stage to seek some nerdy boffin geeks who sounded like the Pogues
Singing like the BeeGees, dancing like freaks, playing modular Moogs
I met him in the dressing room at the end of the show
I said you used to be my hero but tonight you’ve fallen low
And sing irie aritty ardie and sing irie arrity anne”
Dylan/Momus rightly takes Lomax to task over his rejection of the new aesthetic. Recording the old songs is essential and valuable but it doesn’t mean you can’t have new music: a fairly obvious lesson but, still purism exists in music as in language, and tends to indicate a dislike of diversity in general.
“I said tape recorder man damn your Memorex
What about innovation, man, what about art and sex?
He couldn’t share my point of view, and he freely said so
So me and the tape recorder man quickly came to blows
I hit out at his shoulder where his tape recorder hung
It slipped to the floor with a crash, the strap must’ve been undone
And sing irie aritty ardie and sing irie arrity anne”
So the tape comes out and is drawn randomly across the tape player’s head, bringing random sampling, effectively, to Bob’s ears. He describes it as “folk music – Concrete!”. Musique Concrete is a form of music – the theory of which was developed by Pierre Schaeffer during the 1940s – in which recorded real life sounds are the basis of the composition: altered, given effects, sampled and assembled, rather than using sounds generated by musical instruments. Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Edgard Varése are important figures in the movement.
“It exploded like a bomb from the first world war
And seven spools of folk recordings rolled across the floor
A random burst of yodelling rubbed up against the heads
That woozy crazy spool was like John Cage or Varese
I cried ‘Tape recorder man, this I won’t forget
This is folk music… concrete!’
And sing irie aritty ardie and sing irie arrity anne”
Organ samples accompany the last verse, adding a psychedelic feel to the piece as it finishes, and we imagine the alternate world in which Dylan invents Concrete Folk music and no doubt fashions a Christmas album out of it.
The Little Apples of our mind are creative impulses: although Little Green Apples was a country song by Bobby Russell. Here, Momus is singing a different kind of folk song, something more like Take Me Home Country Roads, or Virginia on My Mind, which is more introspective and thoughtful. Whereas a more traditional folk song might sing about riding down a backroad, sleeping on haystacks and rounding up cattle, the hero of this song works with technology, so that is what they sing about. It’s still branding, of course, but set in Garamond rather than scar tissue
The song starts with a sample from the song Rock ‘n’ Roll Robot by Alberto Camerini, an Italian synth-pop musician. It is a grand, baroque flourish, seeming to introduce important themes: the original song descends into a very, very cheesy song indeed with no connection to the introduction thematically or sonically. However, his jerky and robotic dancing is very appropriate, and Pierrot like. In Momus’ song this intro is followed by an atonal, Bach influenced baroque piece, followed again by a slower synth intro with synth percussion. Momus’ vocal has echo and reverberation as it bounces around the empty head of the narrator: empty of cares rather than knowledge. There’s a banjo as well, twanging cyclically around us.
“Lying in the nude with my Apple G4 cube
I am rendering a porcupine in Bryce
And in Stratavision Pro I’m designing where to grow
Little apples when I build a haybale house”
The Apple G4 was a powerful home computer – for the time – with a 1GHz processor. It was discontinued in 2004. Bryce is the 3D modelling software which was used to create that grid design on the Folktronic cover. Its original purpose was to model mountains and coastlines and it was intended to display fractals. It is still around, although the latest version only works with Mac OS 10.6 and below. StrataVision Pro was 3D modelling software used to create the videogame Myst amongst others, and is still going as Strata 3D.
“I heard on Ananova while snoozing in the clover
They’ve mapped the human genotype at last
And when the news was done I looked up into the sun
Through my Fuji DV1 and photographed a lone
Golden eagle like a Stealth jet on a test”
In 2000 the UK Press Association launched Ananova: a news website the USP of which was an animated newscaster called Ananova. The character: a 28 year old “girl about town” with short hair – used what was then relatively advanced speech synthesis to mimic human inflections. Originally there were plans for other and customisable characters, however the site and backend were sold to Orange S.A. in 2004, who ran the site as a straight news service without the character until 2010 when the whole thing was shut down.
The Human Genome Project was a scientific project which identified and mapped every base pair of human DNA. The project started in 1990 and was declared complete in 2003, actually after the album was released, but a working draft was published in 2000.
More percussion joins as the voice now loses its echo and reverb, closer to home now. The verse suggests the singer is leaving the world behind, to live in a country that only exists in the songs.
“As the cliches turn to truths
Like the trees begin to lose
Their leaves I think
I’ve lost where I belong
Tears fill up my eyes
Cos I’m leaving life behind
To live forever in a country music song”
The fanfare returns, followed by the baroque breakdown. The singer’s own breakdown follows, and the lyrics parody the overly dramatic and disastrous type of story you find in country songs. Having “died” the singer believes he may be in a different West Virginia, not quite real – “a figment”. You can imagine an episode of Black Mirror consigning a ghostly Johnny Cash to such a fate.
“I drank and then I lied
I shot and then I died
I woke up under open country sky
Is West Virginia real
Here on my windshield
It sure as hell looks strange
In the weird Blue Mountain rain
Lke a figment of my melancholy mind”
As the singer wanders lost in the West Virginia of his mind, he is literally pursued by the songs he has been living, and so familiar with them that he can relate them in Japanese.
The seasons as they turn
A log fire as it burns
Country music always at my heels
I’m becoming all the songs
I’ve been living them so long
I sometimes sing the words in Japanese”
There’s a yodelling break here, of course, before the singer goes on to beg for help “before his memory fails”. The final verse goes on longer and longer as the character loses his train of thought, and ultimately his mind, until he has “forgotten the refrain” of the very song he is trapped in currently. Finally he asks us to destroy and bury him.
“Break me out of jail
Before my memory fails
I don’t believe in destiny or God
Did a flying sauce come
Flying from the sun
And fry my brain and dazzle me with fog
Did it take my soul away
Is that why it’s all so strange
I’ve forgotten the refrain”
The song meanders here, with the opening baroque sally repeated to represent his mind’s wandering.
“Bury me at sea
Say Who the hell was he?
Or weep on bended knee
But say these lines:
‘Here lies a fool who never knew
Who he really was and threw away the little apples
The little apples of his mind'”
The song falters here and eventually comes to a halt, as we all do. In this case the character narrating the song sees his troubles as punishment for throwing away the “little apples of his mind”, perhaps to make room for the windmills, but more likely to make room for insecurity and a lack of confidence in his great ideas. If the song has a meaning, I would like to think it is about developing your creative confidence, and perhaps learning to do the robot. Which carries us nicely onto song 11.
On CBBC (The TV channel called Childrens BBC) at the moment there are a set of programmes about Self-Esteem, one for 5-7 year olds, one for 7-9 year olds, one for 9-11 year olds, all with the same general message of loving and respecting oneself. The 7-9 edition literally suggests putting a poster on your wall saying “I’m Unique and that’s OK”. The irony of a sign declaring uniqueness being present in literally everyone’s bedroom would presumably escape the makers of this surface level pop psychology.
Johnny Cash invented his character “The Man in Black” as a lonely cowboy, an individual against the system, an existentialist in fact, but relocated from Paris to an imaginary Wild West. To be that rebellious “man in black” seemed to be a cliché now to Momus, with him saying in a “Garth Brooks world that pose has become so formulaic that even a robot could do it”. This of course refers to the popular singer who had combined country and rock in order to popularise what was seen as an out of touch genre. He was, of course, derided for the “fake” nature of his country music. Combining this idea of the lonely cowboy with technology led to Robocowboys. Momus considered the man in black from Westworld (played by Yul Brynner) and the performances of Gary Numan to be technological versions of the trope, and wrote this song about them.
Opening with a two-note synth riff, followed by a messy drum crash into a short bridge and then into the verse, Momus vocal is accompanied by an electric piano sound and what sounds like a bossa nova beat. The lyrics describe the absurdity of being an outsider becoming the norm, so that there are too many outsiders for one lonely cowboy to be allowed “in”.
“There’s so many insiders on the outside
I think it’s beginning to be the inside
And fire regulations have disallowed
Another lonely cowboy
From joining the lonely crowd”
Further instrumentation is added as the song builds up steam: the lyrics continue the theme with “off the map” and “off the beaten track” being the supposed location of the experimental, but now everyone is there. The first two lines suggest that eventually, those who go “off the map” become the new normal.
“There’s so many mavericks right off the map
We’ve redrawn the map to bring them all back
There’s so many renegades off the beaten track
They’re beating a track to my door
And I’m beating them back with a board”
The bridge is quieter, with a suggestion that the men in black are commercial propositions, and in this case “prepacked”.
“All the men in black
With nowhere left to go
Their darkness comes prepacked
With a warm familiar glow”
Another drum crash brings the chorus, which is loud and uses a lot of distortion and white noise, especially applied to Momus’ voice. The melody is very much a pastiche of Gary Numan’s work such as the track M.E. This is especially noticeable in the lead synth line which is played in the second half of the chorus.
Texas Instruments is a Dallas based technology company founded in 1951 which is famous for the production of calculators and other home devices, but also makes semiconductors and processors.
You’re dead ringers
Say you’re singers
You’re dead ringers
With your Texas Instruments”
The bridge which opened the song then leads into the next verse.
If the main idea of the song is that when everyone is an outsider, then no-one is an outside, each line here restates the main idea in a different way, which is a synecdoche of the idea itself: each of these lines uses a different metaphor, but they all say the same thing, so they may as well be the same.
The line “everybody does it like no-one else can” recalls the Momus song M.C. Escher, which makes a similar point about the supposed superiority of every single D.J. and rapper to all the others.
“And breaking the rules has become the new rule
They’re teaching it now at business school
They’re all wild and crazy and one of a kind
Anarchists to a man
Everybody does it like no-one else can
And irony’s a kind of sincerity now
With so many milking a once-holy cow
And alienation’s a kind of belonging
A synth isn’t cold any more
There’s a country new wave banging on the door”
I like the way that the “banging on the door” is literalised by the drums which follow, and the bridge to the chorus returns.
“Give the cowboys numbers
They don’t deserve a name
They’re all preprogrammed
They’re all the same”
The synth lead line comes straight in this time, and after the chorus the song is quieter, with the percussion dropping out. The verse that follows references both Zeno’s Paradox (I am lying) and the classic logic puzzle involving two guards, one who always lies and one who always tells the truth, guarding two doors.
“I came to a bend in the road and I saw
Two cowboys in black guarding two doors
One door leads to heaven, the other to hell, they cried
And one of us always tells truth, the other always lies”
Momus takes a pragmatic approach and instead of asking the correct question, kills them both, perhaps it doesn’t matter what door you take in the end. (The correct answer is to ask “If I asked the other guard if your door leads to heaven, what would he say?” and if he says “No” then it is the door to heaven, and if he says “Yes”, then it isn’t.)
“I shot them both to hell
And when the cowboys died
I opened them and saw cables
Snaking round inside”
The song ends with the synth line playing out in a distorted manner. The robots here are another example of “fakeness”, and the song as a whole plays with the paradox and contradiction involved in being rebellious in a sea of rebellion.
As I said above, an influence on the album was the work Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard Von Krafft-Ebbing, published in 1886, and a reference book of sexual behaviour in humans. Momus considered the idea of a group of academics visiting a town which demonstrated all of the behaviours in the book simultaneously, and considered what the effect might be of living in a town with transparent walls.
A country backing plays throughout the song and we are treated to Momus’ American accent as he plays the station master of the imaginary town of Psychopathia in the imaginary state of Sexualis. We get some wonderful place names for Doctor Kinsey to consider.
“Twilight’s falling peacefully across the railway line
The lamps come on in Pervert Park and the moon begins to shine
There’s a distant sound of barking dogs up at Pubic Peak
The beds all creak at Deviant Falls, and there’s molls on Murder Street
I’m your station master, welcome all and sundry
To Psychopathia, Sexualis, population six hundred
Typical in every way except one, and that’s apparent
The walls in all the buildings here are totally transparent”
“Puffing round the railway track here comes the evening train
Bringing Dr Kinsey back to talk with us again
We must be doing something right cos he comes time after time
Excuse me just one minute, there’s a critter on the line”
There’s a shoutout to a Momus song in the next verse, Hotel Marquis de Sade from the EP The Beast With Three Backs. Note that this verse contains no hint of consent in the actions of Zack against Louise.
“Good evening Dr Kinsey, why thank you, not too bad
I guess you’re staying over at the Hotel Marquis de Sade?
Why look, there’s Zack the owner, I can see him through the wall
Tying Louise to the writing desk and making her suck his balls
I see you’ve got your notebook out, you know it takes all sorts
I sometimes think it’s just as well we can’t see people’s thoughts
Even if their actions often speak out loud and clear
At least in Psychopathia, I think that’s why you’re here”
One can’t help feeling that there is a Freudian aspect to the station master’s description of the town’s size here:
“We may be small, but we like to think we’re all blessed
Welcome to Psychopathia, SX.
There’s beautiful waterfalls, there’s lovely valleys
In Psychopathia, Sexualis”
Momus clearly takes delight in adding wholesome yodelling and country music clichés to the continued list of depravity – from Dr. Kinsey’s book – that is described as he continues.
“I’ll help you with your luggage, sir, the station’s closing now
I’ll take this one, that’s all right, I can lift it — holy cow!
Doctor, what you got in there, cine cameras? Well I never
Oh look, here’s Rob the farmhand, Evening, Rob, lovely weather!
Maybe you should follow him and wait outside the barn
He’ll penetrate the dairy cows, it doesn’t do no harm
Some folks even think it makes the milk drink even better
But others kind of wish he’d think to wear a French letter
A typical American town, the same as all the rest
Welcome to Psychopathia, SX.”
Perhaps the accent is overdone a little – to comic effect – in the next line:
“Evening, Reverend, how’s your sister, your lovely sister your wife?”
As in the earlier song Simple Men, the descriptions of what the locals are getting up to becomes more sinister and depraved as the song continues. In this verse we arrive at the activities which to use are genuinely psychopathic and depraved: it is worth saying however that this verse is very funny: the town seen through this lens seems like something from The League of Gentlemen, the blackly comic group of comedians and tv series of the same name which is set in a Yorkshire town almost as bleak as this one.
“Here comes Pete the mailman, he interferes with children
Evening Pete, you doing all right? Some say he’s even killed ’em
But if he did he’s got the bodies well hid, threw Bill right off the track
That’s just as well, cos Sherrif Bill’s a necrophiliac”
And finally, ironically, we learn that the station master is alone at night: which raises questions about whether such a town really works to everyone’s benefit.
“What you writing, doctor, looks like a perscription
Them words is Latin, ain’t they, some technical description?
Well, here’s your hotel, I’ll leave you now, got to lock the station
Then mosey home for another night of lonely masturbation
In hornery America, see, there ain’t much else to do
I guess that’s why we’re valuable to scientists like you
A typical American town with transparent walls
Psychopathia, Sexualis, goodnight y’all”.
This irreverent and funny song seeks to contrast to comic effect the idea of rational scientific enquiry into the most irrational of human activities: both sex and religion are highlighted in the lyrics: with such enquiries doomed to failure. There’s no way to rationalise or explain the workings or malfunctioning of human desires. There’s also no way to rationalise Momus’ American accent, but he doesn’t really try it again on Folktronic, perhaps that’s a good thing.
Folk Me Amadeus
There’s high art and low art. There’s John Cage and there’s Billy Ray Cyrus. In our age: in fact, in the last few hundred years of recorded history, and art criticism, it has been very clear which is which. Which is the art that you must hold sacred, and which is the art that you must laugh at derisively in public while in private you prance around your house pretending to be Toni Basil. We have a tendency to see any kind of ancient art, writing or music as being sacred, to be held in high esteem. Those sacred runes must have been massively important, we are told, that story of Beowulf is great literature and the tribal music of the caves was intricate and if you believe the historians, essentially the same thing as Mozart.
This is, of course, nonsense. Those sacred runes may have been a knock-knock joke or dirty limerick. The story of Beowulf was trashy pulp fiction of the most lurid kind, and that tribal music was essentially the stone-age equivalent of Cotton Eye Joe. Or more to the point, the high art is cynically processed for its required effect and the low art is profound and eternal. The tears produced by a pop song are no different in quality from the tears wept over, say, Oliver Messiaen. It’s hard not to shake the feeling that the tears shed over supposedly profound “high art” are rather performative and for the benefit of observers. As Momus put it:
“What if, by the same token, novelty pop were actually in some way wise, profound and eternal (the conclusion reached by Sartre at the end of ‘Nausea’)? ‘”
Folk Me Amadeus starts in baroque mode and Momus relates the thesis of his song.
The title Folk Me Amadeus is a reference to the hit song by the Austrian singer Johann “Hans” Hölzel, whose stage name was Falco and whose greatest international hit was Rock Me Amadeus, a song about the life of Mozart inspired by the film Amadeus, and a number one single in the US and UK. Falco died after a car accident in 1998.
“There’s no infinite reckoning in this eternal line
No deeper meaning beckoning in this runic design
So folk me Amadeus one more time”
The song proper begins with a keyboard riff which mimics that of Swedish band Europe’s international hit The Final Countdown from 1986, followed by synth accordion chords which may be mirroring those of Kylie Minogue’s early hit I Should Be So Lucky.
The age old concern of selling-out is raised early on in the song, Danny in Withnail and I complained of “selling hippie wigs in Woolworths” as sounding the death knell of the 60s, Momus references Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex and words it as:
“My children were fair and wore stars in their hair
Now they’re bald, watch TV, and buy New Age CDs
The unicorn’s a horse on whom some sad bastard
Has superglued a horn of plastic”
Alan Stivell is a French musician who plays Harp, Bagpipes and other Celtic instruments, and helped popularise – or re-popularise – Celtic music during the 1970s. Momus points out that the song Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex may be about as genuine. Rednex are a Swedish pop group who having given themselves hillbilly-esque stage names, produced music seemingly inspired by Appalachian country, recording dance versions of traditional tunes.
Monsieur Oiseau (Mr. Oizo) is Quentin Dupieux, a French musician and film-maker. As a film director, he is responsible for Rubber (2010), a satirical horror film about a sentient killer tyre. As a musician, he created the track Flat Beat in 1999, using a sample from The Fatback Band and a bass loop from a Korg MS-20. This became a huge hit, was featured in Levi’s commercials with a puppet called Flat Eric, and would feature as a bonus track on his album Analog Worms Attack.
“In a post-everything world it still pains me, girl, to spell it out for you
The Celtic skirl of Alan Stivell might as well be ‘Cotton Eye Joe’
Put it flat on the floor with a 4/4 beat, add Monsieur Oiseau”
The chorus and its cry of “Tragedy” are loosely based on the Bee Gees song Tragedy, but is described by Momus himself as “the Village People on Druid glue”. There are some squeaks and effects which would be not out of place on Mr. Oizo’s ouevre.
“Tragedy, Celtic tragedy
I lost myself in London, Paris, San Fransisco
So folk me, Amadeus, to Celtic tragedy disco”
The next verse could be describing the type of tourist -sorry, traveller, – who goes to isolated communities to experience “genuine” life in other countries, and is quite rightly ripped-off by fed up natives. There’s a fairly obvious reference to Kylie Minogue at the end of it.
“The druids were bullies on mushrooms and brew
Selling mindbending moonshine to suckers like you
To undermine it all
It’s a bill of snake oil
I wish the myths were true, but you should be so lucky, lucky”
The song continues with an attack on the irrelevance of “roots”, and attacks a number of artists who Momus probably thinks more of in reality. Tiny Tim (Herbert Buckingham Khaury), was an American singer famous for a very high singing voice and playing the ukulele. His most famous song is his version of Tiptoe Through The Tulips, a song now somewhat associated with the horror genre following its use in the 2010 James Wan film Insidious.
J. Arthur Rank was the British founder of the Rank Organisation, and Rank Films: which were notable for being introduced with footage of a strongman hitting a gong. Unfortunately, “J. Arthur Rank” is also rhyming slang in the UK for a wank: that word also means anything of very low value or quality, as does the word rank, for that matter, which also means malodorous.*
The Incredible String Band was a psychedelic folk band in the UK during the 60s and 70s, which has reformed numerous times since. Gong are a progressive rock band founded in 1967 and with members including Steve Hillage. I don’t think that Momus is as opposed to these bands as much as the narrator of this song is – especially given what is yet to come on this very album. It would be rich at the very least to attack progressive and psychedelic rock three songs before some of the most elaborately constructed and clearly “prog” songs of Momus’ career hove into view.
“Roots, schmoots, you should know by now
It’s the Electronic age, not the Jurassic
Gypsy, schmipsy you’re all just as tipsy
As Tiny Tim tripping on acid
Your Celtic moonshine is J. Arthur Rank
The Incredible String Band is banned from my Republic
King Arthur is laughing all the way to the bank
Muscle men in thongs all oiled up and bronzed swing their prongs
To batter a horrible bong from the execrable Gong”
Perhaps the melody of the verse now has a little of Windmills of the Mind about it, the intricate swirling of ideas in Cotton Eye Joe combines with superficiality to produce something which actually draws tears.
Superflat was the name of an exhibition by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and the name of an art movement, related to Japanese pop culture and a comment on shallow, consumerist culture. Deeper Underground may be referring to the song by Jamiroquai which was used in the 1998 (dreadful) film version of Godzilla by Roland Emmerich, itself an awful dilution of Japanese culture.
“The world is superflat now, but ironies abound
Transcendence isn’t dead, it just went deeper underground
Within this ‘no infinity’ infinity is found
The lack of deeper meaning’s getting deeper all the time
‘Cotton Eye Joe’ may just be joke folk techno
But tonight it had me crying
So folk me Amadeus one more time
Tragedy, Celtic tragedy
I lost myself in Marrakesh and San Fransisco
So folk me, Amadeus, to Celtic tragedy disco”
The swirling noise of Palm Pilots, electronics and fake skirling brings the song and the main theme of the album to a close. Those Palm Pilots are probably all landfill now. The sadness of which brings us here.
Musically, one of the inspirations for this was itself inspired by the song cycle Wir bauen eine Stadt written by Paul Hindemith, a German composer, premiered in 1930. It is about a city and society built by children and what follows from it, intended as an educational piece for children. Holger Hiller and Thomas Fehlmann of the German new-wave band Palais Schaumberg recreated the piece using synthesizers as a tribute to the original and to their own childhood, and the sound of this was appealing to Momus. Japanese artists Cornelius and the “artoonists” Delaware were also influential to the song. Delaware in particular had their own folk merchandise created in cross-stitch, similar in style to the artwork of Folktronic.
A baroque synth backing, simple and precise, accompanies what is a love song to a device.
“My favourite handheld
You’re my favourite handheld device
Visor never silent
Speaking to Palm Pilot
From New York to Tokyo”
“Handheld” is used here as both a description of the device and a description of the state in which the user and device are: “holding hands”: the exchange of data between two devices to confirm a secure connection is also called a “handshake”: this exchange is used to betoken something more intimate. There seems to be only optimism in the relationship with technology at this point: the skipped-over dichotomy of “Being Free” and “Always Connected” has not congealed into privacy concerns over neural implants or smart-ID cards yet.
You and me”
A synth break and bass line lead into a second verse, in which the device replies in a synthesized voice. This is text-to-speech in 2001, not a mutated version of Momus’ own voice. This would have taken a long time to get it to sound both “natural” and to follow the melody as closely as possible. It would have been a tedious and frustrating job using the software in 2001, and credit must be given to Momus for not throwing the “device” out of the window. It’s also a very sweet lyric – not a word used to describe his lyrics often – hard to believe he never yelled at it though.
“My favourite human
You’re my favourite human device
And wherever I go
I’ll never be alone
And when I fail
You never yell
Recharge this little cell my heart”
The song finishes immediately after this verse, which compares the human to being a “device” as well. As AI improves and as the emotional connection between humans and assistive technology increases, there will come a point where we are little more than just another node in the network. It’s refreshing to see a positive light on that situation for a change, rather than the implication that it always ends in Judgment Day. Who would think that a Momus album could turn so beautiful, and uplifting?
The Penis Song
It doesn’t last long. We are straight down into the gutter more or less immediately.
While on holiday back in Edinburgh, Momus saw Philip Jeays – an English singer/songwriter of chanson in the style of Brel and Jake Thackray, and was unfavourably reminded of his own early work, saw a Paul Klee show which would come to influence this album, and also saw Francois Raffenaud, an actor, director and singer, who in cabaret covered the song Le Zizi (The Cock), which was a hit for Pierre Perret in 1974. Immediately Momus wrote his own version, which uses some of the themes of the original: particularly the religious and cooking aspects, in what follows.
The music is led by what sounds like a sped up and piano led rendition of the Mary Poppins song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Momus has a slight old school radio presenter effect to his voice as he begins by talking about the inventor of Bucky Balls:
“Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome
Once gave a lecture he entitled ‘everything I know’
Taking the title literally, he spoke four years or so
And I intend to do the same, so make yourself at home
(Pull up a chair, smoke a cigar or something)”
Buckminster Fuller did indeed record a series of lectures called Everything I Know, which lasts for about 42 hours and can be seen on the Internet Archive website.
“Cynthia Plaster Caster once took my cast and showed me
In a penis exhibition in a gallery on Broadway
So many people saw my penis in its glass case
They recognise my penis now before my face”
Cynthia did try to take a cast, as we have previously discussed, it didn’t work well as the main cast member refused to fully perform. Whether Momus’ one-eyed trouser snake is really more recognisable than his one-eyed face is debatable, but then I haven’t had the pleasure. Momus goes on to explain exactly what he is going to torment us with for the next few minutes:
“Subject for today: does knowledge elevate or demean us?
Everything you didn’t want to know about my penis”
Arguably, of course, we have been listening to songs about Momus’ penis since around 1985. It’s the subject for most of his songs, really, or at least a background character. He admits that in the course of this song.
“A baker has a penis thing for flattening the dough
But stick it in the oven and it rises up, like so”
Does he mean a rolling pin? I am not that experienced with baking I am afraid. If a rolling pin resembles Momus’ penis then it is no surprise that people who have encountered it twice recognise it before they recognise his face.
“The man who chops the melons up with a long and pointed knife
Has a penis with a mottled skin, I know, I asked his wife
A priest beneath his cassock has a penis all the same
Some call the hypothalamus the penis of the brain
One man’s sport is fly fishing, another’s, pocket billiards
Congratulations, Watson, on your almost-Freudian brilliance”
The Hypothalamus is a region at the base of the brain which regulates various functions including appetite and sexual interest. It does, in its shape, also resemble a penis. By “pocket billiards”, non-English speaking friends, we are referring to the practice of playing with one’s testicles through our trouser pockets. Particularly perverted people remove the internal lining of their pockets, or make holes, for this purpose. Apparently.
“The comedian from hell always thinks he can entertain us
With everything we didn’t want to know about his penis”
Jimmy Carr he is not.
“Like the heather of the Highlands, mine is tipped with flecks of purple
With a head as wise as Solomon, although shaped like a turtle
It wears a flesh-tone roll-neck and the neck goes up and down
It comes out in the evenings and on Friday paints the town”
“As wise as Solomon” is very debatable (mass-debatable? Suit yourselves.) We can infer from the verse that Momus is not circumcised. I’m not sure what you want me to say about this.
“Obsessively, compulsively, it only wants one thing
To fill your chosen orifice with ropes of pearly string
Delivering its message to your womb or to your tongue
And then going slack and flaccid when its pressing work is done”
Having given the thing the wisdom of Solomon, Momus now rather downgrades its intellectuality. “Message” is a good word though, because of course that is what DNA is, and what the “pearly string” represents.
“In witty conversation, by drip or intravenus
I drop everything you didn’t want to know about my penis
Some sort of Tourette’s syndrome.
It’s a very fine philosopher, debating right and wrong
Shows promise as a songwriter (it writes most of my songs)”
As I said. On the website TV Tropes there is a page for Momus listing the “tropes” or clichés that fit his career and music. One interesting one is “Cloud Cuckoo-Lander” which is a trope for someone who is so “artistic” that they are completely detached from reality. The entry for Momus reads:
“Arguably averted, surprisingly enough. His eccentric subject matter, unusual stage name and habit of wearing an eyepatch (albeit that’s due to an “Eye Scream” incident, but still) seem to mark him down as this, but in interviews he comes across as relatively level-headed.”
This verse further serves as evidence that Momus is – Skynet like, self-aware – but not with his head in the clouds, or elsewhere. He is aware that his penis, and not his intellect, is the source of his songs. (Whatever that means).
“Don’t bury it in boxer shorts but wear it like a tie
Or avant garde jewellery hanging from your fly
This reminds me of It’s Important To Be Trendy: the causation – and display – of outrage as a fashion.
“Jean Luc Godard once declared, to gales of mystified laughter
That some men wash their hands before they touch it, others after
And if you slot it carefully where the sun will never shine
You’ll feel what’s mine becoming yours, what’s yours becoming mine”
I’ve not found a source for the Godard quote, but I can believe it.
“Ladies and hermaphrodites, my tender-hearted readers
Everything you didn’t want to know about my penis”
Is that a slight disdain for trans-issues? No, that isn’t how it was intended. It just wasn’t considered an issue to be addressed at the time. The song slows down for the piano to play the following song, which speeds up quickly at the end, and, oddly, censors the final word. There’s a little echo of the British band Scaffold here from the 60s, it’s like a lost verse and limerick from Lily the Pink.
“There was a bohemian monk
Who went to bed in a bunk
He dreamt that Venus
Was stroking his penis
And woke up all covered in…
Thought for the day: does abstinence dirty us or clean us?
Everything you didn’t want to know about my penis”
This is a common Momus idea about how sex, thinking about the taboo, can cleanse us from that taboo in some way. The final verse makes clear the musical and lyrical link this song has to the Mary Poppins song, and draws attention to the reason that song was chosen, the shock factor inherent in choosing a “childrens” song, and a song from a family musical for something actually obscene, using tmesis in a precise way.
“It’s a tribute to the power of something otherwise mundane
That waving it under a stranger’s nose is said to scar his brain
I’m doing my bit to see the power of taboo remains intact:
I keep a penis on my head but never lift my hat
(I keep a penis on my head but never lift my hat)
And if I’ve bored you stiff with this riff about my penis
I wouldn’t let a little thing like that come between us”
And if you can think of another song even more atrocious
When Momus played a DJ set at Passerby – a club now closed down by gentrification – https://guestofaguest.com/new-york/nightlife/passerby-closing-new-york-is-dead – Steve LaFreniere, an art curator and editor at Index Magazine – described him as “the Heliogabalus of Orchard Street”.
Heliogabalus was a Roman Emperor from 218 to 222, installed following the death of his cousin, Emperor Caracalla, and a revolt against the successor. He was a teenager, who controversially followed a Sun God – Elagabal – the source of his best known name – and carried out elaborate ceremonies. Heliogabalus was controversial, for his religious beliefs and for his behaviour, which was described as debauchery by historians of the time. Cassius Dio, for instance, reports that Heliogabalus offered a large reward to any doctor who could surgically provide him with a vagina. He seems to have been gender fluid, at the least. The most lurid accounts of his behaviour however may be propaganda by those who resented his worship of a “foreign” god. He was assassinated along with his Mother and succeeded by his cousin Alexander Severus,
It is unclear which aspect of this life caused Steve LaFreniere to apply the name to Momus. Having read about the Emperor, the following song, which is an apologia for the Emperor’s behaviour, was written. The concept is that Momus is creating a quilt, a Roman Patchwork, on which are depicted the games and tricks that Heliogabalus is reported to have played. Momus describes these acts: which often ended in death, as accidental tomfoolery, which they probably were.
The song opens with horror film sonic imagery, spooky violins, a treated voice saying the name of the song, and a piano playing thirds, merging into a more music hall styled song with circus backing, the relentless accordion.
“The deaths he caused were accidents
He committed no murder
Oh yes, some died of fright when they woke up in the night
To find a leopard in the room where they’d been lain after the feast
They should have known, those silly fools, the beast was tame
Heliogabalus wasn’t to blame
For the deaths I’m illustrating in this quilt
Heliogabalus cannot share any guilt
Cannot share any guilt”
In a remake of the song and video from 2016 Momus chooses images of Donald Trump to accompany the lyric.
“Some lived to suffocate under the suffocating weight
Of a thousand fresh-cut blooms
He sent cascading from the ceiling of his room
Upon a crowd of his admirers
How was he to know some sybarites
Would drown beneath the flowers?
If a parasite can’t swim should we blame him?
He was blond, he had blue eyes, he was completely without guilt
As I intend to demonstrate in my Heliogabalus quilt”
The horror theme returns, with portentous synth and the voice as if released from a Lament Configuration. The next verse deals with the supposed “debauchery” of Heliogabalus, which is easily explained by the phrase “Emperor of Rome at the age of just 15”.
“They condemn his four year reign, his naked chariot team
The deadly snakes released in the forum at the climax of the games
His nights of gay debauchery, rushing through the slums
Disguised as tavern potboys, perfume sellers, barbers
Such exaggeration, such slanders!”
I am not sure just how much of a household name “Heliogabalus” really is, compared to for instance, Caesar, so whether his name actually carries any “mantle” for most people is debatable, nevertheless the next verse uses a Wildean lyrical conceit to complain about “joyless vultures” assigning the status of “evil” to everything “other”. Remade in 2016, it is hard not to draw parallels not only to Trump but to the Brexit situation. In 2001, Momus was spending a lot of time “hanging out with gay people”, as he put it.
“If you’d been emperor of Rome at the age of just 15
Wouldn’t you have done the same?
So why then does his name
Retain the mantle of the evil always claimed by joyless vultures
To explain the strange allure of other cultures?”
It would not be a Momus song without contradiction and doublethink, so even though the Folktronic quilt of Gabble Ratchet is completed, Momus intends to sleep soundly with it just like Heliogabalus “in hell”: both contradicting his earlier description of the Emperor as innocent, and also contradicting itself in the idea of sleeping soundly whilst in Hell. We don’t really know what the truth of Heliogabalus was, so nor do we know the truth of the quilt.
“Heliogabalus wasn’t to blame
He was beautiful and sexy and completely without guilt
As I intend to demonstrate right here in this quilt.
Condemn me freely if you wish
But when my quilt is finished
I intend to sleep as soundly and as well
As Heliogabalus in hell.”
Going For A Walk With A Line
In 1999 Momus wrote several tracks for Kahimi Karie to be released as an EP called Journey to the Centre of Me. The tracks were recorded with medievalists the Dufay Collective, with sackbutts aplenty and crumhorns either being played or eaten with cream. Momus intended to mimic the sound and intent of progressive rock and merge it with a folk aesthetic, aiming for something like Caravan, or Gong, with inspiration from Bohemian Rhapsody and Wuthering Heights. Momus was not a massive fan of the “traditional” rock stylings of prog, writing an unflattering review of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway for instance, at https://imomus.livejournal.com/414349.html.
Interestingly, he recalls Edwyn Collins comparing early Momus to Genesis (which I have done myself, I recall – mainly to irritate him). In that review Momus describes Lamb as Genesis’ first album, an odd error to make, especially given that Nick was reading Paul Stump’s The Music’s All That Matters at the time, a fairly definitive history of the genre. Anyway, Momus listens to Side Two of the first album by mistake, and correctly enjoys parts of Back in NYC and The Carpet Crawlers, and hates Chamber of 32 Doors, rightly. The rest of Folktronic consists of this song and three demos for the Kahimi Karie EP, featuring the Dufay Collective but with Momus’ vocal. The two songs not featured are The Seventh Wife of Henry VIII (very much Rick Wakeman based) and Journey to the Centre of Me (an erotic jig).
Going for a Walk with a Line was not one of the five tracks for Kahimi, but has a similar sound and feel. The title comes from Paul Klee (“a painting is just a line going for a walk”), and Momus had seen a Paul Klee exhibition recently and in the 1970s had heard the Radio 3 documentary about Paul Klee by Edward Lucie-Smith, which featured radiophonic musician Malcolm Clarke. About the documentary Momus said:
“That programme changed my life. It was one of the things that made it inevitable that I would become an artist of some sort. It showed me that worlds, journeys, microcosms could be made out of words and stereo sound. That without visuals you could have vision.”
Like 2PM, the song style was inspired by W.H. Auden’s The Fall of Rome, a meandering dream-like state in which the sublime or mythical is mixed with the common-place or imagery from pop culture. The music is a drone-like sound, with Japanese sounding instrumentation, percussion and the medieval sound and instrumentation mixed with synth effects. Whilst instruments drop in and out during the track, it generally drifts by as intended, hypnotic and subliminal. Momus “raps” quietly over the backing.
“Shadoks” are characters from a French animated series of the 1970s: alien birds living on an unstable planet, who sought to colonise Earth. They were monomaniacal about pumping, on their unstable planet, so essentially fracking, and generally inefficient. The series was broadcast in the UK in the early evenings with English narration.
“There’s trouble up at Cowbell Barn
The Shadoks are going back to the moon
With rhodedendrons in a burlap sack
Resin on a hessian violin rag
All in Helvetica Light”
“Robert the Devil”: this is a folk tale of a man who discovers he is the scion of Satan and seeks redemption. The tale may be based on the person of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, who died in 1035. There is an opera called Robert Le Diable by Giacomo Meyerbeer first performed in 1831 which is vaguely based on the legend, and an operatic burlesque parody of the opera by W.S. Gilbert.
In 1922 Hans Prinzhorn published Artistry of the Mentally Ill. A German psychologist, he was interested in the reasons for our creation of images and the link between mental state and artistic output. The Nazis considered modern art, including that of Paul Klee, to be degenerate, and even had a travelling exhibition of modern art which was hung and displayed with indignity and haphazardly and accompanied by denigrating “information” cards. This of course made the exhibition, itself, a fascinating piece of modern art.
“Robert the devil witnessed the nostril
Of an elderly phoenix in a youth hostel
Playing violin up a monkey pine
In a finger painting for Dr Prinzhorn
(Psychiatrist of these parts)”
Bimbo the Cat was Betty Boop’s cat (Betty was an eroticised black and white cartoon character of the 1930s, supposedly a jazz age flapper). She also had a dog called Pudgy.
Many people have recorded plants growing, for experimental, scientific or cultural reasons. Plants by all accounts scream when attacked and communicate in quite complex ways.
“The violin frightened Bimbo the cat
So they put on a tape of the sound of pot plants
Growing, little knowing
That a woodlouse would grouse about that”
L’Empire Des Nombres is a book by Denis Guedj about numbers, number theory and arithmetic. Which may be what is referred to here. Exotic Park is a zoological park in Lescar, France.
“A call came in from the Empire of Numbers
A government inspector was passing amongst us
Incognito, my little female circus rider
From Exotik Park would have to go”
Young Tree (Chloranthemum) is a painting by Klee. Alpinism is another word for mountaineering.
“Rainy weather by the river
Snake paths in the grass
The child with a Chloranthemum divining twig
Cuts Alpinism class”
Delia Derbyshire was a pioneer of electronic music, the artist most closely associated with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the arranger of the Doctor Who theme (amongst many more interesting things). Malcolm Clarke was also a member of the Radiophonic Workshop. Desmond Briscoe was manager of the workshop in the early 60s. Phra the Phoenician is an 1890 fantasy novel by Edwin Lester Arnold about a man who is reborn many times through human history, a character who probably inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs’ own John Carter of Mars. If Disney could travel in time they would probably prevent its publication. Don John is the villain of Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare), whose slander is uncovered by a watchman named Dogberry, who is referred to as an ass, or donkey.
“Delia Derbyshire, Malcolm Clarke
And Desmond Briscoe sit in the dark
Invoking a spirit mathematician:
Phra the Phoenician
High on his evergreen reputation
Don John’s under investigation
Apparently his donkey ratted on him
Because the Don frightened him out of his skin
It’s a shambles, never mumble in the brambles”
In the following verse the AAAS is the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I am guessing that the specific book refers to a theory of geometry. Element 18 is Argon, I don’t think that is what is meant.
Hammamet is a town in Tunisia: Klee painted Hammamet with its Mosque in 1918. Lucifer is a slang term for a match: to light a cigarette: the earliest matches used the brand name and the term was used as slang into the 20th Century. Actual Lucifer Matches used phosphorus, were odious and you would not stir your tea with them. I’m not sure who Bill is. “Twitter Machine” is interesting given that it works for use in a modern context despite Twitter (the social media site) not being launched until 2006. By Twitter Machine I think he is here referring to Paul Klee’s painting The Twittering Machine, a painting showing birds, shackled to a wire with a handle, which turns, over a pit. The meaning of the painting is debatable, the birds are cartoon like, the meaning left for the viewer to discern. To this point, there is a book by Neil Smith called The Twitter Machine (1989), which argues “the perennial necessity of appealing to linguistic theory if we are to gain any real understanding of the phenomena of language”.
“A little Italian opera queen
Is reading a book to the twitter machine
Tunis Hamamet, that conifer smell
The oriental cemetery — and there’s Bill
Explaining pop music to the mentally ill
Stirring mint tea with a Lucifer match
Let’s stay a while and watch”
In the following verse, “sketches of birds” is said in German and English. Field Dynamics refers to business management and data storage, and sizothymes are mildy schizophrenic people. It is often said that psychopathy is a recommended quality for any CEO.
“Pictograms in porcelain
Sketches of birds, vogel skizzern
Field dynamics for sizothymes
Going for a walk with a line”
Later in their career, Klee and Kandinsky lived side by side in houses designed by Walter Gropius in Dessau.
“What a palaver, more’s the pity
Death is in Dessau buying pottery
Orienteering, you part the trees
And see three walled medieval cities
And a dragonfly”
Meister Eckhart was a German theologian in the 13th Century, whose work and writings bring him to be considered a mystic philosopher.
“Meister Eckhart went into the light
And found a desert on the other side
‘Children of wisdom’, Goethe said
‘Make fools of the fools, as one should’
That advice is good”
Put down your line, put down your pen
A snowstorm is approaching, friend
Soon it’ll all be white
It’s paper in the end, and light”
This meditation on creativity and eternity draws to a close and leads us into the three song demos from the Dufay Collective sessions.
The Lady of Shalott
The Lady of Shalott is a ballad written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1833, concerning a noblewoman trapped in a tower by a curse which forces her to continually weave on her loom, and prevents her from looking directly out on the world: instead she looks via a mirror. When Lancelot rides by she looks directly at him, and the mirror is “crack’d from side to side”. She floats in a boat to Camelot, but is dead by the time she arrives, and Lancelot muses on her beauty.
The idea of a forbidden lust, love or erotic attachment runs through the song as delivered by Kahimi and in the demo by Momus. The Lady of Shalott cannot even look at her desire for fear of death, and in the end death is preferable.
A desolate wind effect opens the song, with a gentle strummed guitar and metronomic beat, as Momus as the Lady describes his isolation. Note that the song is not about the actual Lady of Shalott, but someone in a similar social situation, beset by suitors who she must at all costs repel in case she is destroyed emotionally.
“I am a kind of Lady of Shalott
Behind a drawbridge, portcullis and a moat
I glide like a ghost in my boat
The white swan nobody can own”
The following section uses a rising series of chords to generate tension, and is followed by a release with low, brassy synth notes.
“Why do they all try to kiss me?
Why do you try to release me?”
Momus’ voice is raised a little now, the next section increases the tension again. The impression given is that the Chastity belt (which is metaphorical), is self-administered.
“If I lowered my defences you would know how I feel
If I gave you the key to my chastity belt
You could totally destroy my pride”
The section continues as the Lady describes how giving herself to a man, loving someone, would crumble her pride and her sanity.
“I would turn to sugar, crumble
I would gaze and sigh and mumble
Like an idiot with a head full of flowers”
The “Very Rich Hours” refers to a particularly elaborate illustrated manuscript, or “Book of Hours” commissioned by the Duc De Berry – John the Magnificent – in the 14th Century. Living this idyllic lifestyle leads to her ultimate downfall.
“You could undermine my pride
Do whatever you liked
We’d live the Duc De Berry’s
‘Very Rich Hours’
Then you would penetrate me”
The music then builds slowly, both rising in tone and adding different instrumentation and backing vocals, a pulsing beat, a guitar crash (from Genesis’ The Knife possibly?) leading to a climactic breakdown. The long held note which ends this is straight from Genesis’ playbook: it is cut off for dramatically delivered resolution and explanation.
“From white night to first light
You can see why I have to hide
I’d only get hurt
You’d treat me like dirt
The moment I let you inside”
We return to the first song section and Momus again (as on A White Oriental Flower), sings of the superiority of desire unsatiated. The final lines, with the chastity belt around her throat, do give a conflicting view, that her self-confinement is itself going to destroy her eventually.
“I’ll be your best, the best you never had
Your unicorn, your butterfly
Your falcon, your lad
I am a kind of Lady of Shallot
My drawbridge, portcullis and moat
The chastity belt round my throat
I am a kind of Lady of Shalott”
It is an extraordinary track, an attempt to mimic a folk style of progressive rock seen perhaps in bands like Gryphon and maybe Renaissance. Momus is also in debt to the lyrical depiction of female sexuality as delivered by Kate Bush and others. There are moments that are reminiscent of the more pastoral work in earlier Genesis, and the keyboard swirls are similar to those of Rick Wakeman, especially his solo work.
Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan
Taking the title from an Eno piece and film, inspired also by the New York skyline, the lyrical cue is a simple conceit, as one sees the city as it may have looked if it had existed in the Middle Ages. The opening electric piano riff sounds like it could be from a laid back pop song about New York life, but the drums and squelchy effects that come in bring a more dreamlike atmosphere to the song, echoed in the lyric: which compares dreaming to a drug-induced state: interestingly similar to the dreaming-is-virtual-reality of Virtual Reality.
“I took a drug
One hundred times stronger than acid
I took a drug
One thousand times stronger than aspirin
(Fall asleep here, wake up somewhere)
I took a drug
The pain of my life disappeared
(Fall asleep here, wake up somewhere)
I took a drug
I fell asleep fuzzy, woke up clear
(Fall asleep there, wake up somewhere)
I’m waking up here”
The chorus holds the word dream, emphasising it, Momus then references Nights in White Satin, a pop song by the Moody Blues. However these Knights are on horseback.
“When I dream I see knights in white satin
When I dream I get mistaken memories of medieval Manhattan”
A medieval dance then emerges, played traditionally and backing the jester’s song which follows. The lyrics reference both Pink Floyd’s most famous album and the marvellously overblown prog rock double album Tales from Topographical Oceans by Yes, and the cotton cocoon might (or might not) refer to the Cuckoo Cocoon song on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis.
“Sleep is the name of the drug I took
Sleep and nothing more
Sleep is my tower of Babel
Sleep is my Utopia
Sleep is the place I feel safest in
Wrapped up in a cotton cocoon
In a topographical ocean
On the dark side of the moon”
The jig continues, with a snare drum beating time, and the chorus is repeated. After this the song enters a dramatic breakdown and a quieter section, in which Momus sings of what he sees in the medieval city. He references Francois Villon’s poem Ballade des dames du temps jadis: “the snows of villon”, which fall poetically as rain on New York. There is also a further reference to the Genesis album.
“And the world is upside down
But my mind is turning on
Milk is spilling from a murdered sun
I see masturbating monks on 42nd Street
Rats carry the plague to Chinatown
Cathedrals in the well of an elevator shaft
The water towers so many onion domes
The channel 12 commercials all star Joan of Arc
On Broadway a lamb is lying down
Where have they gone, the snows of Villon?
They are falling on Manhattan as rain”
The opening theme returns with synth sound effects washing through, as rain. The beat joins with a bass line and effect which mimics that often used in progressive rock. This leads to a further chorus following this plea:
“Never wake me, boy
If you wake me I’ll die
If you wake me you’ll destroy this perfect world I see
When I dream
(Mistaken memories of medieval Manhattan)
When I dream”
The final repetitions of “When I Dream” are sung sweetly with pretty chord changes, and the song fades out with a chord and effects that remind me of nothing so much as the opening of the soundtrack to The Company of Wolves (by George Fenton), a coincidence but appropriate considering the themes and the dream imagery which is shared.
The ambition here is considerable, with the various sections spliced together coherently and the dream imagery well delivered. These progressive rock songs may well be more successful in their delivery of intent than the folktronic songs.
I think this is because the Folktronic project seems to rely on the assumption that folk songs about modern topics and using electronic instrumentation do not exist, but for most people “folk” music of the modern age is what is now called “pop” music, which certainly does exist. What is being done here is akin to using a black and white hand-cranked camera to make a modern blockbuster movie: the results may be interesting but rather limited. Using tropes of old music styles to make modern music is a formal exercise and often the album suffers from sounding forced, made to fit a folk style for the sake of the theme.
On the other hand, Momus having little real affinity with progressive rock allows him to approach the genre with complete freedom from preconceptions about what the music and lyrics should be like, and the various sections which are brought together in these songs can flow (or jar) as the lyrics and mood develop in a more organic manner. That is certainly the case in the final song on the album.
I’ve probably said it a dozen times, but here, here, in actuality is my favourite Momus song. Along with Bishonen it is a masterpiece of narrative, and not even written for himself, but is another song written for Kahimi Karie.
The drummer on these tracks is Pete Phipps, who was once a session drummer for XTC, whose album Mummer may, incidentally, be named after an old English word descended from the name Momus. Phipps was the drummer with the Glitter Band. (The backing band for disgraced singer Gary Glitter, now completely disassociated from him of course.) Although Momus wanted the drums to be “prog”, in the style of the Yes drummer Alan White, or Bill Bruford, Phipps maintained a simpler disco and glam stomp.
“…And to me, that lifts ‘Pygmalism’ into a totally different area. It might have been parody, but instead it got this totally unlikely glam beat and became a much more interesting beast. Like building a Lotus Europa on the chassis of a tank.” (Momus at the time on the site ilxor.com)
As stated before, Momus also used the Dufay Collective, an early music ensemble founded in the 1980s by William Lyons and named after renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay, for the authentic prog-medieval sound.
Pygmalism draws its title and general idea from Pygmalion, the play by George Bernard Shaw which became the musical My Fair Lady. Pygmalion is a character from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a sculptor who despises women, and carves a sculpture of a “perfect” woman. When he wishes for a woman the likeness of his sculpture, Aphrodite grants his wish and brings the sculpture to life. He marries her and they have a child. The story of Pygmalion has been directly used and indirectly mimicked in countless stories, films and songs throughout the centuries. The progressive rock band Yes have a song called Turn of the Century with a similar plot, for instance. The main influences for Momus, lyrically at least, seem to be Shaw’s play and science-fiction tropes from Kubrick and Ridley Scott.
Low bass notes play on the synth, leading into a piano part, staccato chords which provide a platform beneath the vocals, slowly rising during the verse. The first lines suggest – programming? – that the singer is a robot, an android as in Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner, or a human who has been brainwashed. Already there is an interesting tension generated simply by the fact that the character is aware that they are “programmed” and actually bemoan the fact that their programming fails: the pictures they see in their brain are fantasies, daydreams, which their Master will want to “correct”. Uranus does not, unfortunately, have moons called Momus and Vangelis (who composed the soundtrack of Blade Runner), it has 27 according to Nasa today and they are named for characters in the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.
“Sometimes when it rains
I get pictures in my brain
My programming fails
I go off the rails
I see asteroids flare between the moons
Momus and Vangelis”
More percussion plays now under the second verse, subtly building tension in the repeated piano chords and the again rising melody. “Herr Professor Pig” is our Pygmalion, the creator of the main character, who is a beautiful woman he is abusing. He “trains” her brain: either programming or brainwashing depending on your interpretation. “Daisy Daisy” is the song which the computer HAL sings in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey as its memory modules are removed: it was trained to sing the song by its creator Dr. Chandra, presumably to test and refine the machine’s voice modulation. The other songs and sentences are used in Pygmalion/My Fairy Lady by Professor Henry Higgins to train Eliza Doolittle to speak “properly”. Note the rhyming and assonance of the names Professor Higgins and Professor Pig.
“And when I go wrong
Herr Professor Pig
Comes to train my brain with a song
Singing ‘Daisy Daisy give me your answer do’
‘How much is that doggy in the window?’
‘She was only a greengrocer’s daughter ‘
‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain'”
This is followed by a short synth break, a wailing, theremin like sound which fits the sci-fi theme, and is interrupted by the next section. Momus sings the following lines in declamatory manner, stating and outlining what the character believes, and making clear that they are not only aware of their “programming” but intend to destroy / avenge themselves on their creator. Again the melody rises, the bass line has a subtle portamento effect on it which gives emphasis to key moments here, the words “beat” and “plant” as the affective verbs of retaliation are thus given key presence in the lyric.
“You are my lover
You are my author
You are my father
I am your daughter
I’m your disaster
I’m your viagra
I’m going to beat you at chess
Then plant my dagger in your breast
You filled me with your breath and your jism
Now I’ve come to bring you death, pig
This section also in a nutshell summates Momus’ technique of contrast: father/daughter contrasted to emphasise the unnatural, abusive nature of the relationship, equally, disaster and viagra contrast something which destroys with something which (ideally) builds.
“Beat you at chess” and “Plant a dagger in your breast” also have a resonance with the lyric from Bishonen: “The words were to cut down and to kill the muscle-bound / The swords to fell my intellectual enemies”: the main character here wants to destroy Professor Pig both mentally and physically, here their physical and intellectual enemies are both the same person.
“You’ve filled me with your breath and your jism”, whilst not intended as such, is reminiscent of the lyric of In Every Dream Home a Heartache, a song by Roxy Music from 1973’s album For Your Pleasure, in which Bryan Ferry’s playboy character goes insane imbuing an inflatable doll with personality: he blows up her body, but she blows his mind:
“Immortal and life size
My breath is inside you
I’ll dress you up daily
And keep you till death sighs”
(from In Every Dream Home a Heartache)
Pygmalism returns to the synth line, which wails the main theme of the song Daisy Daisy before returning to the verse. This next verse increases the instrumentation and backing again, and there is a backing vocal, which sounds cut up and seems to be the character singing about what they “want to be”. (But I can’t make it out entirely). The synth line continues during the verse.
The narrator sings that she “only exists” as the thing which Professor Pig has imagined: acknowledging his “huge imagination” and creativity, but not condoning his actions.
The line “Mirror Mirror on the wall” and reference to Narcissus concern the way in which Professor Pig seems to see himself and want to see himself reflected in the character and maybe appearance of the narrator. It also makes sense that Snow White is among the texts that he has taught her, as she is his own fairy tale creature. “Narcissus” is Professor Pig: and the mirror, which is her own brain, indicates that he is the villain.
On the line “I’m your blessing”, the synth line plays high, prosodic with the word blessing, and during the following line falls as the narrator sings of dragging down.
“I only exist for Herr Professor Pig
As a figment of his huge imagination
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who is the villain of them all?
The mirror will answer back ‘Narcissus’
I’m your blessing but not your possession
Even what you make can drag you down””
The next section is a chant, with Momus backing himself, and repeats to emphasise and raise an emotive response in the listener. The main melody is used as an ostinato and repeated to build affect. The sudden descent into this section builds dramatic tension as some kind of release is awaited. Firstly, we hear how conflicted the narrator is, as she sings the songs she cannot forget but cuts up the “stupid sexy clothes” she has been imprisoned in.
“Sometimes in the night
I sing the songs Professor Pig has taught me
Cutting up with scissors
All the stupid sexy clothes he’s bought me”
The second set of lyrics further implies that the narrator is a robot, or brainwashed creation. The idea of implanted memories has been taken from Blade Runner again, with having no ancestors or place of birth stated with anger and indignation.
“Though my eyes are haunted
Though my memories have been implanted
No ancestors you can trace
An accent from no place invented”
The first of those verses is repeated and the ostinato continues with Momus singing “La La..” in place of the lyric. The next section of actual lyric is a set of further declamations: not accusations, just statements. The song slows down / drops some instrumentation out, to allow the statements to stand out.
“You’re my creator
You’re my employer
You’re my destroyer”
And then the song picks up again, and the following builds to a climactic point with the synth line returning, and the melody sounding triumphant as the narrator declares death on their creator.**
“But remember that the things we whip can whip us
The things we make can break us
And the things we strip outstrip us
You filled me with your breath and your jism
You gave me life, I give you death, pig
At this point, and abruptly, the song seems to switch to a different recording, certainly the audio seems to switch to a warmer, fuller sound, and indeed a full band plays now, as described above, with the Collective and Mr. Phipps. The synth line plays the ostinato melody and the band plays behind it, driving forcefully, and continuing the sense of triumph: the impression given is that the creator has been destroyed. Momus sings again, repeating “la la” and one line from the “sometimes in the night…” section, before the song breaks down, instruments leaving only the strings and drums which end the track.
This is an extraordinarily effective song, with a creepy, conflicting narrative and sound, an atmosphere which is claustrophobic but somehow uplifting at the same time, and characters who fully live and breathe. This was noted particularly by the writer and playwright Grant Morrison, best known perhaps for their Batman stories for DC Comics. In creating a new villain for Batman they took inspiration from this song and created the diabolical brain-washing Professor Pyg, who first appeared in Batman #666. Of Momus, Grant Morrison has said:
“Nobody rings my bells like Momus and luckily for me he puts out an album every year.”
It’s clearly the best song on the album, and it is fitting that something diametrically opposed to the actual “theme” of the album gives the most lasting impression having listened to it many times. Grant Morrison’s favourite Momus song. by the way, is actually Welcome to my Show Trial, which was discussed in my blog piece on The Little Red Songbook. Momus has described Folktronic as his last 90s album, rather than his first album of the 21st Century, and that does seem to be the case. It’s a last hurrah for the Analog Baroque style, and the next set of albums – a Berlin Trilogy, no less – would adopt another approach again.
In addition, that inspirational New York skyline would soon change owing to terrible events, and with it both the cultural climate and the outlook of the people around him. New York would not be a place he stayed for long. The 21st Century, the modern world as we know it today, was to be born in blood and fire, and as of writing this, continues to burn.
*What on Earth was J. Arthur thinking of when he named his company? I mean, obviously it was his name, but he didn’t have to use it. Critics have little enough work to do without doing it for them: Rank Films, I ask you.
**If you like Pygmalism, Owen Pallett’s album Heartland has a similar theme of a creation battling with and ultimately killing their creator, and a similar musical journey as well. The creator is Owen himself, who is ultimately killed by Lewis, a character he has created for the album Heartland.
4 thoughts on “Mountains on a Minidisc… #23 Folktronic”
Pygmalism obviously one of Momus’s best songs. But seems to me that Momus is also “killing off” / saying goodbye to his Professor Shaftenberg / “pop Svengali” persona, and the eroticism of the teacher / student, songwriter / singer etc. relationship.
Or at least he’s ironically role-playing that situation with Kahimi. Isn’t this the last EP he did with her? Or with any “girl singer”?
It’s not quite an apology, but it feels like Momus is implicitly admitting that there is something absurd in the fantasy persona. The phrase “STUPID sexy clothes” kind of brings that out for me. Galatea isn’t just burning the playhouse down. Now she is seeing through the whole charade.
That’s another way it’s bringing an end to the 90s. And clearing space for the revolutionary Oscar Tennis Champion.
I very much hope you are planning to continue your brilliant project here. I’ve been doing the same with The Legendary Pink Dots for years and your writing here has inspired me to continue.
I certainly will be! Now the book is out I hope this year to continue up to Joemus, enough for a second book! I’ll check yours out!
Thank you! Very kind of you!
The blog is: https://kittysneezes.com/category/reviews/music/lpd-project/
And the podcast: https://repeater-radio.com/shows/the-legendary-pink-dots-podcast-project/