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The next time, try to remember, take this longing - click opera
February 2010
 
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Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 10:25 am
The next time, try to remember, take this longing

Music artists often say that -- like the sexist Christian God creating Eve from a single rib of Adam -- they become fascinated by a song from their last album and build the next on it. I've never been quite that tidy an artist -- my albums tend to start with clear intentions, but end up all over the place -- but if there were a song on Ocky Milk (2006) that might predict what its successor (2008) album will sound and feel like, it's probably "the big ballad", Nervous Heartbeat. Not just because of the splash it made -- reaching Stylus' Top 50 Singles of 2006 list without even being issued as a single! -- but because it did something songs do better than anything else I know; it moved people by touching on a universal emotion ("When will I see you again?").



The different things I do -- blogging, novel-writing, journalism, performance art -- can often do the things I used to do in songs (social commentary, trend-watching, experiment) better than songs ever could. Because I do these other things, my songs are free to do what they do best. And -- the way I see it right now, anyway -- that's to move us with huge, moving melodies and massively obvious, universal human themes. Of love, of tenderness, of longing, of loss, of memory, of emotion. The more different things I do, the more I focus on that aspect of songs -- their most conservative aspect, certainly, but also their most powerful. Hence the enka stuff I was doing on Ocky Milk; for me, always hyper-critical of my own culture and its mainstream, it's much easier to edge into universal themes via someone else's culture, someone else's mainstream.

But, since "the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there", the West's past is also a place I can draw inspiration from. There are songs in the West's past that can move me deeply, songs that touch universal emotions with supreme elegance. Some of them are incredibly mainstream, embarrassingly so. For instance, the song I've been most obsessed by, and listened to the most over the past month, is a very old one (but new to me): "The Next Time", sung by Cliff Richard in the film Summer Holiday. Something about this clip, with Cliff on a solitary walk through Athens, mourning a love affair that's now "ancient history" with the Acropolis behind him, is deeply, divinely compelling for me. Of course it's wrapped up with the fact that I lived in -- and loved -- Athens when I was a kid. But it's also the internal properties of the song; that utterly mysterious thing which makes certain combinations of words and chords so much more affecting than others, and click with us on the deepest level when others don't.



Another song that does this for me is Harry Belafonte's amazingly haunting reading, in 1966, of "Try To Remember". His phrasing is so out of joint with the chords that it starts to resemble some of the weird trip-ups we edited into the song "Permagasm" on my last album, where we tried to balance emotion and estrangement by laying the vocal in the wrong places and cross-fading between different mixes. But it's the backing vocal in the Belafonte song -- is it a theremin? a sentimental robot? -- that really slays, underpinning the song's spiraling chords and schizoid, spooky morbidity with pure terror-tingle. This wistful tenderness for a distant life can only come from beyond the grave. Beauty's just the first glimpse of terror.



Finally, here's a video someone's made for one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs, "Take This Longing". I'll be on a plane later today, crossing the Alps, heading with Hisae to Venice to catch the last few days of the Biennale. I doubt the experience will be quite this lyrical, though.

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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 10:12 am (UTC)

"move us with huge, moving melodies and massively obvious, universal human themes. Of love, of tenderness, of longing, of loss, of memory, of emotion."

The idea of you going in a Flaming Lips direction excites me majorly :)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 10:15 am (UTC)

Screw minnows like the Flaming Lips, I'm talking about Cliff Richard here! The King!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

realrealgone
realrealgone
realrealgone
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 11:26 am (UTC)

someday, I must sit down and spend proper quality time with your blog. like, hours/days... there have been some real interesting things recently that I feel deserve my attention. but like so many, I suspect, I surf briefly at work break-time and then never get a chance to go back and properly take it in before the LJ sushi-belt has moved on.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)

I agree with this post.


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peacelovgranola
-
Sun, Nov. 18th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
Re: Love ballads are photos of kittens

indeed; it's interesting that photographs can actually enact or illicit the opposite of their purpose: they fail to represent or capture something.

reminds me of another idea, (i think it was from george steiner), something like, "can music lie?"


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alphacomp
alphacomp
Digital Video Camera
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Love ballads are photos of kittens

Haven't you done this, though? With things like "Murderers, The Hope of Women" and "Rhetoric" and such?

Traditionalism, using "massively obvious, universal human themes" and "huge, moving melodies" seems like such an inevitable musician's trap--something that you yourself would have avoided a few years ago.

Don't listen to me, though; I probably wouldn't have said anything to this effect if you wrote "I want to sound like the Pet Shop Boys again".


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alphacomp
alphacomp
Digital Video Camera
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Love ballads are photos of kittens

Hm- the previous thing wasn't meant to be a response to that comment, but it does kinda work in context?


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trufflesniffer
trufflesniffer
trufflesniffer
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC)

I think I read that the story that "Eve came from Adam's Rib" was the result of a mistranslation of 'Side' for 'Rib'. Thus a creation myth that used to assert "that the sexes are equal but different" (though got the progeny order wrong) because one which asserted "that males are greater than females".

I don't know if this is connected to Roman Emperors converting to Christiantity then giving the Bible a big patriarchal 'edit'...


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)

No, it´s more to do with the fact that the Bible was translated into koinei (simplified Greek) before it was translated into Latin.

And basically, koinei isn´t a very subtle language (we translated the Bible in second year Ancient Greek), so a lot was lost in translation.

Then the Latin used for the Medieval bibles was also wonky, so the text most rules are based on is basically completely different from the ´original´.

Obviously, since theologists have started to study Hebrew since the late 18th century, and our knowledge of Ancient Greek and different dialects of Latin has improved we should have better translations now, but crazy fundamentalists stand in the way of renewing translations.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)

Momus does Will Oldham...
Pitchfork is going to love you in 08.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)

The different things I do -- blogging, novel-writing, journalism, performance art -- can often do the things I used to do in songs (social commentary, trend-watching, experiment) better than songs ever could.

Yes, but will the things you do- blogging, novel-writing, etc.- be remembered as much as your songs? Will people reading this entry remember it in 5 years? I probably won't.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC)

I agree it is the "songs that will be remembered" to paraphrase Green. Your blog is a kind of sketchbook that feeds into everything you do. Ultimately. the music is the thing that best embodies what you do precisley because it can convey the emotion that a lot of your writing can't ( especially as it is analytical and the music come from a more intuitive area). Do you think that "the conventional is now experimental" having explored the glitchy, spooky style of the last trlogy of albums?

Richard


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


Re: preciousss - (Anonymous) Expand







(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC)
Barry White meets John Cage

I think that emotional universality has been in your lexicon - if at times sublimated - for quite some time, songs such as Rhetoric, Landrover and Breathless of Timelord come to mind, and Suicide Pact takes a twist on it also.
Perhaps these themes are 'conservative' in essence, they certainly are the vertebrae of most music in the 'song' format - everything from bombastic rock ballads to Schubert's lieder.
Your treatment - musically and lyrically - of these subjects comparative to most songs in the pop idiom is however quite uniquely compelling and evocative, there's nothing hidebound in Nervous Heartbeat.
Have to admit I do like some those venom-tinged opuses of yore though, society needs songs like Vogue Bambini!
Thomas Scott.



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butterflyrobert
RND
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)

Momus: the new King of Pop! (and I mean this in an affectionate way).


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Fri, Nov. 16th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)

if you could generalize, what have japanese people been thinking about nervous heartbeat ??

nice to see you want to go in that direction.
(still think zanzibar's the true masterpiece though)


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 17th, 2007 12:56 am (UTC)

I'm sorry, it's irritating me like sand in the eye. Who said this (or something very like it):

"Beauty's just the first glimpse of terror"?

Relates to ideas of sublime etc but seems especially familiar. Thank you in advance.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 17th, 2007 01:12 am (UTC)
i am a human below

I would also like to register a hypersensitive complaint, how Schizoid of me, to the effect that 'Schizoid' by no means necessarily entails 'spooky morbidity' (speaking as a person of the Schizoid persuasion).

My morbidity is actually very friendly and welcoming. Whats spooky is where Momus/Currie (dissociative split perhaps) finds time for his miscellaneous culture adventures. I'm not saying he only sleeps two hours a night like Mrs Thatcher and drinks the rich blood of Japanese nubiles. Im just saying.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 17th, 2007 11:43 am (UTC)
Re: i am a human below

It's a quote of German poet Rainer Rilke - Momus used it in his song "Philosophy of Momus" of the same-titled album.


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Sat, Nov. 17th, 2007 01:36 am (UTC)

I really enjoyed your musically selections. I instinctively went to some early Dionne Warwick, Bacharach/David songs. They share the same simple melodies with those universal themes. Incidently, a photographer friend gave me a lovely portrait of Leonard Cohen. My friend told me that after the shoot Cohen made him an excellent Montreal smoked meat sandwich.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 17th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)

The Cliff clip is tremendous, I've always liked that song and indeed the movie it was taken from. You should rent the DVD of Summer Holiday, Momus! It is great fun.

Danny Baker, of all people, has been playing 'The Next Time' a lot on his radio show recently. He reckons that they should sell Cliff-style string vests at the Acropolis gift shop.


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