ION Nick Currie was born in Scotland in 1960, and he still looks younger than you. Why? In his improbably prolific adult life as an artist, musician, and social critic, he has produced a staggering amount of art and letters while in a state of perpetual cultural transition, living a lush yet materialistically austere lifestyle, pared down to only what he needs to keep him healthy, thinking, and fresh (in every sense of the word). Ever the firestarter, Momus has ruffled his share of feathers in the staid, ultra-PC art-crit scene with his views, even writing a few articles for Vice for a little extra I Don’t Give A Fuck. Here he speaks on how to stay happily unflappable.
ION: Hi Nick. You’ve been traveling, as usual - you’re surely one of the most well traveled artists on the planet. But you’re not a millionaire - how do you manage to globetrot so efficiently, and still find time to think, appraise, and report like clockwork on where you happen to be at the moment?
Momus: Musicians are lucky; we’re paid to travel. But rock music is a kind of dark religion — in its quest for some kind of Romantic intensity (not to mention a dependence on drugs and an unrelenting masculinity) it tends to stop looking with any interest at the world around it. It drags you in like a big black whirlpool, canceling all the enlightenment you might have got by moving around the planet with your eyes wide open. Well, I’m sorry, I don’t pray that way. You’re never going to read about “My drugs hell... by Momus”. I don’t travel to play music, I play music to travel, basically. I make sure I spend a bit of time in the cities I visit, and look around, and try to get the flavor of the place, even on rock tours. (Of course, some might say I go to the same art gallery and the same cafe in every city I’m in!) At home I’ve also managed to minimize things I consider inessential, destructive or distracting. No car, no kids, no house... and no dark rock religion
ION: You’re a very dedicated critic of the modern metropolis. How has the move to Berlin felt after such a long time in Japan? Also, describe your ‘perfect city.’
Momus: I really like Berlin. The air is fresh, there’s no stress, it’s green, it’s liberal, it’s incredibly reasonably priced (my rent at the moment is just $200 a month, for a very nice apartment!), there’s art and culture and a big population of young people best described as “artists.” I also really like the Turkish culture in Kreuzberg. Of course, I’d rather be in Japan, but I can keep a flat here in Berlin and visit New York or Tokyo. I’ve already spent two months this year in Japan and will probably spend another month there later in the year. I’ve spent one month in New York this summer and will spend three months there next spring. Reality is no longer any one place, but a continuous alternation. But if I had a choice, I’d always rather be in Tokyo. For me, it’s the ideal city. What is the ideal city? It’s a place where you’re not afraid, where you feel relaxed in public, where you like — and feel you think like — the people around you, the strangers you mingle with. It’s a dense but well-organized place where people are considerate and polite and enjoy mingling, where there’s interesting art and culture, where there’s a high degree of equality. It’s a place where public transport is more popular than private transport. It’s a place where you don’t feel like you need a big apartment because the whole city feels like an extension of your apartment. But, you know, recently I’ve been thinking that I might really love India. Maybe even more than Japan. I should go there and find out.
Ion: As many already know, you have a truly formidable penis - in fact, it was immortalized by Cynthia Plaster-Caster, and once hailed as the UK’s biggest. You’ve also written a catchy tune or two about penises. Do you think it’s better to take a lighthearted, informed approach to dicks, instead of the typical treatment (BIG CHARGING SUPERWEAPON OF MACHO DESTRUCTION)?
Momus: It’s kind of you to call my member “formidable,” but you should know that I was one of Cynthia Plaster Caster’s biggest disappointments! When she had her exhibition at the Threadwaxing Space in New York I was dwarfed by Jimi Hendrix. That’s because I didn’t find the casting process very erotic, and didn’t have a proper erection. Cynthia asked me to “re-sit” whenever I passed through Chicago, but I thought being all shriveled and pathetic was a nice symbol of rock losing its potency after the 60s. None of us should think we can outstrip Hendrix and the others. The collective penis of rock music has wilted since those priapic, Dionysian times, so I thought my statement should remain exactly as it was. I became the spokespenis for a generation!
ION: What art and music projects are you working on at the moment?
Momus: I’ve just finished a collaboration in a New York art gallery called “I’ll Speak, You Sing”. It was a collaboration with a Japanese performance artist called Mai Ueda. I made up stories from scratch - something I’m uncannily good at - and she sang and posed and slunk around the gallery in glamorous clothes. It worked very well, got great reviews, and I’ve been asked to follow it up with another art performance in New York next year. But I can’t tell you where it is. There’ll be an announcement in October. This week I’m working on journalism, interviewing Japanese designers, VJs and people like that. I enjoy doing journalism because it allows me to be a fan of other people rather than promoting myself the whole time. I’m actually hugely enthusiastic about a lot of people. I admire easily.
ION: You recently wrote about the idea of ‘moronic cynicism’, a sort of cultural epidemic of useless, bitter disingenuousness, if I read it correctly. How would one start to remedy the symptoms of moronic cynicism, because I don’t see destructive apathy and ass-covering, cool-points irony losing steam anytime soon?
Momus: Just be enthusiastic. I think “moronic enthusiasm” is a step up from “moronic cynicism.” The latter inevitably creates vicious circles and weakens the bonds of trust that make life worth living. The former creates virtuous circles and strengthens trust. Even misplaced trust makes the world a better place. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Positive illusions eventually become positive realities, just as paranoia has a tendency to confirm all your worst fears.
ION: You don’t drive a car, and are in fact quite opposed to cars. Do you think that auto-fixation (sorry) is, at the core, a North American thing? Do you see any value whatsoever in the culture of rollin’ hard - surely the advent of spinners deserves an aesthetic discourse of it’s own. I mean they’re spinning - and they’re never gonna stop!
Momus: I think the 20th century’s real fascism was intoxication with speed. Speed is a drug. Speed is “worldly asceticism” made more exciting. You tear through the world, tearing it up, instead of appreciating it in detail, up close, with all the smells and sights and sounds it has. In your car, you just hear the engine, and your shitty rock music CD, and the world zips by, and you think you own the damn place because roads go everywhere, and there’s roadkill behind you. I was just watching Auden’s Night Mail film, which celebrates speed in pretty much the same breathless way the Italian Futurists did, and thinking that what united left and right in the 20th century was this need for speed. I think Hitler’s most characteristic invention may have been the motorway system. That may be his real fascist legacy. And it’s all around us. We all condemn Hitler’s Holocaust, but none of us condemn Hitler’s Autogeddon. There it is, killing us, creating wars. Try walking down a street one day with the fixed idea that cars should not exist. Suddenly you see all these alien robots moving around, metal machines lining every street, moving fast, protecting some people and endangering others, exaggerating differences between winners and losers, straddling the top of the urban food chain, threatening us the way lions and tigers might have done in the jungle. And then you open your newspaper and read about some war in some foreign place motivated by the fluid these things run on. Well, it’s war there, but it’s war here too.
ION: Are you ever gonna stop!?
Momus: I’m stopping right here!