January 27th, 2005


Otto gets thrown to the Christians

What does it mean when art and religion appear to be alternatives to each other? When art seems like a religion, and religion seems like a fiction, a fabrication? Who do you choose when you have to choose between The Creator and the creator?

That seems to be a strong theme in the last couple of design articles I've written. The Vice Design Issue describes how a TV shot of a beautiful shell dissolving into an Eames chair leaves me 'deeply moved, in an almost religious way, by the implicit parallel between human ingenuity and nature'. But later in the article, brought back to earth by Vice magazine, I wonder whether the NHK Eames Special isn't 'essentially, religious broadcasting for elderly humanists.'

The religion theme, peripheral in the Design Observer piece, becomes central to my new AIGA Voice article, Design as Religion. In fact, it becomes a credo, and somewhat OTT. Design bookstores, I assert in The Voice, are 'temples to human creativity, places dedicated to higher values, yes, even spiritual values. In a world that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, these stores and the curated, inspirational printed matter they contain reaffirm my belief that beauty really is elevating and that every 'creator' is a kind of god.'

That sort of religious fervour about cultural creation doesn't seem odd in the country I'm now sitting in, Japan – a country where, according to a 1998 poll, 65% of adults declare themselves atheists. That's no doubt one of the reasons I feel so comfortable here and why, in a debate like this one in which Americans and Japanese answer the same question, I side so readily with the Japanese. I am, after all, an atheist. That is, someone who seeks to locate spiritual value everywhere except in a monotheistic god.

Well, yesterday my new album came out in America. My new album – an album of radical paganism and fertility worship, an album advocating lostness rather than salvation and art rather than religion – came out in an America in which, according to a recent Harris poll, 90% of adults believe in God, 89% believe in miracles, 68% believe in the devil, 69% in hell, 51% in ghosts, 31% in astrology and 27% in reincarnation. An America which, sixty years ago this August, dropped nuclear bombs on the godless country in which I'm sitting, to the approval of 85% of the godly folk back home.

Trying to imagine the reception my album would get in a Christian magazine like Plugged In, which reviews records and films along Christian (and right wing) lines and rates moral content, I came up with the following spoof review:

"Momus: Otto Spooky (American Patchwork, 2005)

The first track sees a computer singing 'I'm going to rape you', then, when his partner agrees, fretting 'Don't say okay because then it's not rape!' That's followed by a pagan paen to spring which describes 'shinto dogs at the phallic symbol' and begs 'pull me down and pump me dry' (sexual reference to the extraction of seed from human genitalia, either by mouth or hand). Next there's a tribute to a lustful 'Corkscrew King' (the double entendre on 'corkscrew' is milked until the white froth runs down the bucket and the udder is dry). The king seems to be impotent -- and the song treats this like a big joke. A character called 'the Yogi Doctor Swami' has 'his hand upon his thing' and the chorus contains many 'humourous' allusions to senile erectile dysfunction.

Next comes a song in Arabic scales, sung in French, in which a Tripoli taxi driver explains the joys of giving your spouse a damn good slap in the face. Although this is recommended in Ecclesiastes 5,9, Judges 3,11 and Ruth 15,12, it's not something we Christians need a pagan to tell us about. Before the song called 'Lady Fancy Knickers' (which seems to be about duct tape, but turns into a thundering of Mongol horsemen's hooves and the Islamic-style threat 'black is what we'll wear when we come to kill you all') there's the song which sees Robin Hood, the notoriously immoral redistributor of wealth, exchanging his bow and arrow for a wheelchair and colostomy bag after a serious beating from his rival, Dooh Nibor, an obvious caricature of a Republican politician.

A song describing a video game in which you compose lute scores and shoot off panda's heads is not something we'd recommend any children hear, especially those who can't distinguish video games from real bamboo forests. The worst is yet to come, though: a children's song which advises kids to 'touch other children's genitals for pleasure' and 'take your parents struggling to the Great Mountain of Death / Sing the party anthem as you throw them off the edge'. 'Your Fat Friend' is an offensive ode to husky girlfriends, then comes a blues song describing a sexual encounter between a man and God. Even more sickening is the sarcastic demolition of the faith of Mel Gibson ('Jesus in Furs') in which 'The Passion' is described as a sick masochistic gorefest and Christ is implored to 'Come back as a girl, or come back as filthy letcher / Please save the world without too much tomato ketchup'. The record ends with an Elizabethan falsetto eunuch song ('You harlequins, you play such s**t...') and a tale of two homosexual archeologists who meet death (in the form of an Edison gramophone demonstration record) in Italy.

'Otto Spooky' is wretched in every way, and Beelzebub has surely got a cosy corner table already laid out for Momus right by the door to hell's hottest kitchen."

Otto Spooky is out now on American Patchwork. The Jack Chick tract follows shortly.