It's March 1997, I still have two functioning eyes, I live in London in a penthouse overlooking Barbican tube station. Tony Blair is still two months away from election victory. I'm rather angry that Ed Ball has called me a "fucking middle class wanker" for dissing Oasis. But insults aren't the way to hurt me. Being my friend, and getting to number one in the charts, and telling me that I could too -- that hurts. So a friendly "ouch" goes out to Jyoti Mishra of White Town, currently riding at number one in the UK singles chart with Your Woman.
It's a year later. Wearing an eyepatch for the first time in public, I'm talking about free speech on a panel at the ICA. I'm sitting next to Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, and the MC is Tony Wilson of Factory. I describe how I feel I'm morphing between two types of animal; the "national transgressor" is a satirist who finds himself tied to the establishment. The "pluralistic intervidual" is post-national, a web citizen. "In the hyperstimulant rush of this new world (digital TV, internet, pull not push, bits not atoms, moral disintermediation) we are increasingly operating our own 'censorship' by NOT PAYING ATTENTION," I declare. "Transgression is the other side of the medaille d'honneur called Consensus. Transgression is how Consensus, which often is doomed to being merely reactive, gets its dirty work done."
I Love My Work
I'm just starting "Stars Forever". "This collaboration is so weird, it's more intimate than sex. It's like borrowing people's souls, remaking 'The Incredible Journey' through their bodies in a tiny space capsule full of musical technology. I have a feeling this album is going to be my best ever... Time goes at a different speed when I'm alone with my recording equipment, it really is an invocation of spirits and my emotions change. Normally cool, restrained, polite, distant and shy, I suddenly overflow with tenderness for people when I'm working."
Electronics in the 18th Century
I've moved to New York and am performing in a webcast cabaret at the Knitting Factory with Torquil Campbell of Stars. I'm the Earl of Amiga, he's the Duke of Atari. Or is it the other way around? Here's a little excerpt: "Everywhere you go in the 18th Century you see John Malkovitch. God knows why, but it gets bloody annoying. Malkovitch in a huge powdered wig, Malkovitch with painted beauty spots, Malkovitch bowing low to a milkmaid and looking up with a dirty twinkle in his eye. I went on the Grand Tour of Italy and there, in Naples, was Malkovitch, sporting with a Countess, wearing baggy britches and buckle shoes. I went to Venice and there he was again, lying back in a gondola, sharing witty thoughts with the Doge. Fuck you, Malkovitch, get back to the century you belong in! You've completely ruined my holiday."
And now (pay attention at the back, there!) I'm about to move to Tokyo to live with my girlfriend, Shizu, in Meguro. "I'll be playing some shows in support of the Japanese release of 'Folktronic', producing a mini-album for a Japanese artist, and just hanging out, riding a folding bicycle, as neat, small and silver as a pair of travelling scissors. I'll be cycling by the river, under the cherry trees, towards the Organic Cafe.... It's a tall order, I know, to expect the world to be reshaped in one tiny trendy Tokyo cafe. But one thing's for sure. The revolution won't be happening at Starbuck's."
In the month I definitively leave New York for Tokyo, this article appears in Metropolis magazine. I'm both attracted and repelled by the way Japanese video store Tsutaya has put "A Clockwork Orange" into a promo section called "Good Furniture". When I witness 9/11 and a Japanese friend (now dead) says it's "beautiful", I experience the same feeling that something is very wrong.
War as Fiction
Bush Junior has invaded Iraq on pretty fictional pretexts. I'm skeptical and angry. "Might does not make right, and might alone -- without charm, without diplomacy, without willing suspension of disbelief -- cannot turn fiction into fact. Realities have a habit of intervening. Even the war games the US army staged in summer 2002 to model an invasion of Iraq ended in the US losing -- a result so embarrassing that the games were played over again until the desired result -- a win for the US -- was achieved... 'The new American century' is a fiction which has already failed disastrously, alienating and revolting global audiences, who are now interrupting it with cat calls, paint bombs, slow handclaps, civic disturbances, and other, more violent, shows of dissent. If it were just a film, it would probably never have got past the studio heads."
I'm in Udmurtia, near the Ural Mountains that divide Russia from Siberia. It's enflaming my imagination, making me plan an album called Tatartronic. "What's really making me dream is the ex-Soviet Central Asian Republics. Uzbekistan! Samarkand and Tashkent! The lands between the Black Sea and the Caspian! Border disputes with the Chinese! Those scary Chechens! Old men drinking tea in dusty towns under snow-capped mountains! ...Think of my album as basically Mongol-Tatar in spirit. Think of it arriving in a whirl of beating hooves, stealing what it wants from the places it passes through, and forcing its cherry-picked riffs and tics through new territories until all the memes are spliced with something else, and form some imaginary, unimagineable new culture. Tatartronic is coming!" Some of this stuff -- not much -- ends up on "Otto Spooky".
Uma in Seoul
I channel Uma Thurman, who stares down on Seoul, South Korea, from a Vuitton billboard. I compare her with Kim Jong Il, who stares down at the other Koreans a few hundred miles to the north. And sure, Uma is a woman, but Kim Jong Il is at least a Korean. Two different imperialisms?
Avant Grizzlies and the Great Generation of Downtown
I'm in New York being a performance artist. Visits to the Wooster Group's production of "The Emperor Jones" and a show about the Downtown art scene in the 80s get me reflecting on what happens when experimentalists grow old and grizzly.