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Tue, Dec. 2nd, 2008 09:12 pm
Journalism 1, Life 0

One day you wake up and discover you've become a journalist. It's happened to me -- an artist, do you hear! -- and I'm wondering how to make it un-happen again. It's bloody hard work.



Take this week, for instance. On Monday I had 2000 words to write about the graphic design show Forms of Inquiry, which will open soon in Stockholm. On Tuesday I wrote my column for Spanish music website Playground (the December topic is Retro Necro; so far my texts for the site have been relentlessly negative, basically telling readers I think records, record shops and innovation in music are all pretty much dead). Wednesday will be dedicated to writing up an interview I did with a jeweler last Friday for the New York Times website. Then on Thursday I have to write a column for the Opinion section of art magazine Frieze -- the title is "To Have or to Be?" and it'll basically look at the kind of experiences you can have in the art world without ever buying (or selling) a single piece.

Obviously I enjoy writing. If I'm not doing it for money, I'm doing it here for free. The kind of activities I'd be doing if I weren't writing are also, in a sense, writing. I'd be making songs, books, performances which are really nothing more than writing in real time, or acting out bits of writing I've done beforehand. It's not writing I'm getting sick of, but journalism.

Actually, it isn't even journalism. I think it should be compulsory for aging rock stars to take up journalism, just to get them engaged with the world, keep them learning, wean them off drugs and booze, give them a bit of mental discipline. That or pottery. No, what I worry about is the ratio of experience to writing. It's rapidly approaching one to one.

A 1:1 ratio of experience to writing means that you've become an efficient journalistic machine: nothing you do ever goes to waste. Every single thing you experience gets written about somewhere. It doesn't have to be experience in the real world; it almost seems like I write, now, about every website I visit too.

Now, a good writer should be able to make anything -- even his doubts about writing! -- into good grist for his mill. But warning lights should start flashing when you find you're hardly experiencing anything new because you're so busy writing entertainingly about the few things you do still have time to experience. I've had to pull out of writing for Viennese art magazine Spike, for instance, because they wanted me to make a sort of Berlin Art Diary, but I just don't get out enough to write about art -- so busy am I sitting at home writing about art! I'm also worried by my design writing, which used to consist of me harrassing design editors to let me write about designers I really admired, but has recently turned into an editor asking me to write -- at a tempting dollar a word -- about a designer I've never heard of. All too often there isn't time in my schedule or the designer's for a meeting, so I end up googling and rewriting stuff people have already said on the web.

Another thing that worries me is the puritanism that wells up in me when I'm wearing my journalist's cap. Anyone who knows my songs or my literary fiction or my performance art knows it's not in the least bit puritanical, but something about being given an opinion column to fill up brings out the John Knox in me; it's a bully pulpit, and I can't resist mounting the creaking steps and delivering a hellfire sermon. Hence my Wired column turned into a series of jeremiads against technology (cell phones were "hell phones" and so on) and advertising (which of course was biting the hand that fed me), and my New York Times pieces take a perversely anti-consumerist tone in a blog which is meant to be all about "consuming passions". But the fact is that anyone who had the money to enjoy a really passionate consumer life probably wouldn't be bashing out journalism in the first place. (Our fate as journalists is to write about experiences we'll probably never enjoy, or enjoy only as launch night freebies -- assuming we can afford the plane trip to New York, of course.)

My slot in The Moment doesn't even make that worrying 1:1 ratio; I've ended up covering the Yokohama Triennale, for instance, via blog reports and hearsay. Another day, another subject, another thousand words. There's no time to stop and actually do something. Journalism 1, Life nil.

So my resolution for 2009 is to write less journalism and do a bit more living; to boost the life side and give the writing something to get its teeth into. I'm hoping to do more traveling next year, a bit of teaching, some performance art, some singing tours and some reading tours (because I have two books coming out, and somebody somewhere may want me to read from them). I don't think I'll stop blogging, because I love writing in the heat of an enthusiasm. But I hope to have fewer weeks like this week -- another day, another deadline.

49CommentReplyFlag

mrobot
mrobot
Ben
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 04:52 am (UTC)

What's the relationship to all this and money? You mentioned it only briefly, the dollar a word bit, and maybe that's because it's a somewhat private subject, but are you taking the work just because you can't say no or because you're trying to make more money?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)

Basically, I agree to commissions because I'm feeling poor, but by the time I get paid I'm doing okay again.

There's only two things I really want to do with money (over and above the basic minimum you need to survive) and that's buy new computers and go to Japan. And I haven't done either of those for almost two years, so this writing for money thing isn't really working.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:52 am (UTC)
Ray Winstone....

Mark Grout, of ILX.. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/3537856/Ray-Winstone-threatens-to-leave-gone-to-dogs-Britain.html There's a comment on here, yours? Regards. mark.grout@gmail.com


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:55 am (UTC)
Re: Ray Winstone....

That's certainly not me -- it's either another Nick Currie who moved to Berlin, or someone impersonating me.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)
Fame

Hi Momus,

I think I might be starting to become renowned in my field, but I am not sure. The signs are quite subtle. If I am right, it's very strange because being well known has never been an objective, although it's possible I might grow to like it.

I hope you don't mind me asking you, as a famous person, what are the embryonic signs that one is moving from obscurity to fame? How and when did you first realise that you were beginning to get famous?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Fame

Where on earth do you get the idea that Momus is famous? The whirlwind media frenzy over his latest album? Point me to one single mainstream publication that has even acknowledged its existence.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 12:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Fame

How can you say that he isn't famous?

I have known about Momus since I was 12 in the late 1980's, having first read a brief article about him in Smash Hits, of all publications.

And later the people I knew at uni knew about and liked him, and now the people I know at work have at least heard about him, if not his music. People seem to know his name and music, so how can you say that he isn't famous?


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Re: Fame - (Anonymous) Expand


Re: Fame - (Anonymous) Expand

cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 11:58 am (UTC)

Come and read your books over here too!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 01:14 pm (UTC)

I don't know of anywhere else to post this so am posting this here: The new album is fantastic! Just got it yesterday. Have already listened to THE MAN YOU'LL NEVER BE on repeat about a dozen times. Can't help but think it's about John McCain. Momus, your blog about Jahwise Hammer gave us a little peak behind the scenes of that song. Any chance you might do something like that for all the songs? Or at least one post with short paragraphs about each? I'm sure I'm not alone in my desire. Though hating to give you a writing "assignment" given this topic! You are, as it is well known, a genius, a gentleman, and a god-damned-top-class-artist.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)

Wow, I feel like I've listened to The Man You'll Never Be a dozen times even when I just play it once! I can only imagine a dozen listens would feel like 144!

I will accept your commission if Christmas this year is a white one (a 1:144 chance, I believe).


ReplyThread Parent
lifesmantra.blogspot.com
lifesmantra.blogspot.com
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
no subject

Your story is different. Its good to take a break.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Virginia Astley

Momus, what do you think of Virginia Astley?

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=G3Onw0SMtuI&feature=related


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)

I wish you had a chat show instead of Elvis Costello. Can you see it?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Dec. 11th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
AFTER THE ACCIDENT

Worry not, fair F***er. You're too free, too unviscous to to lament o'er our meals just before we dig in. Thank you for everything. Every day, thank you for every thing. Lurve you an unbecoming amount, xo MF


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mattfishbeck
mattfishbeck
Thu, Dec. 11th, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)

'TWAS ME. SAW IT AS "anonymous" AND I WENT LIMP. NO LOVE NO MISTAKE.


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