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February 2010
 
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Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 09:19 am
Portrait of the artist as a young snob

We're coming to the end of our time together, dear Click Opera readers, and it strikes me that there's a huge amount you don't know about me. Really basic stuff, too; the kind of thing that would be in the first couple of chapters of an autobiography. Just how major, traumatic and formative an event it was for me, for instance, to be transported from Athens (where my family had been posted by the British Council) to boarding school in Scotland at the age of ten. I spent three years in an Edinburgh Academy boarding house, wishing profoundly I were somewhere else.



I remember two things I said back then, one to my friend Thomson and one to myself. To Thomson I compared Edinburgh with Athens and called the Scottish capital "a cluster of shacks on the horizon". Now, this wasn't true at all; Edinburgh holds up well against Athens, objectively speaking. But it expressed my need for a here / elsewhere binary in which the elsewhere had the starring role. I was a Romantic, a little Lord Byron. I even started telling some of the boys I was Greek, not Scottish. I loosened my Scottish accent, adding some Thames Estuary vowels just to confuse people.



The other thing I remember saying -- to myself this time -- is: "I will be try to be less influenced by my surroundings". In Mackenzie House I was very aware of the pressure to conform -- to use the same slang as the other boys, to mimic their jokes, to read what they read and listen to what they were listening to. In some instances I let my resistance crumble; in the padded music rehearsal rooms and up in the Senior Common Room I was introduced to T. Rex and David Bowie, and saw no good reason to block them out.

But I very much wanted to hold myself apart from the culture that surrounded and threatened to engulf me. Books provided the secret, premonitory, consolatory world I could escape into: Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, Eliot's The Wasteland, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. If the bildungsroman offered an idealised portrait of myself, the political dystopia could mirror the "total institution" I was living in rather well, and offer methods -- more or less successful -- for resisting it.



Boarding school convinced me that males (the other boys and the masters) were ultraviolent bullies or vulgar clowns. They had power over me, but didn't have my best interests at heart. They were often out-of-touch; the housemaster, for instance, knew what a transistor radio was, but not what a cassette tape recorder was. When he caught me, down in the changing room one day, listening to a tape, I explained that the school rules banned radios but said nothing about tape recorders. "It's a radio!" said Quack Mendl, and confiscated it, just as he'd confiscated my American army cap, my copy of The Little Red Schoolbook, the Hair songbook, and even Roget's Thesaurus. He caught me reading that after lights out one evening by torchlight under the blankets. (Yes, I read the Thesaurus for pleasure. Yes, I was weird.)

Something else I resisted from an early age was relaxed, American-style populism. It made me shudder to hear The Beatles singing "yeah, yeah, yeah". The proper word was obviously "Yes". "Yeah" seemed vulgar and cravenly opportunistic to me, a caving-in to Americanism. It was the same with "Hi". Why couldn't people say "Hello" instead? If people said "Hi" to me I answered "Hello" back. As for television, it's just as well my parents forbade us to watch the commercial channel, ITV. It would have horrified me with its familiar vulgarities.

Where am I going with this? Oh, I remember now. I wanted to talk about the internet, and how odd it is that I still, quite often, want to take a hot shower after exposing myself to it. How could that be? Surely the internet is a place where you determine your own "programming"? No longer do you have to say "I will be less influenced by my surroundings"; on the web, your surroundings are whatever you make them. No longer do you have to practice subtle tactics of evasion; what you click on is entirely up to you. If you "watch" life-cheapening rubbish on the internet, there's no condescending programmer to blame, no idiotic audience of undiscriminating morons dragging everything down to the lowest common denominator. You chose this stuff. The moron is you.



So why do I know more than I want to know about the feud between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien? How did Apple manage to make me so excited about a new product announcement? Why did I read stories about a comedian called Andy Dick, and watch the above video of him pissing on someone called Steve-O? Why did I read the entire saga of the feud between Alan McGee and Drowned in Sound?

It seems that I need vulgarity. I'm fascinated by it. The things I disapprove of define me as much as the things I approve of. Sure, I could spend all my internet time reading my digital copy of The Wire, watching the films on ("all avant garde, all the time") ubu.com, or listening to Arte Radio. But, even given the opportunity to be my own curator, my own programmer, I throw in some stuff that's compellingly appalling, some stuff I love to hate. Otherwise, what would there be to rebel against? How could I enjoy my trek to the cultural high ground? What would be the point in showering?

54CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 08:38 am (UTC)
fated to pretend

hello master curry.........sorry that you must go so soon
on the tenth you will be 50 ouch..........am i right? -------i was wondering what other parts of mainstream culture you have allowed to pollute your senses i know of your fondness for bowie , mike myers and mgmt...what other skelitunes you got in the cupboard...i think the hipsters call it gulity pleasures?--------------


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 08:49 am (UTC)
Re: fated to pretend

Well, the whole concept of guilty pleasures is the ultimate guilty pleasure for me, since I came out strongly against it in 2005!


ReplyThread Parent
chickensnack
chickensnack
Brian
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 09:09 am (UTC)

well whatever... I enjoyed all the tidbits...

reading the thesaurus is kinda like reading a never ending (good) poem... one that you can jump around in as much as you like. I did the same thing.

guilty pleasures... man, if you dont have guilty pleasures... you're on your way to being dried up.

whether you hide it or deny it... is another thing... but if you've lost touch with them... it;s a slipper slope to one big plastic life.

p.s.... I'm soooo in love with the ipad...


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)

http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-room,25723/


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)

Ah, so that's why I began watching the MTV reality show "Teen Mom" with a keen interest. It's a bit strange to not have an institution to rebel against, to hate, to be controlled by upon transitioning from secondary school to university. Now I can complain about my higher institute of education until my voice gives out but ultimately it was my choice to go there. And at least no one cares if I want to stay up all night reading a thesaurus. Now that's vulgar.

Also I thought I should say hello before you go! I've been reading on and off for the past few years and never commented, just read. Your music has been the soundtrack to the past few years of my life. It's sad to see Click Opera go but I look forward to more wonderful music and reading more of your published work and whatever else you do! Thank you, Nick!

-Aimi


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 09:32 am (UTC)

Thanks for lurking / listening, Aimi!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 10:05 am (UTC)

You look like a boy-Bowie in that grainy pic.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 10:16 am (UTC)

That's not a literal photograph of me. It's a Swedish boy Visconti screentested for the role of Tadzio, digitally altered to look a bit like me at the age of ten. Or did you mean the smaller one below? That's an Izis photo of a boy in a graveyard, used on the cover of the french edition of The Book of Jokes. Only the sepia photo next to it is the "real" me, but even that was retouched by the Athens photographer who took it (standard practise in those old portrait studios).


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 10:59 am (UTC)

Oh, surely! I'm just spinning out Click Opera's demise longer than Augustus' in I, Claudius:


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)

Momus, does being deviant inform your writing anymore? Was Hippopotamomus you at your most vulgar, and maybe your most creative? I think most of your fans know your infamous need for vulgarity; it's all over your sexy beats and voice. . .I think it's the reason why your albums can be listened to over and over and over and over again is cuz your music is radical and unlike anything else, you are the sexuality of bowie with the searingly dark tunes of david sylvian.

Momus you are the most vulgar popstar of these times.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 12:50 pm (UTC)

I'll take that as a compliment, then!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 11:45 am (UTC)
Fetishism

In your fantasy of rebellion you're like a rat on a wheel, just going around and around and around. A rat dressed in strange clothing, who occasionally lets slip that he can see the absurdity of the wheel, but, well, it keeps him doing something, and it can be fun.

A rebellion-fetishist.

I must be honest, I don't know why this disturbs me so much. We all play games, action without motion, just for things to do. But it seems like all the theory you read, all this great culture gets wrapped up into that wheel and goes nowhere, which is a depressing thought. Perhaps I'm missing something here.

It just seems like your rebellion is something that allows you to maintain a position, of rebel and outsider. And your art allows you to live within the safe-structure of 'artist.'

Adorno on Brecht: "It is true that Brecht never spoke as sceptically as Sartre about the social effects of art. But, as an astute and experienced man of the world, he can scarcely have been wholly convinced of them. He once calmly wrote that when he was not deceiving himself, the theatre was more important to him than any changes in the world it might promote.”

Bourdieu: "by an accident of social genetics, into the well-policed world of intellectual games there comes one of those people (one thinks of Rousseau or Chernyshevsky) who bring inappropriate stakes and interests into the games of culture;

who get so involved in the game that they abandon the margin of neutralizing distance that the illusio (belief in the game) demands; who treat intellectual struggles, the object of so many pathetic manifestos, as a simple question of right and wrong, life and death.

This is why the logic of the game has already assigned them rôles - eccentric or boor - which they will play despite themselves in the eyes of those who know how to stay within the bounds of the intellectual illusion and who cannot see them any other way."

Sorry about the mass quoting, but I'd be really interested in what you make of this and how it relates to you.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
Re: Fetishism

“The first duty in life is to assume a pose; what the second duty is no one yet has found out.” Oscar Wilde

"If the world changed, i could not exist, and if i changed, the world could not exist." Yukio Mishima


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)

You haven't really changed, have you? You're still the private school boy with the elite complex, railing against his housemaster.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)

But the housemaster is dead (I linked to his obituary)! Who is the housemaster now? That's really what this entry is about. On the internet there is no housemaster. Or... wait... is it...



Could the man who stole my gadgets have been replaced by the man who gives me them?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC)

Whatever happened to Thomson?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)

He's a lawyer in Edinburgh.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)

Momus another thing you haven't talked about is your parents' divorce. Was it a bolt from the blue or had you guessed something was up? How did affect you? Do you think it has any bearing on your lack of desire for kids, and your inability to settle down to monogamy until a relatively late stage of the game? Do you think it had any bearing on the themes of your work?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 12:42 pm (UTC)

Well, it happened after I'd left home, so it wasn't as big a trauma as it might have been. On the one hand, I saw my parents as having the right to go through a "second adolescence" -- they both got back to dating, and both remarried. On the other hand, you can hear a lot of buried anger and frustration and sadness about the situation surface in my 1982 album with The Happy Family, The Man on Your Street.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
Jumper

I was watching a rather poor film called Jumper recently with a friend. The 'hero' has the ability to teleport instantaneously. Using this ability he robs banks and lives the high life. Early on, we sample his world-is-my-oyster lifestyle as he jumps to three or four different continents all in one day.

My friend looked at me and said, "Americans really are crass, aren't they? So, he's had a shag in London, gone surfing in Fiji, and is having a picnic on top of the Sphinx."

I had to laugh.

However, most British people, while maintaining something like the above, understandable attitude, also voluntarily cave in to Americanisation at every given opportunity.

I never say "hi", either.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC)

I had to watch Celeb Big Brother for a few days as I had the idea Lady Sovereign would be allupinyrface dissing and freestyles left, right and centre, but if she was they didn't show any of it. Just lazy and boring. But along the way I got to know the Jordan bf's curious mind, the Ronnie Wood ex gf's wind noises, and laugh at them all getting hosed down in catfood and fishguts


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)

As with most Big Brother's, this years celebrity version has been no less than extremely interesting. Jordan's fella (Alex) does have a rather curious mind. He is a pleasant surprise.

Vinnie Jones, the unwavering Oak, seems to want to pin him down; to say, "you are a man, and a man is this, this and this." But he keeps slipping out of Jones's grasp, denying his easy categorisation. And yet, because Alex is physically the most masculine, the most impressive on the traditional battleground of masculinity (the body) - the most spartan - Jones can't simply ignore him or deny him. He keeps having to go back and to understand.

Brilliant to watch, to think about.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
A taste of Rumitism

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.

Rumi.


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
Re: A taste of Rumitism

now that's a clever lil' comment... need to remember that one for just the right party...

btw JD SALINGER is dead. 91...
died peacefully it sounds like

http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/books/01/28/salinger.obit/index.html?hpt=T1

Momus, you didnt read him as a child? I remember him making a big impact on me... when I discovered him.

now thats a man that sold his cleverness and bought bewilderment if I ever met one. fuck. fuck. fuck.


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