We all wake up every morning -- well I assume we do -- with the question 'Do I still believe in me? In what I'm doing? In the people around me? And do they still believe in me?' It's a life-or-death sort of question, or at least a get-up-or-go-back-to-sleep sort of question.
This morning I woke up, glanced at the falling snow, read about the crisis in the BBC -- do we still believe in it? In what it does? In the people around it? -- and drifted back to sleep. When I next awoke, the first thing to catch my eye was a comment in my website guestbook by someone called Vishnu:
Name: Vishnu Reddy
Location: New York
Comments: I believe this topic may have been brought up in the not too distant past, so forgive me for redundancy if that is the case, but I want to ask you, and everyone else on board, if you still find your music relevant. Your audience seems to get smaller with each release. Is this intentional? Or is it connected to the attention deficit culture in which we know reside? I just don't find myself listening to any of your new music like I used to and was wondering if that had more to do with your music or more to do with my fleeting attention. I've asked a few friends who are rabid music consumers, and a few friends who work at a couple NY record shops, OM in particular, and everyone I ask feels as if you've lost touch - with your fans, with current music scenes, with the vanguard, with listenability. Your new work seems to pander to the current flavours of the month, whereas some of your old singer/songwriter material emerges as timeless, and important in my ears. I'm all for experimentation and trying on any and all possible hats, but I ask you as a fan, can we have you back as our poet laurete? Our impassioned songwriter and crooner? Can you still write songs in this vein? In 2004, Hippopotomomus sounds fresh and thought provoking, while Oskar even now sounds a little dated. Forgive me stroking old wounds. But, I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings. You still can be a contender, my friend.
Now, to balance Vishnu's view, we just have to scroll down the page to this:
Location: New York
Comments: hey momus, when are you going to come to new york? we all miss you here!!! I'd love to go to your concert here. I hope you will find some time for us, the newyorkers, soon.
Both these attitudes are important. It's as important to love as to question. This is as true of Momus as it is of the British government or the BBC. We must not be selective in our questioning: from time to time, everything must come under scrutiny. Not just one's own procedures, but one's worldview and the very viability of the medium one is working in.
Researching yesterday's Pantiemania article, I was impressed by this part of Rinko Kawauchi's interview in the Asahi Shimbun:
'Right after this success [winning the grand prize at the Hitotsubo Exhibition], she began to work as a professional photographer for advertisements and magazines. An art director who had served as a judge for the Hitotsubo contest introduced her to a string of clients. But while many novice professionals would have leaped at the chance of such a break, Kawauchi was not particularly happy. "I know I was lucky to be in a good environment with wonderful opportunities. I was able to keep paying rent and had no money problems," she says. "But I was moping away my time every day. I was always thinking stupid things like, 'What do I want to take?' or, 'Why am I taking photos?'"
Of course, those are not stupid questions at all. Those are key questions, and the fact that Kawauchi was asking them is one of the things that marks her out, I think, as one of the most interesting photographers of her generation.
I think it's beautifully appropriate that someone who believes that 'your old singer/songwriter material appears as timeless, and important in my ears' should choose as avatar the god Vishnu, who is of course the great 'preserver' and 'protector' in the Hindu pantheon. Rather than replying to these criticisms with defences, though, I would simply reply with another god: Shiva. Often symbolised by the linga, or phallus, Shiva is both creator and destroyer.
These two gods present different interpretations of the world. (This is one of the great things about polytheism -- you can actually pick the god who represents your worldview or your particular need at the time.) In the Vishnu vision, essences are fixed, continuity is guaranteed by preservation, protection, conservation. It is a Platonic vision, and a somewhat conservative one. Its emphasis is on what endures, what is coherent, and what is timeless. In the Shiva vision, one no sooner makes something than one rips it up and starts again. Creation and destruction are part of the same game, products of the same pillar of fire. Art is, as Picasso described Cubism, 'a sum of destructions'.
I am ruled, at present, by Shiva. And so I invite John Talaga to 'destroy' the coherent song structures of 'Oskar' and Anne Laplantine to chop up the folksongs of 'Summerisle'. I believe the new record (due in April 2004) is the most beautiful thing I've ever been involved in. And I believe that for this I have Shiva, not Vishnu, to thank.
I'd like to end with a fascinating recording of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. Here is his Cynical Letter, A Letter to Marpa, recorded in Boulder, Colorado, March 1974. It's the most beautiful 'pop song' I've heard this week.