The Mind's Construction talks to Nick Currie
In 1984, a young Scot called Nick Currie moved to London. He just had been through six years of education (his time at Aberdeen University being interrupted by a 3 year stint in The Happy Family, the band he built from the ruins of Josef K) and was almost ready to create Momus. But Momus required London in order to be conceived, specifically Streatham, which is where he rented a room for the first, yes, nine months.
Momus’s debut, Circus Maximus, consisted of acoustic guitars, playful narratives and literary/biblical allusions. Its particular frisson, however, came from the relationship of the intellectual with the sensual. As Momus said in a 1988 interview “I rather saw myself as someone who’d fallen into a decadent city. [Circus Maximus] was my way of being a slightly shocked and puritanical Scot abroad.”
Twenty-one years and almost as many albums later, Nick Currie is back in South-West London for a performance at the Donald Hope Library, Colliers Wood. The following interview was conducted a couple of hours before he was due to play. I started off by asking him about those twenty-one years. Specifically, what significant changes had taken place in both him and the world in that time?
“Well, in some ways nothing has changed because I’m still making Momus records just like I was then. And Tony Blair is continuing the legacy of Thatcherism. And London is still London, it never seems to change.
“I think I’m now more finicky than I used to be, I don’t think I could live in London anymore. I wrote a line about the “temps vacillations gone permanent.” Back then I used to do temping work, like working in book stores. One major difference is that you could sign on and get your rent paid fairly easily then. I don’t think you can do that now.”
How was life in Streatham?
“I just remember living this weird aesthete’s life, I had a room that I painted olive green and had put ecclesiastical pictures on the wall and I used to go up to the National Gallery and the British Museum. You could be in a relatively civilized environment without having any money, just signing on.”
Do you have a solid conception of self, of personality, that endures through the years?
“I think personality is destiny. I’ve never been one of those people who has been scared of losing myself, my identity. I think being the first born child, I have a stronger sense of identity.”
Even though the cells of the body are renewed every seven years?
“But it’s like you can change the hardisk but if you have the same files. It duplicates itself. It feels nice to be the age I am now because you’re like an unformatted floppy disk when you’re that age. You’re very smart, but you don’t have a lot of experience and you don’t quite know what your position is. There’s a vagueness and a yearning for experience. Now I feel as though I’ve seen it all and done it all, not that I have. But it’s nice to have a wider view of things. Of actual things, rather than just intellectual.”
Do you think you now and you 20 years ago would get on?
“Well we’re both introvets and we both prefer the company of women so I’m sure we wouldn’t actually meet. We’d avoid each other. The young me would have an internal projection of what the old me is like and avoid him. I might think I was one of my folk heroes, like Jake Thackray, who I’d try and interview for the NME.”
I should perhaps mention that Momus doesn’t really exist for me as a musician. Apart from the eighties stuff, I find it all somewhat anaemic. Far more interesting is Click Opera, his livejournal. Livejournal is the blogging software that comes closest in spirit to the messageboard. Designs vary, but each user must use the same basic system, thus making it vigorously democratic for its users. he publishes daily. Differing from his earlier essays or “Thoughts for the Day”, the journal has, in a short time, become one of the most fascinating (and influential) in the blogosphere.
“I think I’m a kind of Google star, which is the modern form of stardom. Every search I seem to do for related things comes up with my journal. I seem to come up on every search I do. I’m like Tintin the boy reporter (I’m even dressed a bit like him today), I’m always going on adventures, reporting on other people’s doings. There forms a nexus of connections.”
Are you interested in how other people see you?
“I don’t strike a pose of avoiding it. People like Nick Cave would say ‘I don’t read my reviews.’ I like bad reviews as much as good reviews, they’re often as perceptive. Maybe I used to be more obsessive about it. Especially when you’re in Britain, when Britain was an island (it isn’t any more because of the internet), it seemed like a place with gatekeepers. There was John Peel, the NME, and it seemed that what they said about you was very important. And if you weren’t on their radars, you were nowhere. That’s no longer the case. I’ve loosed up about all that. I no longer have hate figures or people I resent. None of the Maoist intellectual stuff about being held back.
“And also you don’t have to be a satirist stuck in the shadow of some oppressive figure like a politician Magaret Thatcher or a gatekeeper figure like John Peel. You can just walk around them, like the Kafka story that ‘this door was for you alone but you didn’t walk through it because you were obsessed with this gatekeeper figure.’ I just walked off and found people who looked at life the way I looked at life.”
“If you’re an aesthete like Dickon Edwards, who’s very much a British aesthete who is wedded to Britiain, you’re wedded to your own oppression. You’re wedded to your own wounding. Britian does wound its aesthetes, it chases them away like Oscar Wilde or sends them abroad like Genesis P.Orridge. Dickon almost wants to be a sacrificial figure, destroyed by Britain’s disdain for aesthetic values.”
He has made a vow to be Dickon Edwards. Do you make any vows?
“I’m not honorable in that sense. I’m not even self-honorable. I’m cunning and low. I’ll double back and I’ll hide. It’s more Brechtian. The important thing is to survive and be a coward. If you make vows, I don’t know where that gets you.”
In your Saul Bellow obituary you wrote about these novels you never finished. I wonder why you didn’t?
“I was paralysed by self-consciousness, I had a religious calling, a vocational sense that I wanted to be a writer, but my idea of what a writer was, was as a priest or something. That was the closest I came to making religious vows.
“I call it being a verger: you are always on the verge, you never quite jump into it. So it’s almost too sacred. It was too sacred to sit down and write something. It was like the big book that you are writing, whereas pop music was a little notebook which you just scribbled ideas and could be yourself. That partly came from coming from a very literary family but also from studying literature and being very self-conscious about it.
“Pop music was what you could scribble in the margins of literature, but it was still literature. It had more textural connotations and it didn’t have the class connotations of being a high serious artist. It has been a great pleasure to betray that vocation since then. All that I’ve ever achieved has been achieved as a kind of betrayal of that vocation.”
Do you hold out any hope of becoming a novelist?
“I’m not very attracted to the form. It seems a bit geriatric or something. I keep reading these articles about a revitalized novel. But, no … Anyway, everything is flat now. Pop music and novels. If anything, pop music has the right to be more esoteric than novels. Publishing is more influenced by marketing and mediation than pop music is. It hasn’t really developed indie labels like pop.
“And you still need an awful lot of time and attention to get through a novel and I don’t know if people have that. There’s something very primal about pop music. The couplets get into your brain on a very deep level, your emotions and your memories get tied up with them in a way that rarely happens with novels.”
As Momus masticated his pizza, I decided to ask him about his personal life, something that rarely makes the pages of Click Opera.
“There’s such a deluge of information on the blog. You can hear what type of person I am in the podcasts. I’m a person who travels a lot, I don’t have to work for a living during the day. I’m like a consumer, but a very poor consumer.
How long do you spend on the internet?
“Oh, hours! A lot of time. I mean many, many people are addicted to the internet, but that makes it sound like something you want to be cured of. I like to think of it as a habitus. I also walk around a lot … When you’re not working it’s a very strange situation because you are living in a world where everyone else is stressed and aggressive, trying to make money. Life is not about money if you don’t work. It’s often very disappointing walking around because life is not made to be lived in. It’s made to be travelled through on the way to the next dollar. Transitional spaces, corridors on the way to the accumulation of capital.
Would there ever be a self-help book: How to Live like Nick Currie?
“I guess that’s always been my fantasy. I think anyone who is self-advertising, self-mediating, self-promoting, that’s one of the first thing you’re taught as a musician: to think of yourself as a product. Then after a while you start thinking to yourself that maybe you could be a model to someone else.
“How I live is inherently interesting, so I need to broadcast to the world the whole time. This is very different from my brother, you can’t find him on the internet, he’s very guarded, cautious, introverted and he really has a problem with people who propose themselves as models, or call themselves creative. he doesn’t believe in communication, he’s more post modern than me in that sense.”
You quoted that line about how an intellectual is someone who has found that there are more interesting things to think about than sex …
“I think you’d be like a monkey masturbating if you hadn’t found anything more interesting than sex. I almost used to be that. Which was in a way quite interesting, but thank god your libido declines.”
How many times a day did you …?
“I think my record was five, which is not really up there… There’s an interesting model of the consumer utopia where everything is about pure oral or genital pleasure. It becomes a kind of hell because pleasure without any corollaries or opposites is a nightmare. It’s a kind of fun fascism or ludofascism, which some ideas of the play society or ludic society come with. This was something Crhis Morris was getting at with Nathan Barley When everyone’s riding around on little tricycles or coke sniffing. I don’t have the romantic idea that pain is necessary. But moderation is necessary.”
I was wondering whether because your contentedness in life it affected your art in any way. If indeed you are content.
“Yeah, I’m happy … but I’ve always been very clever at finding intellectual justifications for things I’m stuck with anyway. It’s a fun game but it also adapts you to unpleasant situations. I’ve thrown away the dreams of being a popstar or whatever. You’d have to believe in the legitimacy of the opinion of the public to feel snubbed by the public if they didn’t recognize you in the street or buy your records, but I think I’m too much of a snob to think their opinion is very important.”
Momus, Nick Currie, comes closer to my ideal of the blogger than anyone else. He goes down to the intellectual coffee-house every day, holding court amongst disciples, peers and enemies. Like an Enlightenment wit, his interests are broad and his opinions stimulating. Whether this relentless blogging will prevent him from achieving something more substantial remains to be seen. But when he does decide to expand on what he’s written, there’ll be plenty of subjects to chose from. Until then, the archives of iMomus and Click Opera will surely suffice.