For a long while now I’ve been aware of and mildly interested in Momus without bothering to investigate. (More on this below). Every so often I’ll stumble across or be pointed towards something of his, and that’s that. I recently found myself watching this new-ish video from him and liking it a lot.
Momus and John Henriksson, “Love Wakes The Devil”
I circulated it to a few friends with the qualification “I have mixed regard for this guy” or something(s) to that effect, and I got some interesting responses. One person helpfully pointed out that the mystery man in the video — perhaps a long-forgotten robot built to compete with Elvis, shelved for awkwardness? — is reminiscent of this other guy. Another asked why the mixed feelings? “I think maybe it’s his voluminous and incessant output,” I answered. “All the blogging, etc. I guess I’m a bit suspicious of someone who is endlessly interested in their own utterances, for years and years and years at a time. Or maybe I just resent him for having so much of himself out there, because it makes it sort of impossible for me to evaluate him as a casual listener.” Which is silly, obviously, for several reasons. Why should anyone be graspable in one grab? Of course they should not be, and I tend to actively dislike people who are. Why not put a ton of yourself out there is a discrete, messier and more interesting question, I think, and my friend’s perceptive response made me rosy with self-consciousness:
He’s definitely a certain kind of person. I think he is very comfortable expressing himself. I don’t think he is self-critical (I mean this in a positive way). I don’t think he is trying to make a ‘great work.’ I think he sees himself in the tradition of folk music. And in his mind giving something to world — no matter how imperfect — is better than keeping it stifled up. As a result he has really added something to the world where most of us are trying so hard to be perfect we never actually do much.
I don’t think he meant really for real on a granular level (individual albums, songs, what-have-you), but you get the idea. I’ve struggled with the trying-to-be-perfect thing at moments but the biggest issue for me is wanting to have everything in place before I start a new project. Which is, yeah, a form of wanting everything to be perfect. I find it very difficult to start something new unless I feel I can completely throw myself into it, and how can I completely throw myself into something unless my “spare” time, my energy, and my reasons for wanting to do it are all heaving with abundance? And would you believe I have some trouble getting these things synced up? Of this bundle of idiotic expectations I have, the time-related one seems to be the most manageable; I think it’s a relatively straightforward matter of learning new habits (getting comfortable working in small chunks of time rather than big blocks, for example). Where I really run into trouble is in navigating the ambivalence I develop about my reasons for taking on any potential project, my questions about why do z instead of y or x, and is it worth bothering with at all. Not because I believe in greatness-or-nothing but because I believe in deliberateness-or-nothing. Just about every book or song or arty-whatnot that’s ever really meant anything to me was made by someone who seems to have been working from a series of rigorous aesthetic and intellectual decisions (versus working from a mindset of “oh hell, I’ll just try it and see where it goes”). My ideal is work that appears unstudied coming from someone who has studied the fuck out of it. One example, a curious one considering I don’t particularly like the Ramones: A couple weeks ago this article by Johnny Ramone came out, and in it he talks about the formation of the band and the decisions they made in the earliest days. The four skinny guys in jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets (or, the four skinny guys in jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets) took six months to decide that that’s what they would wear:
At that point, we were still dressed in partial glitter. I had these silver-lamé pants made of Mylar, and these black spandex pants I’d wear, too. I was the only one with a real Perfecto leather jacket—what the Ramones would later be identified with—which I had been wearing for seven years already. I also had this vest with leopard trim that I had custom made.
We were still evolving into the image we became known for, but it was trial and error at first. I’d give Tommy a lot of the credit for our look. He explained to me that Middle America wasn’t going to look good in glitter. Glitter is fine if you’re the perfect size for clothes like that. But if you’re even five pounds overweight, it looks ridiculous, so it wouldn’t be something everyone could relate to.
It was a slow process, over a period of six months or so, but we got the uniform defined. We figured out that it would be jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets, and the tennis shoes, Keds. We wanted every kid to be able to identify with our image.
I’ve never cared about wanting to make anything people can identify with but I do care deeply about singularity, and I think it generally comes from that same process of refining one’s ideas to the point where everything that’s there represents a series of decisions. (To use another Ramonesian example, think of them playing “Happy Birthday”: it would sound 100% like a Ramones song, and we can easily visualize how they would look playing it, the way they’d be standing or holding their instruments, and pretty much everything else about it). It’s not that I think a uniform or an identifiable stance are essentials or that it should necessarily be a slow or anguished process; it’s more about starting from a place that isn’t aesthetically or intellectually bankrupt, and paring away any crap going forward.
Do any of you have secret tricks for working through these pre-working choices, for wading through the muck between having an idea and commencing work on the idea? Please murmur them into my comments section. Highly recommended drugs that enable you to start a hundred weirdo side projects while blogging like a fiend will also be considered.