The musician-slash-writer-slash-blogger-slash-theorist Nick Currie aka Momus is hard to miss for his trademark eye patch and the group of oriental girls that are usually found in his wake. I’ll always think of this arrangement as Momus’ take on Muammar Gaddafi’s Amazonian guard. Last year he published two books, the novel The Book of Jokes (Dalkey Archives) a campy take on Arabian Nights, and The Book of Scotlands (Sternberg Press), which offers bizarre solutions for the nation-island. His literature is as provocative as his canny lyrics, dealing with subjects from incest and violence to futurism and the British government – though his soft voice always made it all sound like photo captions read from Vogue Bambini. I’ve interviewed the time-traveler via email: Momus in Osaka, me in New York.by Eva Munz

You’re kind of an ethnological mystery to me: you were born in Paisley, Scotland, lived in London, Paris, Tokyo and New York. Why on earth did you choose Berlin?

I was living in New York, but two disasters befell it: Bush and 9/11 (I watched the second plane hitting the south tower from my roof in Chinatown). Everything changed; suddenly New York was full of flags, paranoia, and rubble. So I went to Japan, but I had visa and language issues, and my relationship with my girlfriend began to fizzle. So, in early 2003, I needed to choose a place within the Eurozone to live in. At first I went back to Paris, but I’d lived there before and found the city a bit aggressive and intense this time. A trip to Berlin in February 2003 convinced me that it was a much better city for me. I’d been visiting the city for years, and had had good experiences. There was a post-protestant deadness I liked in Berlin, a sobriety, as well as a liberalism (also post-protestant). There was also a sense that the city was unfinished, and welcomed input from visitors – particularly artists – on the existential question of what it could become. You don’t get that impression in Paris or London. Berlin’s attractive fluidity, and the excess capacity in its infrastructure (its empty buildings and trains, cheap rentals, and so on), was really attractive to me. I moved to the city and began to both buy into and sell (via my journalism and interviews) the myth of Berlin as a paradise for »creatives.« I don’t think it’s so much of a myth, actually. Berlin really is a paradise for creatives. It contains, preserved in aspic, every subculture which has ever existed. But it’s a laboratory as well as a museum; the cheap prices and lack of opportunities to sell out really do encourage experimentation. If you’re able to structure your time and impose self-discipline, Berlin is a great place to get things done.

Do you have a next dream destination where you’d want to live?
I’m in Osaka right now, and I’m thinking seriously about moving here next. In a way Osaka is the Berlin of Japan; it’s possible to live here very cheaply. Apart from the bread, beer and asparagus (better in Berlin), the food in Osaka is vastly superior and the city has a density, intensity and commercial dynamism Berlin couldn’t even dream of. Weird underground music (Oorutaichi, Doddodo) thrives here. It never gets too cold. And there’s some gorgeous scenery very close by; the ancient cities of Nara and Kyoto, the mountains and forests of Shikoku.

Where have you been in the last year? Which places did you travel to?

I spent a month in New York doing an art show, a month and a half in Osaka and Tokyo researching contemporary art – I’m curating a Japanese art exhibition in the UK in 2012. I traveled to Athens and the Greek Islands, and performed in Boston, Philadelphia, London, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid and Warsaw.

Does the rudeness of Berliners ever bring tears to your eyes - especially after living in Tokyo? (I lived in Asia for 8 years and upon my return I was traumatized.)
I think Japanese people are rude in their own, more subtle, way. For instance, if you’re a foreigner in the company of a Japanese person, they ignore you completely. And you’re constantly asked whether you know how to use chopsticks! I like the absolutely fanatical devotion Japanese bring to their service industries, the complete lack of ego, the sidelining of personality and mood. But I also like the complete opposite: a waiter who’s openly grumpy if he’s having a bad day, for instance. That strikes me as very human, and not a bad thing. The British and the Germans are like that. Grumpy, human. There’s something a little scary about the Japanese way, as well as inspiring and sweet.

Do you speak German?
If not: is that kind of liberating?

I speak a kind of pidgin German which gets me by. But yes, I do find it liberating not to read the newspapers in Germany, for instance. I devour other countries’ newspapers, which gives me the impression that the bad things newspapers tend to report only happen elsewhere, and that Berlin is the still eye at the centre of a global storm; a place where nothing happens, and you can just get on with your daily domestic life.

You’ve been wearing an eye patch over you right eye since you rinsed your contacts in contaminated Greek tap water in the late 1990s. What’s wrong with the Greek?

To be fair to Greece, it was actually cabin water from a ferry between Italy and Greece, so it might have been Italian! Anyway, the amoebas which infested my contact lens are very common, they’re called Acanthamoeba. What’s not so common is to get them living on the surface of your eye, and to lose the use of the eye because of them.

Are you aware of the loss of vision?
Do you remember the difference a second eye made?

I’m a little bit in denial about it. I keep the eye shut when the eye patch isn’t on, so that I don’t notice the black void on the right side. It frightens me, that void. Apart from allowing me to avoid people on the right of me in crowded railway stations, the missing eye also gave me depth perception, which was very nice when looking, for instance, at a naked woman’s body. Now breasts seem flatter to me, and essentially the same as photographs of breasts.

You have a very distinctive style in dressing. Kind of a salvation-army dandy chic. Japanese wabi-sabi with a Scottish quilt thrown in. How would you describe your sartorial choices?
I deliberately try to challenge a style of dressing I’d call »global monocultural,« which really means American. So I never wear jeans or hi-tech running shoes, and rarely T-shirts. I haunt uniform shops, especially those which combine traditional workwear with a certain secular sacredness (so Berufskleidung stores in Berlin, or Japanese workwear shops). I’m particularly attracted to clothes which encode otherness and inhibition. So, old people’s clothes, clothes from obscure professions and traditional cultures (as long as they aren’t too New Age looking), priestly clothes, peasant clothes, women’s clothes, clothes for fishermen and golfers, clothes donated to secondhand stores by the relatives of the recently-deceased. I mix these garments up, breaking their grammar in the manner of those childrens’ flip-card games where you can give someone a Scotsman’s beret, a Flemish peasant’s breasts, a miniskirt and some riding breeches. I’d recommend Tibor Kalman’s book (Un)fashion.

How would you dress if you were for some reason really, really fat?
Like Leigh Bowery.

The Madrid based design group created a Momus doll from red fabric with eye-patch. Do you think they did a good job in appropriating you?

Yes, I think they did. We should all aim to be reducible to affectionate stereotypes.

I listened to a ton of Momus albums in the late 90s. The only thing that ever came close to your brittle voice, smooth pop arrangements and canny, provocative lyrics was Pulp’s »Different Class.« Do you ever have the feeling that you were not rewarded with the stardom/money you deserved?

Yes. It’s an international conspiracy – the Japanese were the only ones who didn’t get the memo.

What does money mean to you?
It’s a kind of thermostat which regulates our body’s input-output systems. And by »our body« I really mean our need to exist physically in the world.

You were an early blogger and have written about design and art for the longest time, last year you published your two first books. Does that mark the end of your music, or is it just a gentle shift of balance from one leg to the other?
I actually would like to end my music career and be known entirely as a writer from now on. Working on music actually gives me a kind of nausea now, because it triggers low-level tinnitus. So I get hot and uncomfortable around music, like Alex from A Clockwork Orange listening to Beethoven after he’s been given Ludovico’s Treatment.

You go by your nom de plume Momus as a musician and as a writer. What’s the difference between Momus and Nick Currie? What do your friends call you?

Nick Currie is the creation of my parents, my school, and society. Momus is my own creation, or rather an elective affinity with a character from mythology, a minor (and »failed«) Greek god exiled from Mount Olympus for simply doing his job, which was to criticize. My friends call me Nick, but I like it when they call me Momus.

Your music is basically poetry. What do you read? Which authors and books do you find influential?
I’m attracted to the classics: Lucian, Juvenal, Martial, Horace, Virgil, Aesop, Propertius. I’m also drawn to figures like Pope, Swift, Sterne, Leopardi, Gogol, Kierkegaard. Then, from the 20th century, people like Kafka and Brecht, Calvino and Pirandello, Ronald Firbank, Marcel Schwob, Bruno Schulz, Ivor Cutler and Viv Stanshall.

At a book reading for Solutions you showed an incredible talent for accents. I have a fetish for accents. Which accents do you like in particular? Which ones are you good at? Are there any you despise?
My sister is much better at accents than I am (she’s an actress). I tend to do Cockney, Scottish and American, and that’s it. I dislike Australian accents, perhaps. When I was young I disliked the Scottish accent intensely and tried to lose mine. I called the Glasgow accent »the Glasgow accident«!

You seem so incredibly productive and document a lot of the things you do, see in your blog. Do you ever hang around, loiter, do nothing for no particular reason?
I think I might often seem, from the outside, to be rather passive and dreamy, but my mind is always racing. I totally understand what Kafka wrote in his diary about »this tremendous world I have inside my head.« The anxiety is that your time will run out, and you won’t have been able to share even a tiny fraction of those dreams, visions, insights and ideas, and you’ll die and that world will vanish.

You’ll turn 50 in February. How does it feel?

It’s perfectly horrible!   ◊

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