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Nicholas, don't be so ridiculous......Nicholas

In his latest "Thought for the day" (Nasty, British and short), singer-songwriter Momus (aka Nicholas Currie) describes Britain as "...a horrible place, where people are so unkind to each other, and where they seem to resent all that's most distinguished about the human spirit."

Having recently "emigrated" to New York from London he has discovered a new found freedom enabling him to flirt (apparently "London isn't flirty at all"), curate his first art show, and generally be creative, arty and witty in a city "...where people think human nature is essentially good and that creativity and experimentation should be encouraged."

Indeed, according to our man in NY, London is the very antithesis of this representing all that is inhibited, miserable and unpleasant. "London stinks" says Momus and furthermore has "...an active antipathy to creativity, to modernity, to Europe......to human nature itself."

Steady on, Nick! You really dislike the place, don't you?!

Ever provocative (and often seeming to relish the role of devil's advocate) this is a theme Momus regularly prods and pokes with his metaphorical big stick. However, it generally remains a side issue, bubbling in the background and very rarely seething to the surface as it has in his latest outpouring. One suspects he wants to cause a reaction, a stir, ruffle a few feathers, get noticed, and so, in that sense I am clearly playing into his hands!

That said, I don't think he can really be allowed to get away with everything he puts forward in his "Brutish critique". Some of his remarks are gross generalisations which tend to sound just a tad rich coming from someone who doesn't, as he keeps reminding us, actually live here! Someone's got fight our corner!

That's not to say I disagree with everything he has to say. Far from it. Living in London (and by default, Britain) I often get frustrated by a lack of vision on the part of others, see the suspicion accompanying any notion of change, and note the implied "who do you think you are(s)" directed at anyone daring to be different. I've experienced it myself over the last few years whether putting together multimedia art scams (Chunnel Vision), trying to make low band, lo-fi super 8 films (Fickle, Satie, Stockhausen), or attempting to fuse and confuse different art styles and cultures (Bonjour Strasbourg/Mylau Experience).

We're not all the same!

What I'm trying to say is, yes, the "we don't think that way" brigade do exist in Britain and London (and I'm sure in every other major city in the world) but that's not to say, as Momus implies,  that everyone here is like that! Sure, London isn't perfect and may well be less relaxed than its transatlantic cousin when it comes to art, sex and creativity, but that's not to say it isn't happening here. 

Currently London is more alive than it has been for years in terms of art (witness Tate Modern), architecture (Tate Modern again, the Millennium bridge, the Dome (alright, the inside may be a moot point but no one can fault it from the outside!) and the whole South Bank regeneration proposals), and politics (devolvement of political power from the centre to the people can only be a good thing). 

The streets are full of creative subversives all happily doing their own thing, writing, performing, watching and, yes, playing! Come with me on any Tuesday night to  Covent Garden's Poetry Cafe and see for yourself what a buzzing performance scene and bohemian atmosphere is currently developing right in the heart of the capital. Scan "Time Out" for a band or film to see on any given night and you'll quickly find yourself wishing you could be in two places simultaneously. Oh yes, London is definitely happening and what's more, I'm sure the depth and range of things to do, places to see, people to meet etc can compete with whatever NY has to offer! 

And what of being different?

Momus obviously felt constrained in Britain, and furthermore:

"....trained to expect people to hate the freedoms I habitually grab, and to try to take them away  from me."

He is more relaxed in New York where everyone it would seem is an artist, creator or curator of some sort or other. All "outsiders" become insiders. This can lead to lazy art because there's nothing to kick or react against. Conversely, in Britain, with its outmoded class system still lurking in the background and its so-called "fear of difference", art is much more essential. Many artists I know relish the thought of being true "subversives" or "outsiders", doing things to alienate the establishment, being seen to be different and in so doing, making a difference. 

But I agree that all is not perfect in London. Attitudes need changing, communities nurturing. There's a lot of work to be done, and a large role for the artist in this, which is perhaps all the more reason to stay and fight the good fight, instead of decamping and bemoaning the status quo from afar! 

Honeymoon period

I'm glad Momus is happy in America. Maybe the good life really does exist over there. Perhaps New York is the most cosmopolitan of metropolises and the unkind, unencouraging and unpleasant really does sum up "in a nutshell the feeling of British life", but I suspect Momus is  getting a little carried away in all the euphoria and excitement that accompanies change. 

A final thought: If Momus found Britain's values, attitudes and laws to be so restrictive and conservative I certainly wouldn't advise him to move to any of the deep southern states in the country in which he now resides! He may be in for a nasty shock!

May '00  

 
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