Momus is an 18th century Scottish man of letters living in 21st century London. On behalf of his readers he will henceforth be gadding about boldly on the fringes of bohemia carrying a feather quill and a digital camcorder, recording with earnest care the sayings of great men and women and trying to set down in writing the tenor of life in the great city. These are indeed exciting times in which to be alive.
THE DEATH OF ART
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Momus. I am by trade a musician, but as a man of leisure and a man of letters, I can turn my hand to the trade of writing when it pleases me.
Although I don't wear a tall powdered wig (except perhaps a digital one added in Photoshop) you may find me infuriatingly mannered at times. Nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, I promise that if you read Boswell 2001 you may find much that is stimulating and curious.
For London 1997 is a world of art galleries, internet coffee houses, vigorous and elegant debate, vicious public spats between fops and dandies, web squibs fired by hacks with poison pens, the squalid lust of would-be celebrities for fame and glory, the anarchy of the pluri-ethnic multitudes teeming the streets, and, etched like stars above it all, the dreams and visions of the great city's poets and artists.
Today I will tell you about my encounters, in the flesh, by telephone and fax and over the web, with the artists Georgina Starr, Tracey Emin and Jessica Voorsanger, and the satirical poet Murray Lachlan Young.
Like me, these artists are people with the utterly strange job of... why, just imagining. Flirting with that which interests them, pursuing this quirk, that hunch, those fancies...
I first met Georgina Starr a couple of weeks ago at the South London gallery in Peckham. A week later we had lunch at the Viet Hoa, the simple Vietnamese canteen on Kingsland Road where the art community of Hoxton can be seen sipping pho soup and swigging lager purchased in the Vietnamese off license across the road.
Miss Star is part of a new wave of women artists whose work is quirky, personal, heartfelt, confessional, paranoid... everything the cool minimal Goldsmith's generation of Damian Hirst wasn't. Her friend Tracey Emin has her motto painted in huge letters on the wall above her show: 'I need art like I need God'. These women are almost Outsider artists, people who create because a life without imagination simply isn't worth living.
Miss Starr, an engaging, jumpy and friendly girl who once studied to be a dancer, has embarked on an ambitious multimedia project. 'Tuberama', the musical of the short story of the cartoon strip of the painting, is about sitting on the tube and feeling a bit paranoid about the people opposite you: are they pervs, are they farting, and who would be their leader if the train broke down for a week?
The flight of fantasy that follows reminds me of Alisdair Gray's 'Lanark'. Starr's tube train travels through stations magically transformed into glitzy showbiz sets to the land of Doppelstat, populated by doppelgangers of the train's passengers.
Georgina explained to me that for her, paranoia is a magical state of mind, because it's all about entering the realm of the imaginary. For instance, although she doesn't really like horror films, she rents videos of the slash 'n' stalk variety and tapes the soundtrack, then walks around the city listening to them on a Walkman, the creepy music and sudden violent sound effects somehow lifting everything onto another level of reality. Once she bumped into Gilbert and George just when the Walkman reached a horrible knifing episode, and it was... splendidly creepy.
One of Georgina's comic strips describes a future world in which people live according to the precepts laid down in the lyrics of love songs. My own song 'Rhetoric' is cited, alongside songs by Edwyn Collins and Paul Macartney, as the holy texts of this imaginary world.
Another artist who has elevated pop stars to god status is Jessica Voorsanger. She specialises in the art of starlust. At the age of six, thanks to David Cassady, she developed the mental condition known as puppylove, and now she rakes through Bob Geldof's trash and exhibits the contents, proclaiming it art.
Miss Voorsanger, a New Yorker who, like Jeff Koons, once worked at the Whitney Museum, told me that Mr Geldof expressed an interest in buying his rubbish back from her, but that she had refused. I was slightly disappointed that the world had been denied the spectacle of Bob throwing it out again, only to have Jessica collect it before the Kensington and Chelsea dustbin lorry reached it, duly selling it back to Sir Bob at art world prices... and so on in an endless inflationary spiral of aesthetic recycling.
When she had her baby, Jessica Voorsanger wrote to a list of film and pop stars asking if she could name her little girl after them. Many, like Emma Freud and Joanna Lumley, said yes. These letters were exhibited in a show at the Camden Arts Centre. What the celebrities don't know is that they were not the sole model: the little girl is now called Etta Ruby Rula Honor Twiggy Joanna Hayley Emma Jethro Voorsanger.
Jessica told me that since she is featured in Mathew Collings' new book about British art, 'Blimey!', and since one of the publishers of this book is a certain Mr David Bowie, she had secured an invitation to the book's launch in the hope of engineering some new celebrity scam by combining the procedures of Dennis Pennis and Marcel Duchamp. Mr Bowie had, alas, been surrounded by bodyguards but Michael Palin of Monty Python had, quite literally, bumped into her.
Tracey Emin had more luck. She was sitting in a cafe in her native Margate when her mobile rang. It was David Bowie asking if she would interview him for Raygun magazine.
If he'd been at the South London Gallery three weeks ago, when Miss Emin and Headcoats singer Billy Childish reminisced about how they infected each other with gonhorrea and pissed on each other back in the early 80s, he might have thought twice about his choice.
ONE MILLION POUNDS
It could all be straight out of one of the satirical poems of Murray Lachlan Young, the extraordinarily talented Scottish poet who is opening for the Pet Shop Boys on their current residency at the Savoy Theatre on the Strand, and with whom I sipped cocktails at the Savoy's American Bar.
Young's poems, set to tense lounge music and delivered with the arch and mannered disdain of Noel Coward, resemble the cautionary tales of Hilaire Belloc. 'Absolutely everybody's doing cocaine,' he groans in one, while another imagines the odd cultural paradox of 'Hardcore techno... unplugged'. Perhaps most relevant to our theme, though, is 'The Death Of Art', an epic which relates the birth, life and death of the miraculous boy Art who, quite simply, IS art, and who, after selling every last burp and fart and attaining enormous celebrity, commits suicide... only to fetch the highest price of all for his corpse.
Mr Young has himself just received a million pounds from EMI Records in exchange for his signature on a recording contract.
FAX PING PONG
To come full circle, yesterday I received a fax from Georgina Starr. She had heard that I am an authority on Serge Gainsbourg, and wanted to know more about his novel, 'Evguenie Sokolov'. It is the story of a painter whose revolutionary 'seisomographic' style has as its secret source his perennial flatulence and who, after composing a symphony of farts, dies of an explosion of intestinal gases.
Perhaps Miss Starr will make the musical of this admirable novel, Miss Voorsanger will collect and vend the actors' rectal gases, and Mr Bowie will publish a book about it all.
Life will continue to imitate art as it continues to imitate life. Ever more fame will accrue to the famous as they compel us to admire their ever more sensational deeds. In the great city nothing is ever wasted. It is a splendid time in which to be alive.