Interlude Docs

Doc 108: Nick Currie (Momus)

The Dealer is Dead

In 2004 I wrote a song called The Artist Overwhelmed, based on a title the Swiss Romantic artist Johann Heinrich Füssli, in the late 1770s, gave to a drawing of the ruins of Rome: Der Künstler verzweifelnd vor der Grösse der antiken Trümmer. The word for “overwhelmed”—verzweifelnd—means despairing, frantic, frustrated and forlorn, and could literally be translated as “split in two”. Confronted by the broken body parts of statuary on display at the Capitoline Museum, Henry Fuseli (as he’s known in the English-speaking world) felt as if his own body were being wrenched apart by grief. The past, it seems, can never be matched; all things must pass; our longings can never be assuaged.
The lyrics of my song are as follows:
The Artist Overwhelmed
(Otto Spooky, 2004)
The artist overwhelmed
By the grandeur of ancient ruins
The ruins of life
The passing of time
Like bodies, like minds
We pass
Hold me, converse with me
In Italy, intelligently
Drinking coffee in the shadow
Of muscular statuary
Kiss me eternally
On the iPod Christoph Willibald Gluck
The white face and the mime
The pierrot and the queen
Plaster dust is on your face
Clasp me in your marble grasp
In the midst of life there is death
“I give pleasure to all
I will go wherever you want me
If you sing or talk to me
I will retain your songs or words
And repeat them to you at your pleasure
I can enable you to always play
The voices of your loved ones
Even though they are far away
I talk in every language
I can help you to learn other languages
The more you become acquainted with me
The better you will like me”
April 25, 1906, advertisement for Edison’s phonograph, in Brookhaven’s Semi-Weekly Daily Leader
The voice at the end of the song—slowed, warped, distorted, edited—belongs to Len Spencer, and was recorded in 1906 at Edison Studios, West Orange, New Jersey as an advertisement for the Edison Phonograph. Spencer becomes the voice of this new invention, the wax cylinder record player. The speech can be heard in full here:
The Edison advertisement—designed to be played on the machine in stores—includes many promises, not least the proposal of the phonograph as a means to overcoming the ephemerality of musical performances and loved voices. In this sense the Edison phonograph serves as yet another human invention—like marble statuary—designed to arrest the damaging passage of time, and doomed therefore to fail, or succeed only partially. 
The recording—already blurred and garbled by the decay wrought by time—says:
“I am the Edison phonograph, created by the great wizard of the New World to delight those who would have melody or be amused. I can sing you tender songs of love. I can give you merry tales and joyous laughter. I can transport you to the realms of music. I can cause you to join in the rhythmic dance. I can lull the babe to sweet repose, or waken in the aged heart soft memories of youthful days.
No matter what may be your mood, I am always ready to entertain you. When your day’s work is done, I can bring the theater or the opera to your home. I can give you grand opera, comic opera or vaudeville. I can give you sacred or popular music, dance, orchestra or instrumental music. I can render solos, duets, trios, quartets. I can aid in entertaining your guests. When your wife is worried after the cares of the day, and the children are boisterous, I can rest the one and quiet the other. I never get tired and you will never tire of me, for I always have something new to offer.
I give pleasure to all, young and old. I will go wherever you want me, in the parlor, in the sickroom, on the porch, in the camp or to your summer home. If you sing or talk to me, I will retain your songs or words, and repeat them to you at your pleasure. I can enable you to always hear the voices of your loved ones, even though they are far away. I talk in every language. I can help you to learn other languages. I am made with the highest degree of mechanical skill. My voice is the clearest, smoothest and most natural of any talking machine. The name of my famous master is on my body, and tells you that I am a genuine Edison phonograph.
The more you become acquainted with me, the better you will like me. Ask the dealer.”
One cannot, of course, ask the dealer. The dealer is dead.

—Momus, Edinburgh, September 20th 2023

Header: Der Künstler verzweifelnd vor der Grösse der antiken Trümmer (The Artist’s Despair Before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins), Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1778-1780.

Nick Currie, more popularly known under the artist name Momus, is a Scottish musician and writer. For over forty years he has been releasing music albums on labels in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan. Momus has published six novels included The Book of Jokes (Dalkey Archive Press, 2009), The Book of Scotlands (Sternberg Press, 2009), The Book of Japans (Sternberg Press, 2011), and UnAmerica (Penny-Ante Press, 2014). In 2020, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published Niche: a memoir in pastiche in which Momus tells the story of his creative life through fictional eyewitness statements from famous historic figures. 


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