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I've plummeted back to Berlin amidst some oddities and ironies. Firstly, although there are dirty blankets of snow on the ground here and the temperatures are consistently several degrees below zero, Berlin feels a lot warmer than Osaka. People here heat their houses, and even when you go out you experience the cold only as a dry, sharp pang on your face and some slithery ice and snow underfoot. The Japanese thing of getting cold deep in your bones, of dreading the trip to the bathroom, just doesn't apply here. I'm wearing my samurai chanchanko top purely for the pose factor:



The second irony is that I hurried home from Japan this week to deliver an address entitled "Love of Blogging" to a seminar at the Freie Universität here in Berlin. Organised by Miya Yoshida, the seminar was umbrella-titled Tag the World: Collective Work and the Notion of the Amateur in the Age of the WWW. You can see my half-hour slot in this uStream video (scroll forward to 02:32:00 -- yes, two hours in -- and kill the annoying ads). As I began by pointing out, my love of blogging has largely come to an end, and I'm seeking other forms of expression, including much older, less amateur ones like ink-and-paper.

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My other engagement this week is an interview I'm recording on Friday with BBC Radio 2 about Jacques Brel (it's transmitted later in the year). The irony here is that I've felt increasingly distant from Jacques Brel (who nevertheless helped finance my Japanese trip, God bless him, via the fees for the Brel Barbican concerts) and would feel much more comfortable talking about the new film about Serge Gainsbourg, who sort of replaced Brel in my personal pantheon of heroes circa 1987.

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Gainsbourg: vie héroïque (Being Serge Gainsbourg) is a new biopic by Joann Sfar starring ringer Eric Elmosnino as Serge, Philippe Katerine as Boris Vian and Lucy Gordon (who sadly committed suicide recently) as Jane Birkin. It's great to see Katerine (a friend, fellow Gainsbourg fanatic, and fellow Kahimi Karie collaborator when I lived in Paris in the mid-90s) singing alongside the uncannily-good, spectrally-accurate Elmosnino. Interview me about the hook-nosed tender pervert instead, BBC!
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Momus, Hisae and Yoyo visited the arty f*cking island of Naoshima, in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, on an unfairly beautiful day in early January 2010. See, this is why I hate this man with a huge f*cking hatecrush.

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My name's Dick Murray, by the way, and Momus got me to do the narrative for his holiday slideshow because he couldnae be arsed himself. What a gantin' heedfeather.
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• In a way, the ten-hour flight from Osaka to Helsinki on a Finnair A330 is just a bus trip. People keep the window shades down, watch the seatback TV. In another way, it's extraordinary, an elastic day that streches lunchtime from East Asia to Europe, a jet that hangs under the sun and travels for five or six hours across the world's largest continuous landmass, containing some of the most freezing, gorgeous, mysterious landscapes on the planet. If this were a bus, your trip from Scunthorpe to Sunderland would go via Saturn. I don't understand people who aren't fascinated. I can gaze down on Siberia for hours.



• Vladivostok, Yakutsk, Novosibirsk. The names pop up on the route map amongst huge areas of empty space. Not many people live in this vast, icy waste that sometimes looks like craters and lunar ice, and sometimes like green plains curling with rivers. Well, I say not many, but Wikipedia corrects me: not many for its size. This enormous part of Northern Asia constitutes 77% of Russia's territory, but contains 25% of its population (36 million people). I wonder if more will move here if global warming continues? Already the winters are less cold:

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• Europeans flying to Japan see this otherness (an otherness far more vast than anything that awaits them in Japan) below them for hours and hours. For the nervous flyer, it's hard not to associate it with death. I remember Mike Alway reporting to me, after the el Records Japan trip in 1987, "Siberia is like the surface of the moon. You're very aware that if the plane went down there'd be just nothing." It is, after all, minus 50c down there. You'd die within hours.

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• Gazing down at Siberia on an almost-annual basis since the early 90s, I've found the place occupying my imagination, linking the idea of death with the idea of beauty. I wrote Trans-Siberian Express in 1992, a poem which asks you to "abandon this world for the next, cross the great plain of forgetfulness". The lyrics are here and the song itself is here.



• As a teenager I read Solzenitzen's accounts of the Siberian gulags, and revisited them a few years later in the form of Nadezhda Mandelstam's account of the exile to Vladivostok of her husband, Osip, the poet who died in a camp for comparing Stalin's fingers to stubby worms.

• "He knelt closer to the kotatsu table. There were a couple of drawings on tracing paper, and a map of the settlements of forgotten Siberian tribes living around the Sea of Okhotsk: Nao had been studying the disappearing culture of the Evenki and Eveny peoples; the Negidals, Oroks and Koryaks." From The Book of Jokes.



* Siberia (and other cold places) have also cropped up on Click Opera quite a bit: In Båtsfjord on the Barents Sea and Call this cold? This is nothing!, for instance, which is set in the Siberian city of Yakutsk (the one the girl in the video above says is getting warmer).



• It was lunchtime when we left Japan, and it was still lunchtime when we crossed the Ural Mountains, milky, jagged and orange -- the dividing line between European Russia and Asian Siberia. I remembered how I'd played a concert here in 2004, and planned to make an album called Tatartronic.

• Turning away from the window, I started watching the screen between the seats in front of me. There was a film showing the brilliant whites of wintry wastes, the bright oranges of padded boiler suits, and the stark environment of a research station. This turned out to be the 2007 Japanese film Nankyoku Ryorinin, or Chef of the South Polar.

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• Typically Japanese, the film was a harmless, quirky and likeable comedy centred on teamwork and cuisine. Big questions of death and sex were eschewed in favour of winning little anecdotal moments: the team pelt the chef with peanuts for the setsubun festival, steal ramen, pose naked in front of a sign declaring the temperature to be minus 60c.



• The chef's tale is based on two novels by Jun Nishimura, who really was a chef with a Japense research team in the Antarctic. But a rather more interesting account (in the way that imagination often has the edge on reality) may be from a man who's never been there. Vito Acconci contributed a piece called Halley II Research Station: First Impressions & the Beginnings of a Conceptual Approach to a show last year I was also in, as it happens: A Spoken Word Exhibition at the Baltic Mill in Gateshead.



• Acconci's spoken text describes an unbuilt architectural proposal for a research station in the Antarctic. Above is the one that was built, which is called Halley VI Research Station.

* When I announced the end of Click Opera three months ago, I happened to run a picture showing an Antarctic passenger vehicle called a Delta, a big red bus with tires five feet tall. Amazingly enough, one of my readers (someone called Mananath) was reading Click Opera from the McMurdo Staion in Antarctica and responded by telling me he was about to drive a similar vehicle out to the airport. Its name? Ivan the Terrabus.



• And -- to bring us full circle -- it was Ivan the Terrible who conquered Siberia for Russia.
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It's the last day, alas, of this Japan trip. Tomorrow I fly back to Berlin, and today I'm heading up to Kyoto to see Doddodo in concert. It's been a gorgeous six weeks, in which I've seen amazing sights and also tried to provide an amusing visual spectacle to my hosts, the people of the enchanted archipelago. Today, in retrospect and celebration, I'm offering a selection of the ludicrous outfits I've been wearing.



Click for more outfits... )
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When I visit a place, fantasies of living there start to tug at the edges of my imagination. How would I survive economically here? Which area would I pick to live in? How would I decorate my new apartment? How much rent would I have to pay? Would I ride a bike? How would I dress? Which cafes and clubs would I begin to haunt? Who would become my new friends?



Since this is a game of fantasy, it would be easy to imagineer oneself into some chintzy turreted mansion in a rich, flashy neighbourhood. Dreaming costs nothing, so why dream small, right? But fantasy doesn't work like that, for me, anyway. The most evocative fantasy is one with only the thinnest membrane between itself and reality; it gets its power from being eminently possible. From being a plan. So actually, my imagination thrives on rather austere, impoverished scenarios. I like to project myself into rather stark, cheap, working class districts, and imagine some kind of free vie de boheme unfolding in them.



So here's a fantasy, and here's a plan. Let's say I come to live in Osaka, sometime later this year. Yes, why not? It's a new decade, and I always like to get up and go somewhere new when the calendar changes. Ten years ago I moved, fairly haphazardly, to New York. Yesterday I got a flashback to how the Lower East Side called out to me in 1999. That year I trekked down Orchard Street, photographing abandoned TV sets and piles of Chinese boxes on the sidewalks. A few months later I was living there.

Walking through the wholesale light industrial area between Shinsekai and Nipponbashi yesterday, I actually felt something like what I felt on Orchard Street ten years ago, before the art galleries moved in. I have nothing against art galleries moving in, but I like to catch a cheap, mixed-use, working class neighbourhood on the turn; that moment when there's just one art gallery is a special one. As it happens there is one peculiar little art gallery in my target area, one with the right kind of shabby underground energy. It seems to be called 御蔵跡. It's located in an old building here in Haki Haki town, an area famous for wholesale and specialty footwear stores (plastic toilet shoes, slippers, trad Japanese sandals).



I've never seriously thought about living in Osaka before. I love Tokyo best of all. But increasingly, my outlook has Berlinified, by which I mean I regard expensive cities like New York, London and Tokyo as unsuited to subculture. They're essentially uncreative because creative people living there have to put too much of their time and effort into the meaningless hackwork which allows them to meet the city's high rents and prices. So disciplines like graphic design and television thrive, but more interesting types of art are throttled in the cradle. The most Berlin-ish neighbourhood in Tokyo is secondhand-town Koenji, and that's the place I've felt increasingly drawn to on recent visits. But Osaka actually offers something much more like the Berlin environment, which may be one reason my musical heroes -- people like Doddodo and Oorutaichi -- live here.



Getting a glimpse of Doddodo's Nipponbashi flat was also a bit of an inspiration. We met her in the Misono Building, itself a splendidly peeling underground and nocturnal place, the kind of building only possible in a city that allows itself some creative decay. Misono, once a chic shopping arcade near Namba station, is now full of weird countercultural bars. After drinking there, Doddodo took us to her place nearby to fetch a DVD she wanted to give me. She lives right by one of the area's quirky, bustling, gritty shopping arcades; food shopping must take her five minutes. The flat was in some disorder, so we waited outside, but I glimpsed drawings and paintings-in-progress through the door.



In Tokyo terms, Nipponbashi would be Akihabara; bounding it on one side is a long street (dominated by a huge Gundam cut-out) full of electronics and porn DVD stores (as well as an amazing retro record shop). Serving the otaku clientele, the backstreets feature a number of Maid Cafes. And that's a reminder of one way Osaka is totally unlike Berlin. Despite its shabby bits, Osaka is a vastly wealthy city (if it were a country, it would be one of the world's richest) with a vulgar commercial energy Berlin can't begin to match. Osaka is massive, industrious and dense, and there are businesses here that cater to every imagineable human whim, and that don't close on Sundays. And if you want to escape the density and intensity, well, the mountains of Shikoku aren't far.



So how much would it cost to have your own apartment in Osaka? The answer is, surprisingly little. This rental advert, for instance, shows an apartment you could have for just 30,000 yen a month. Now, sure, it's only 7 metres square, and sure, it doesn't have a bathroom or a kitchen. But come on, be creative! You could pee into a pet bottle and eat takeaway okonomiyaki. After all, your monthly rent is just 226 euros! And you're living in Osaka, a place known for its cheap and excellent food. As for washing, grab soap and a towel and go to the sento! Most importantly, employ the time freed up by not having to be employed to make some good art!
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Hisae, Yoyo and I spent Monday being shown around some extraordinary buildings in Onomichi, a port town on the Inland Sea sometimes used by Ozu for his films (it escaped bombing in the war), and dominated by an eerie temple pagoda perched on a rock. We spent Sunday night in a slightly spooky old house occupied by two university students, then, after a breakfast of bread from a tiny and excellent bakery, artist Kiyohito Mikami guided us through the warren of hillside pedestrian streets to look at some art projects he and Tamaki Ono have set up in some of Onomichi's 400 unoccupied houses. His project is called AIR Onomichi (AIR stands for Artists in Residence).



The most impressive of the refurbished structures is the Gaudi house, a cramped, ramshackle, elegant wooden structure built right up against the concreted hillside in the early 1930s. As Domus magazine explains, this house was built for a prosperous factory owner. It took one carpenter three years to build it, and had been lying abandoned for ten years when a young woman called Masako Toyota managed to buy the derelict structure for the bargain price of $25,000.



Over the last couple of years the house has been slowly refurbished by AIR. Artists have lived there and made installations, and opening parties for Onomichi art events are held there. Masako, Mikami and Tamaki have been careful to preserve the 1930s character of the house, leaving the original furniture and decorations even while they let contemporary artists decorate certain areas of the house. So you see a screen door with an intricate modern drawing of a fantastic cityscape next to a recess with a photo of a young Emperor Hirohito in it, a 1930s radio, or a copy of a book by Pirandello (this factory owner had good taste!).



I found the Gaudi house (the Gaudi bit is just a nickname, but I think "the Pirandello House" fits better) incredibly atmospheric; an extraordinary mixture of elegant and cramped, lucid and absurd. The carpenter who built it had to squeeze in a stair landing that was more like a ledge, which made the trip to the library and balcony excitingly hazardous. The main tatami-and-screen room had the most beautiful window shapes, and throughout there were gorgeous circular forms in the panes and shutters.



Some areas of the house are still impassable, and it basically stands open to the air; you can see the concrete of the hillside at the end of one of the rooms. It must be great in summer -- though a visitor's guide to Onomichi, prepared by AIR, says that you have to learn to live in tranquility with insects.



It was, of course, impossible to forget that the house dates from an imperialist and even fascist moment in Japan's history. Even the Pirandello book is a cultural connection to a fellow Axis power, the Italy of Mussolini. The Onomichi owner probably bought it because the year after his house was completed, Pirandello won the Nobel Prize for literature.




Artists have made the house reflect more personal concerns; Motoi Yamamoto filled it with dead-end paths in a salt labyrinth, a secret memorial to his sister, who died as a child.



I found the kitchen and bathroom particularly interesting; hibachi braziers and toilets that have to have their shit carried away periodically by benny trucks present a very different input-output technology than the kind we're used to. So while I could picture myself sitting in the library, reading Pirandello in the original Italian and listening to the latest reports from Abyssinia on the valve radio provided, I think I'd probably nip down to the local combini -- and the 21st century -- for calls of nature.

By the way, do check out Pirandello's writing if you've never heard of him. It's incredibly lively and funny, relativistic and absurdist. His short stories influenced me quite a bit when I was a student.
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Four years ago, sitting in the same Osaka room I'm in now, I wrote a lament entitled Why are Japanese houses so cold? Then, as now, it was January and I was avoiding a freezing Berlin winter in which temperatures were plunging to minus 15 centigrade or so. Today, as it happens, Osaka may see sub-zero temperatures (well, minus one) and some snow, according to forecasts. That's exceptional, but nothing compared to the chilly grip the rest of the northern hemisphere has been clasped in recently.



This is a good time, then, to talk about a set of particularly cheerful heating devices I've been "collecting" on my travels. The sekiyu sutobu is a kerosene stove-heater with a kettle sitting atop it. It warms the room, and keeps the water for your tea constantly hot.



While Japan, with its warm Pacific winters, may never have needed to deploy Germany's air-tight double-glazing and efficient radiator combo, or Korea's amazing underfloor heating, it's developed a series of stop-gap pinpoint heating solutions, hot patches for the problem posed by its flimsy wood-framed houses. Some are literally hot patches (hokkairo) you stick on your body containing chemicals which, when triggered, glow slowly. Others are weird amalgams of furniture and heating, like the kotatsu table, a combination low table, heater and blanket which keeps your legs warm while a chanchanko, or padded tartan waistcoat, takes care of your upper half.



My favourite Japanese heating solution, though, is the sekiyu stove. With its glowing fire-window, the kerosene heater becomes a portable hearth, a warm focal point for a room. That must be why these heaters are so often deployed (along with folded blankets) in fashionable Japanese cafes, the kind where you leaf through old magazines sitting in comfortable chairs and listening to tasteful jazz or bossa nova music, and surrounded by demure girls in their twenties.



The kerosene heater is one I remember from my youth -- in our cottage in Perthshire we had a blue one, but never balanced hot water on top (I'd imagine toddlers would topple it easily, scalding themselves and setting the house on fire into the bargain). We have both "kerosene culture" and "tea culture" in Scotland, but have never thought to put them together. That part took Japanese genius, or rather some creative borrowing from Chinese culture.



The sekiyu sutobu is basically a development of the older hibachi, a charcoal tray used to heat things. Above you see a couple of hibachi braziers. Like the hibachi, the sekiyu sutobu can be used to heat food as well as just water; sometimes people use them for nabe.



As the photos show, I delight in all the different forms the heaters can take, and how they fit into various Japanese rooms, from the humblest police koban to the trendiest art gallery or cafe. The sekiyu sutobu may seem like a 19th century technology in a 21st century environment, but stealth innovation is hidden within the quaint form of the device; companies like Showa Shell have developed new bio-fuels ("clean kerosene") for them to run on, and electronic ignition systems have made them even cheaper relative to electric heaters (they cost about half as much to run).

The ubiquitous, fashionable sekiyu sutobu heater, old but trendy, cheap but also a "thing of the heart", might just be one of the best symbols of a Japan which feels, well, rather warm about some of the post-materialist values its long, slow recession is bringing.
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Apologies for the lapse in Click Opera service; I exchanged a web browser for a car windscreen from Friday to Monday and drove an automatic Daihatsu Naked onto Seto Inland Sea ferries and up and down the mountains of Shikoku. Hisae, Yoyo and I had so many adventures and saw so many inspiring sights it's hard to know where to begin, but I'll start with Japanese country style, which we all adopted after raiding a timewarp clothes shop in Kamiyama run by an 83 year-old lady.



We'd just descended the mountain after teasing the car along hilariously narrow one-track roads -- ledges, really, scarily steep and snowy at high altitudes -- when we discovered this shop. It seemed to be closed -- all the lights were off, and it was a Sunday -- but the girls tried the door, found it was unlocked, and went in. The decoration was very 1940s.



A cute little old lady soon appeared from the house next door and started shouting and laughing, asking us questions and telling us her age proudly.



We all bought padded slacks and jackets, and I got a sort of mini rucksack bag and some pink socks. I was tempted by some elasticated floral forearm covers that hook over a finger (the farmers' version of armlets forming part of the kuroko or kabuki stagehand costume I was wearing in New York last year, which suggests a link between farmers and theatre), but found the patterns too feminine in the end. The clothes made us look like the agricultural workers (often very elderly) we'd been seeing from the car working in the fields, sometimes high up in the mountains. Here's what I look like in my outfit (which cost about $30 in total):



In some of the supermarkets in small towns in Japan you get local produce sections where photographs of the producers of particular local foodstuffs are displayed alongside their wares. I find this fascinating, not just because we so rarely see the makers of the things we buy in stores, or because making small producers visible is a step towards my vision of input-output shops, but because the "fashion" displayed in the photographs is so bloody great.

Here's a selection of snaps of the garb worn by farmers working on either side of the Seto Inland Sea. In a way some of these stern, kind people resemble the Shakers, but they're also rather like feudal peasants. A lot of roadside Japan looks feudal, but it's a horizontal feudalism where everyone is liege and serf by turn.





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• The photo of the world's longest bridge, which is also the most expensive to cross. I took this photo from the Tako ferry, in order to avoid paying $150 to cross the bridge. The sun was setting and the bridge was lit dramatically against enormous clouds.



• The photo of our satisfying stark and trad ryokan room in Takamatsu, the port town on the northern coast of Shikoku. Part of my naked torso can be seen framed in a dark doorway, looking very Francis Bacon. But the main subject of the picture is the beautiful red duvet, with a snap-on sheet rounding the futon's corners.



• The forbidden photo of the elephant's secret vagina in Shinro Ohtake's glorious Naoshima bathhouse, I (heart) Yu. Plus, I guess. the snap I furtively grabbed of myself naked there, when I had the room to myself. Very bad.



• The photo of Hisae "doing a Harry Worth" on the mirrored pillar at the SANAA Naoshima Ferry Terminal. Harry Worth is a British 1960s comedian whose opening sequence showed him bisected laterally by a mirror, raising one arm and one leg. SANAA are the world's greatest and most understated architects.



• Literally umpteen hundred photos -- all taken in perfect sunny weather -- of the artists' house installations on Naoshima, a sort of permanent biennial crossed with a cultural / religious theme park. I say "religious" because going into an underground chamber to see Hiroshi Sugimoto's glass staircase and his framing of the sea, or entering a pitch-black James Turrell hut and gradually "seeing the light" is like experiencing some ultra-slick new religion designed by artists.

I can't show you these photos because I don't have a laptop with me. I also can't show you tomorrow's snaps of my adventures with Yoyo and Hisae in the wilds of Shikoku because tomorrow hasn't happened yet, and because we have no idea what we'll get up to.
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Here I am sipping a G&T last night with Matsuri-kei star Doddodo in the Misono Building, a strange labyrinth of countercultural bars (there's one for Gothic Lolitas, one for stuffed rabbit enthusiasts, and so on).



Today I'm heading round the coast in the Daihatsu Naked with Yoyo and Hisae. We'll lunch in Kobe then head across various headlands, spits and peninsulas to Shikoku, lodge somewhere near Takamatsu, then take the first ferry on Saturday morning to Naoshima. Here's the SANAA ferry terminal on that island:

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Finally, a reminder that I lecture at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto on Tuesday. It's open to the public, and begins at 10.40am:

Momus lecture: My Life in Art
Tuesday, January 12th
10:40 a.m. - 12:10 p.m., including time for questions & discussion w/ students.
Soshikan Conference Room (創思館コンファレンスルーム, next to the clock tower)
Ritsumeikan University, Kinugasa Campus, NW Kyoto, close to Kinkakuji
Some simultaneous translation into Japanese will be provided.
Open to the public.
Map.
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Well, all those mentions of the Broad&Market style blog paid off; yesterday I got to reprazent Abeno, Osaka (apologies to all the much cooler Abeno kids who wouldn't have looked as chubby as I do in the lead picture; it's all layering, I swear). The most important part of the interview Maggie includes is the bit where I say: "My policy is probably to evoke some kind of otherness and to refute the global monoculture in some way... I’m struggling against it by using other reductive norms like workwear — that’s a bit of a paradox... So workwear, or like, kabuki clothes or gardener’s clothes or peasant’s clothes, or sportswear like golfing wear."



To that list of othernesses I'd like today to add a new category: pilgrimwear. From Friday to Monday I'll be traveling in Shikoku with Hisae and Yoyo (seen above on Christmas day in the amazing tea pavilion that stands in the garden at her family house in Hinoo). Now, art, friendship, hot water and food are really the goals of our "pilgrimage" (we hope to visit the art island of Naoshima and bathe in Shinro Ohtake's amazing bathhouse), but Shikoku is also famous for its 88-temple pilgrimage. Below you can see the traditional white garb of the Shikoku pilgrim. Dōgyō futari on the sign means "two traveling together".



Pilgrimwear is a good dress lexicon to adopt for various reasons. First, it's an ancient dress style, yet not dodo-dead; it's still worn by pilgrims in Japan today. Secondly, it's leisurewear, not workwear. So it avoids the usual recontextualisation paradox by which the look of other people's unfreedom is shiftily reframed as the look of one's own freedom. (To all those wearing jeans, you do realise that you're voluntarily wearing the clothes cotton-picking slaves were forced to, don't you?)



The otherness quotient of pilgrimwear is fabulously high, and yet the look doesn't stifle itself in piety, as, say, priestwear would (though I must say I have a yen for the conch-playing priest's garb in my Tiger Mountain video). Pilgrims, after all, are secular amateurs merely visiting, in a touristic way, religious sites. And as any reader of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales will tell you, pilgrims can be a rowdy, bawdy lot. A religious trip can be a pretext for carousing and even become arousing; in The Art of Love Ovid sees temples as pick-up joints, and Chaucer's set of scabrous stories begins at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, where brothels, palaces and cathedrals stood side-by-side. What could be more natural than following the ingestion of incense with the letting-off of sexual steam?



So, although Japanese pilgrims evoke the same kind of ancient otherness the Hasidim do, you don't have to feel like a hypocrite, anti-semite or satirist walking around dressed up as one. You can just be... human.



But don't you have to be super-ascetic if you're going to be a pilgrim? Not really. Modern Japanese pilgrims take taxis, cars, buses and trains on their 88-temple pilgrimage. They eat hamburgers. Buddhism stresses "the middle way", not total asceticism. There was an interesting action recently by Chim↑Pom touching on this. Hisae and I attended the finissage performance for a show the renegade artist group held at Yamamoto Gendai gallery in Tokyo. Good to be a Mummy saw Chim↑Pom collaborating with friends Yasuyuki Nishio, Sachiko Kazama and Yoshimitsu Umekawa to make an exhibition themed around self-starvation.



Motomu Inaoka, a Chim↑Pom assistant, became a living sculpture for the show, losing so much weight during a fast that his ribcage began to poke uncomfortably through his chest skin. The idea of Sokushinbutsu (or "living body Buddha") was that a monk fasts while meditating then dies to become a mummy. A rather scary sculpture was made of Inaoka at his thinnest, but by the time we caught the show he'd put the weight back on again. Chim↑Pom passed a big heap of McDonalds hamburgers out to the crowd during the blow-out finissage party. Munching on this stereotypically monocultural food, I immediately wanted to embark on a fast (followed, perhaps, by a multi-temple pilgrimage) myself. It smelled and tasted like shit.
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I'm doing a little roundup of print-and-paper today, because it's something I'm fond of, in a retro-sentimental sort of way. I'm particularly interested in print's Unique Sales Proposition in the digital age; what it has to offer post-internet, or alongside-but-distinct-from-internet... if anything? When I "make myself scarce" by ending this blog on February 10th 2010, for instance, will I "graduate" from free to paid, purchasable, print-only writing?



That's what Momo Nonaka (right, above) seems to have done. Momo is an old friend, and from the 90s to the mid-noughties her blog Tigerlily made her one of Japan's best-known culture-bloggers. Now Momo is concentrating on print, and specifically zines. Tigerlily has become a paper magazine store called Lilmag. Momo is using the internet to distribute -- and blog about distributing -- her mags, but the products themselves are made of pure post-internet paper.

My alongside-internet, print-only novel The Book of Jokes gets an interesting review in the January edition of American literary review The Believer. Although The Believer is primarily a print publication, you can read Justin Taylor's review online. The reviews editor has tried an interesting "read-without-prejudice" experiment, sending Taylor my book without its cover or title pages, its spine blacked-out with a sharpie, and a ban on all googling. The result is a review I'm tempted to call "disorienteered", but also a satisfyingly context-free take on a wedge of paper, which is what a book finally is. This review doesn't rewrite the press release, but simply lets the unfolding text lead the reviewer through revulsion, amusement, disorientation, and trains of personal association. It's something I tried myself recently when I wrote a Playground column describing step-by-step my real-time discovery of a band called Hecuba. Taylor links my Book of Jokes to Lynne Tillman, a writer I met a couple of times in London in the 80s, via mutual friends, and who's apparently also written a book based on jokes (1999's No Lease on Life).

Turning to newspapers, the Israeli daily Haaretz mentions me today. Swiss "pop literature" writer Christian Kracht, in an interview with the paper, quotes the whole lyric to my song Germania, which, as I recall, was an attempt to channel a Germanic sensibility I'd found in art by Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys, and imagery from the poems of Paul Celan and Rainer Maria Rilke. Kracht is one of my most important print mentors -- he published my debut short story 7 Lies About Holger Hiller in literary review Der Freund in 2004, and he's the executive editor of the German edition of The Book of Jokes, which will appear this autumn on the Blumenbar / Buenos Aires imprint. More paper!

There's less paper in the world thanks to the official closure last month of ID magazine, the American design magazine to which I contributed regularly. I even managed to get a young Norwegian graphic design collective called Yokoland onto the cover. ID was great to write for, because they paid a dollar a word. This time last year I managed to live for about three months on their fees for three or four easy-to-write articles. The magazine's closure seems to reflect the axiom that anything the internet can do better than print, it will do better than print. Designers are well-served now by design blogs, which they expect to read free online.



Japanese magazines are still my favourite form of print (and since I can't read them, that must mean that print has some sort of talismanic-fetishistic quality for me). In the photo above (Tsutaya's "recommended titles" shelf) you can see the camera jyoshi mags called Phat and Snap. A camera jyoshi is a young woman who's obsessed with cameras and photography. She's about 22, possibly an art student. She usually has an elegant retro model of camera (she prefers film to digital) which may or may not be covered with stickers (as Ume Kayo's is). The only thing she likes more than photography is sitting in old cafes eating the tasty lunch set and leafing through old magazines, or traveling in other Asian countries. Hisae -- essentially a camera jyoshi herself (her photos grace the current edition of Apartamento magazine) -- flipped enviously through Phat and Snap and told me that there weren't all these titles for camera jyoshis when she was in her early 20s. Magazines must be doing something right if they're diversifying titles about obscure dead-tech hobbies.

I showed Maggie from street fashion / interview blog Broad&Market a Japanese mag called Tokyo Graffiti, and we both went into raptures over its current edition. "This is the perfect magazine for me," said Maggie, leafing through pages showing people stopped on the street to talk about what they're wearing, or holding up Gillian-Wearingesque signs stating their worries about the world, or sitting in their bedrooms describing their decoration preferences. Tokyo Graffiti -- which features almost no advertising, though it may be doing some subtle product placement, for all I know -- is the ultimate vox pop magazine, and so far no blog can provide enough research, content, context and detail to endanger it. But after flipping through the whole of Tokyo Graffiti in the act of intellectual shoplifting called tachiyomi ("standing and reading"), Maggie and I -- blogger pirates both -- replaced the mag on the recommended shelf unbought, took a snap of the cover, and resolved to blog about it. Paper is doomed.
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Mahika Mano is a hammock cafe in Kichijoji, located on a street illuminated by two huge red "Soapland" signs (a soapland offers rather more intimate comforts, I'm told).



Swinging there with Hisae and Karin Komoto was comfortable!



Yesterday in Osaka we discovered another interesting cafe, Yusoshi, in the basement of the Loop Centre at Tennoji. It's the local branch of a Kyoto cafe which has teamed up with our favourite makers of tabi shoes and socks, Sou Sou, and employs the same mixture of retro and futuristic; you sit on beanbags at traditional low tables illuminated from below, Stanley Kubrick-style.



We had a very long lunch there with our new friend, Maggie, maker of the Philly-based Broad&Market style blog.

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Relax; if you live outside Japan, once you finish this article you'll never have to hear of Flumpool again. That's one of the nice things about being on holiday in a foreign country; things which are destined to persecute the natives, possibly for years, are merely local curiosities for you, the tourist. You can derive some passing amusement from the marketing around Flumpool -- a new band from the Osaka region, completely without musical interest, currently promoting their debut album -- without having the sinking feeling that you're destined to spend several decades either listening to or resisting them.



I made a decision in 1984 to ignore Madonna, you know. I decided she wasn't interesting. I've been living with that decision for 26 years. But ignoring Madonna is not an option in Western culture. Madonna, her management and her marketing people have made absolutely sure of that. There is no freedom of choice when it comes to attention, though there may be freedom of choice when it comes to purchase. As far as I know, none of my money has ever gone Madonna's way. But I've "paid" attention to Madonna. Look, there she is on the subway wall, modeling for H&M! Look, here's a serious, intellectually-respectable book about Islam that talks about her! And here's that song where she paid a bazillion dollars to ruin Abba's "A Man After Midnight" forever! This song sticks in your brain like charred tar! Can we leave the taxi at the traffic lights?



But Flumpool. Flumpool are big, but they're not as big as Smap or Arashi. If you made a decision in Japan to ignore Smap when they came up in the early 90s, well, I'm sorry for you. Smap are on the cover of almost all the TV magazines in Japan this week, as they seem to have been continuously for the last twenty years. (The ones Smap aren't on, Arashi are. And let me remind you that if you chose to ignore Arashi, well, your girlfriend or your wife didn't. Instant couple conflict, as you are daily revealed to be not-Arashi. Thanks, marketing! Thanks for pissing on me from a great height!)



But to get back to Flumpool. You'd think it would be a no-no for a band with "pool" in their name to refer, on their first album sleeve, to the piss mannekin, the Manneken Pis in Brussels. But why not? There's a successful musical called Urinetown, and a piss manifesto. So this band is a pool of piss, and proud of it! They even pun cunningly on the proximity of "piss" and "peace" -- in April they'll play a "Love and piiiis kids' show".

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Musically, as the clip above shows, Flumpool are crushingly banal. Their ultra-formulaic songs sound as if they've been written by a machine, and completely exemplify the super-conformist "aggressive normality" which characterises so much of Japanese -- well, let's face it, of all -- commercial culture these days. But if innovation is banished from the music, it's alive and well in the marketing, and that's how we seem to want things.

I went into a branch of HMV yesterday. In stark contrast to all the other shops in the And& shopping centre in Osaka (clothes shops, Muji, Loft, Chisato Tsumori), HMV was quiet as the grave. And I thought to myself: "Was there really a moment when record shops teemed with people, and when a young Me would come here looking for the newest, most exciting things in the world?" There was, but that moment has passed. There will be no more cakes and ale at HMV.



There was also a moment when I was employed as a songwriter for the Japanese market. I'm reminded of it during a business meeting with Sony Music Japan, my worldwide song publisher, in Tokyo. It's a sort of surreal experience. Books about Bob Dylan lie around reception, and somewhere someone's playing The Beatles' Abbey Road album (Sony Music Japan publishes Lennon and McCartney).

Sony Music Japan signed me in 2001 on the expectation that I'd perform as well commercially in the 00s as I did in the 90s, when I wrote a string of hit records for Kahimi Karie. Of course, fashion is fickle, and the Shibuya-kei movement I was associated with got replaced by... well, nothing special. So the big sum of money Sony gave me has never been earned back, and because I'm on a roll-over contract, I stay signed to them forever. I don't mind at all; I get a worldwide music publisher with an impressive name and Japanese connections. But regularly we have these meetings where Sony nudge me gently about the outstanding debt: "So what are we going to do to recoup this advance we paid you, Nick?"

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At this moment I remember all sorts of famous Japanese people I've been told like my songs. That sensitive one from Smap, what's his name, the one who reads novels? He once mentioned me in an interview! And Miki Nakatani, is she still making records? She's got good taste! She likes me! Or what about if I wrote for Arashi? My girlfriend would fucking love that! I could even get revenge on Ninomiya for being so pretty by making him sing something stupid and self-effacing!

Sony tell me, gently, kindly, that sure, they have connections to Arashi's management and could play them anything I wrote for them. But they mostly do rap numbers, in Japanese, with fairly generic music. And the days of Japanese bands being impressed by foreign writers and producers are over. I listen to all that, nodding, then ask if perhaps Aoi Yu doesn't want to make a record at some point? She might, thinks my publisher, but her management would probably want it to be a sure-fire hit. Solid, commercial material. We both know that doesn't mean me. (Intriguingly, Sony Music Japan employ their own full-time songwriter, a kid who's sitting on the sofa beside us wearing headphones, making songs on a laptop as we speak. How very Tin Pan Alley! There in the office, under the strip-lights!)

We end the meeting with a compromise; I'll send in an mp3 of me and Kyoka singing Dracula; MTV have asked for some horror film-type track to be used in an ident and who knows, we may be in with a chance.

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But, to get back to Flumpool... well, let's not bother. You and I, since we don't live in Japan and are beyond the reach of even its most inventive marketing, need never hear the name Flumpool again. We can let our definition of Japanese music be encompassed by this fabulous 1985 documentary about Ryuichi Sakamoto instead. That and Akio Suzuki banging on a can, Doddodo screaming, some monks playing conch shells, the enchanting story-chanters at the kabuki theatre, and a gorgeously mournful snatch of gagaku.

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On January 2nd 2010 we climbed Mount Shigi in Nara, Japan to celebrate the new astrological year of the tiger and 1300 years of Nara.

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It was in another tiger year that "multitasking" Prince Shotoku Taishi (apparently so intelligent he could understand ten conversations at once), was defending Buddhism against the Mononobe family. Prince Taishi called on Bishamonten, the Buddhist god of war, in the Hour of the Tiger, on the Day of the Tiger. It seemed to work; Taishi prevailed over the Mononobes. He built Shigisan Chogosonsiji Temple -- the tiger shrine -- on Mount Shigi in Bishamonten's honour. We climbed and we climbed, my how we climbed...
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1. Vanity makes me wise, and narcissism makes me listen. A Google Alert tells me that someone on a blog called Litwack is talking about me (specifically my idea of 1:1 input-output shops), and I find they're also talking about something called Overton Windows, which I know nothing about, but find terribly interesting.



2. The Litwack blog says: "Aaron Schwartz wrote recently on the shifting of the Overton window re: slavery and murder, both of which were perfectly acceptable in American history as long as you were targeting the right ethnic groups." This chimes closely with something I wrote on Thursday: "Did Beatnik Grifter Play On Loathsome Hipster Negro Fetish? begins with an article about the grifter on the Jezebel blog entitled Did "Hipster Grifter" Play On Loathsome Hipster Asian Fetish? then does a thought-experment on it by substituting "Negro" for "Asian", revealing how weirdly acceptable racial prejudice still is the US in 2009 (as long as it's Asians, not blacks)."

3. I turn to the Aaron Schwartz article and read: "Imagine you were an early settler of what is now the United States. It seems likely you would have killed native Americans. After all, your parents killed them, your siblings killed them, your friends killed them, the leaders of the community killed them, the President killed them. Chances are, you would have killed them too, and you probably wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with this." Schwartz doesn't mention the Overton Window in this text, which seems to be covered by the idea of moral relativism; ethics change over time, and from place to place.

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4. So what is the Overton Window? Wikipedia says: "The Overton window is a concept in political theory, named after its originator, Joe Overton, former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. It describes a "window" in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on an issue. The Overton Window is a means of visualizing which ideas define that range of acceptance by where they fall in it, and adding new ideas that can push the old ideas towards acceptance merely by making the limits more extreme."

5. Wikipedia continues: "Overton described a method for moving that window, thereby including previously excluded ideas, while excluding previously acceptable ideas. The technique relies on people promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous "outer fringe" ideas. That makes those old fringe ideas look less extreme, and thereby acceptable. The idea is that priming the public with fringe ideas intended to be and remain unacceptable, will make the real target ideas seem more acceptable by comparison."

6. This makes sense; it's basically what we've seen centre-right politicians in the UK and France do with the National Front over the past fifteen years or so. Wikipedia draws a rough Overton Window with the list: Unthinkable, Radical, Acceptable, Sensible, Popular, Policy. The idea seems to be that you can shift the window by re-mapping your own radical ideas by relating them to even-more-radical ones, therefore making your own seem relatively innocuous. So far, so Machiavellian.

7. There's a rather more nuanced description of the idea from an employee of the Mackinac Center here. He says you can't really shift the window without there being a significant groundswell of popular opinion behind you. He also says that "Overton Window" recently shot to the number 2 most-searched term on Google when someone mentioned it on primetime TV in the US.

8. The Wikipedia entry on the Overton Window relates it to the framing effect in Psychology, which states that you can influence answers (in polls, for example) by framing the issue in a particular way.



9. This relates to a theme I think about a lot; it even came up in my Unreliable Tour last week at NOW IDeA. I pointed to the window and said that artists are the only ones who really know the power of frames, who really see them. Because artists are frame-makers, professional attention-drawers and subject-delimiters, expert experience-editors. As I sang in my song The Minus 5, "history remembers the names of those who creep out of the shadows and reposition the frames".

10. It's a subject that's been touched on in several Click Opera entries; The arrow and the frame says that it's not opinion that counts, but rather the way you frame the issue. How long has this been going on? makes fun of experts who tell us things like "the contemporary cult of celebrity begins in the 18th century with Sir Joshua Reynolds". And Ideology is alive and well and living in syntax looks at how cunning journalists and politicians pack their dogma into innocuous-seeming framing words like "whereas", "despite" and "still".

11. A nice example of an Overton Window (and hidden ideology) at work is provided by Misleading breeding stats are the new skull-measurement, a debate in which an American YouTube video called Muslim demographics is fact-checked by a BBC radio show, who post their findings in another YouTube video called Disproving Muslim demographics. An astute Click Opera Anon commenter shows how the really toxic assumption is one they're both implying: "And yet surely the BBC vid is premised on the same fear. Only it's saying: "relax, it's not going to happen." Personally, I couldn't care less if Europe becomes predominantly Muslim. It might be a very good thing for both Europe and Islam."

12. Now, "I couldn't care less if Europe becomes predominantly Muslim" is a position outside the acceptable parts of the Overton Window. It's a radical view you wouldn't normally hear on determinedly-centrist BBC Radio 4. Referring to it would be useful for anyone wishing to reveal -- and perhaps shift -- the invisible framing of the issue implied in both those "opposing" YouTube vids; that it would be terrible if Europe actually did become Muslim.

13. Making formerly-invisible things visible is useful if you want to renegotiate basic terms. If the boss calls you into his office and says: "You've worked for us for two years, and we've never had any problems, have we?" you know that something's probably wrong. Something is probably about to change. Making the context visible is making the context problematical, malleable, renegotiable, even when you're being explicitly reassured that nothing's wrong.

14. A successful context is one we tend to take for granted, and leave in the background, just as (McLuhan would say) a successful medium is one we believe is a window on the world, not one we start to see as a window on the world. The medium desperately tries to prevent us seeing that it, itself, is the message, because its power lies in us pushing that knowledge to the back of our minds and believing that it represents something. Like a politician.

15. It's worth adding that radical views aren't always aired to give people the option that it's legitimate to hold radical views. Rather, they're aired surrounded by a context which labels them clearly unacceptable, and become a spectre designed to scare people back to centrist positions which have, nevertheless, in the meantime, shifted a tiny bit closer to the radical than they were before. When Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time in the UK recently, it probably played into the hands of the Conservatives, allowing them to shift the acceptable part of the Overton Window a notch or two rightwards, yet still make a clear policy distinction between themselves and the British National Party. Even when he's deploring BNP policies, David Cameron is deploying them.
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Here's a New Year's Day puzzle I've set myself. I'm not doing very well at it so far. I'm trying to locate the oddly-shaped Osaka building in the userpic you see above. It's a crop from an image Rhodri Marsden took from his hotel window when touring Japan with Scritti Politti in 2006:



Now, finding exact locations from skyline views is something I pride myself on. For instance, I was able to locate the Tokyo apartment I've just spent the last three weeks in before I was given a street address, just based on a view from the balcony and a combination of Google Maps and Google Streetview. But this one has me completely stumped, and it's crazy, because the photo shows lots of distinctive buildings.

Hisae's father thought the skinny-tall building on the right was the Cosmo Tower, housing the World Trade Center, out by the docks in Nanko, to the west of the city. It certainly looks rather like it, but I'm not so sure. What we see in Rhodri's photo is a dense and rather chic central area. The district around the Cosmo Tower is bleak and windswept dockland. What's more, Rhodri was playing at the Quattro Club, and the promoters had probably booked Scritti Politti into a hotel not too far from it, which would make his view more likely to be out over Shinsaibashi. But I can't find any buildings in Shinsaibashi that look like that.



My next theory was that the black building on the left side of Rhodri's view is the same as the black building towards the right of the photo above showing the view north from Osaka Castle over Osaka Business Park.



But since I can't see any of the other buildings in Rhodri's picture when I "walk" around that area in Google Street View, I've abandoned that idea.

My goal is to drop a Google Maps pin right on the spot where the weird wavy building in my user icon is, then drive out in Hisae's mum's Daihatsu Naked and photograph it (as well as find out what it is). I probably have a mild case of Asperger's.
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It's become an annual ritual, a jolly Humpersonian meta-binge; on the last day of the year (or thereabouts) we delve back into the last twelve months of Click Opera, seeing what got people commenting and what saw them fall silent as the grave. So how controversial -- or unspeakable -- did 2009 get?



January
Click Opera Selects The Greatest Cultural Figure! scored a whomping 545 comments. This quest to "discover the greatest cultural figure who has ever existed, according to me, as determined by you" was January's -- and 2009's -- biggest hitter. Readers submitted Google Fight-style name-pairs (PLATO / LAURIE ANDERSON) and I decided which cultural figure won. At midnight, Berlin time, a winner was declared: Bertolt Brecht. This intellectual beauty contest parallels November's A judgment of Paris, but with accusations of political bias instead of charges of sexism. IT WERE A STITCH-UP, GUV! HE KNEW WHO HE LIKED ALL ALONG!



January's least commented entry was Art decade, a sort of CV of my art career in the noughties which has since proved very useful to me (I mailed a lecture agency the link yesterday) but apparently bored you pants-less.

February
Israel -- acting before the new administration takes power in the US -- is killing children in Gaza. In Citizen student I describe a series of under-reported sit-ins at British universities and art schools in solidarity with the people trapped and bombarded in Gaza; the British students are asking their institutions to provide free scholarships to Palestinians. You wouldn't think this would be too controversial, but the first comment is from an Israeli reader: "It is time to throw you out of my reading and out of my mind."

As usual, it's my art career which raises the fewest comments in February. Notes from Eindhoven, which talks about an Unreliable Tour Guide appearance in Holland and a German Public Radio documentary about me gets a paltry 4 comments.

March


The biggest story in March (115 comments) is Raise your spirit, level your society! It's about The Spirit Level, a book which dares to state that inequality is bad for us. "The most equal societies studied in the book turn out to be Scandinavia and Japan. The least equal -- pyramided by thirty years of Thatcherite and Reaganomic "incentivization" -- are Britain, the USA and Portugal. As Lynsey Hanley points out in her review of The Spirit Level, there is now a 30-year male life expectancy gap between central Glasgow and parts of southern England."

Meanwhile, a tiny two comments greet my parish-notes-type announcement that I'm lecturing at KHiO art school in Oslo.

April
April's biggest excitement is caused by the Brooklyn hipster grifter, a confidence trickster who preys on hipsters with an Asian fetish. Did Beatnik Grifter Play On Loathsome Hipster Negro Fetish? begins with an article about the grifter on the Jezebel blog entitled Did "Hipster Grifter" Play On Loathsome Hipster Asian Fetish? then does a thought-experment on it by substituting "Negro" for "Asian", revealing how weirdly acceptable racial prejudice still is the US in 2009 (as long as it's Asians, not blacks).



The least-commented entry in April is about a Motto book fair, skater-artist Ed Templeton, Nieves, a bunch of interesting Japanese artists, and a new video for my song The Cooper o' Fife. You philistines!

May
In May I'm in New York, dressed as a kabuki stagehand, doing art stuff with Aki Sasamoto. The big blog entry that month is The angry ape, which looks at what happens to Americans -- people reputedly given to maverick ways and deeply opposed to government, bureaucracy and regulation -- when they don a uniform. Clue: it's something very masculine. The angry ape provides the perfect counterpoint to last week's Overwhelmed by milk, about cute feminine authority figures in Japan.



The entry that has you dumbfounded with indifference is A stagehand is born, which is about... my art show. You had to be there, I guess.

June


In June an Air France airliner disappears over the Atlantic and I tell you about my Fear of flying. The topic edges out Michael Jackson's death and a bitch about Japan hands to become the month's most-commented; many of you are afraid of flying too, it seems.

June's least-commented article is again about art and design: a feature on Dexter Sinister's documents opera at the ICA. Well, at least the indifference isn't just to my art activities!

July


There's a way to get people interested in art topics, and that's to give them a political dimension. The homeless are ahead of us is about Hideaki Takamatsu's book of coffeetable fashion snaps of Street People, and seeks to rehabilitate the homeless -- not by giving them homes, but by giving them respect. An argument develops in the comments section about whether respect, per se, helps. I say it does; later in the year I'll contradict myself when I argue that the PC stance of "respect" is tokenistic and an opt-out from the real political work to be done. I do change my mind, you know!

You're left most silent, in July, by a visit to art bookstore Pro-qm and the death of Pina Bausch, an entry even Twit Opera (the Click-satirical Twitter feed, which some kind of basic decency is beginning to undermine at this point) can't find a way to poke fun at.

August
Misleading breeding stats are the new skull-measurement, says the most-commented August entry, which takes another pop at those regular Click Opera foes, the hysterical "Eurabians" who say (mostly on YouTube, which they threaten to swamp with their fast-breeding hysterical comments) that Muslims are "swamping" Europe, bringing their "alien" values with them, and readying themselves to "subordinate" us beneath a scimitar of vivid storybook tyranny. Pshaw, by Allah!



Least-notable, for commenters, are an entry about Hisae's appearance as Penquo at Staalplaat Working Space, plus a follow-up about The Hashimoto Experiment, a piece of plant-quackery seen in the 1979 documentary The Secret Life of Plants.

September
September is a quiet and nigglingly negative month at Click Opera; the biggest comments come when I announce in Clickswansong that the blog will end on February 10th, 2010.

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I'm spending the month reading in public from my new novel, The Book of Jokes, which has just come out in French. Curiosities on film is the least-commented entry of the month; it's a video of me reading from Le Livre des Blagues at the Société de Curiosités in Paris. Since books are what I hope to replace Click Opera with, the ringing silence that greets this reading is a kind of "Bon voyage and good riddance!" from my online readers.

October
A few pales beyonded examines the limits of free speech, and delves into the familiar Click Opera point that tolerance is useless if it's only tolerance of things we already agree with. The world is reeling, this month, from the repercussions of the Polanski arrest and an appearance, in the UK, of National Front politician Nick Griffin on Question Time. A reviewer in a British paper declares my novel "unpalatable", and my Paris friends tell me they wish they'd been raped by Polanski. Meanwhile, I hunt in vain for early Nabokov novels in British bookshops. Basically, this entry is about a growing gap between the way I think and talk when I'm with friends, and the kind of arguments I have to trot out in the comments area of Click Opera to appease or battle people with what Lewis Carroll called "anglo-saxon attitudes".

The month's least-commented entry is an annoucement that I'm signing books in Paris.

November
Talking of anglo-saxon attitudes -- notably, PC political reflexes getting in the way of the appreciation of beauty -- the noisiest entry in November is the beauty contest, A judgment of Paris. I honestly didn't expect it to be so controversial, and some of you didn't expect the old Indian lady below to win (others "knew it all along"). The entry beat off (so to speak) strong contenders in the form of I had a dream where I hung out with Momus and Everything you know isn't a panda, a delirious prediction of the memes and themes of the decade to come.



December
In December I'm in Japan, but the month's biggest entry is a battle between the Islamophobes and Islamophiles, or between the proponents of good and bad difference: Ban the minaret! looks at a foolish Swiss decision to ban the building of new mosque minarets in the land of holy cheese and feathered clocks. Alain Badiou is on my side!



True to form, deafening silence greets an entry reporting what I really do, and really love doing: giving an unreliable tour of Yusuke Mashiba's exhibition at NOW IDeA gallery in Tokyo. Ah well, you had to be there, I guess!
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We've had Folktronic in New York, Oskar in Tokyo, and the Berlin "googlepop" of Otto and Ocky. Now, as the decade chugs towards the buffers, let's cast a backward glance at the last Momus album of the decade: Joemus.

The record, sporting a homo-erotic Famicon sleeve by Stefan Sadler, appears in November 2008 but really starts in June 2006. Just back from my stint as the Unreliable Tour Guide at the Whitney in New York, I'm in London "showing" an artwork (actually just a series of texts whispered by the staff) at a gallery called Blow de la Barra. Maybe it's the presence of the Ziggy Stardust phonebox right outside the gallery on Heddon Street, but when Kamal Ackarie asks me at the opening to contribute a cover version to a box set he's preparing, I say I'd like to do Bowie's Ashes to Ashes in a collaboration with Joe Howe of Glasgow chipcore group Gay Against You, whose side-project Germlin I namecheck on that same trip during a Resonance FM interview as my favourite new music. Here's how the cover turns out:

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For a while that stays in its box -- a one-off for a box set. When I think about the next Momus album, I envision something very different, something "mega-trad". For some reason (maybe because this sort of warm regret is just what being middle-aged feels like, or maybe because somewhere in my heart I'm hurting) I cover another song that haunts me, The Next Time, as sung by Cliff Richard in the film Summer Holiday:

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Then I see Gay Against You live in Berlin, and get -- as Joe would put it -- "pretty stoked" (Hanayo is bopping away in the audience, a constant smile on her face, and the Glasgow boys bound around in white leotards, making a joyous din unto the creator). So the idea comes to me to blend the weary sad old man thing with the joyous boy thing. This is where the bipolar nature of the Joemus album (the quick-slow-quick-slow thing it does) gels. When Joe asks me to contribute vocals to a track he's doing for his Germlin solo album, I splice in a new slow section voiced by a sort of Tony Newley / early Bowie character, and the result is Mr Proctor:

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I really like the way the track combines weary heartbroken middle-aged regret and youthful pop pep; gadgetry and balladry. Basically the framing for Joemus is established at this point. It'll be Joe and me, fast and slow, 8-bit-Bolan meets croony-girning Tony Newley, sad and don't-care happy. Electronic processing will give me new voices, new characters to inhabit.

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The record makes new riffs the way God made Eve from Adam's ribs: Jahwise Hammer of the Babylon King is the Ashes cover rearranged to make a new song, Strewf is Thatness and Thereness re-spliced, and Widow Twanky is the Cliff Richard cover chopped up and thrown into reverse:

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I like this way of writing songs; it balances being-in-control with being-out-of-control, conscious with unconscious, old with new. Birocracy gets born, and the lyrics are just off-the-top-of-the-head nonsense, but it feels happy and positive, a fresh start continuously contradicted by slowies like Thatness and Thereness, a Sakamoto cover I had lying around from the Oskar sessions in Tokyo (to be played together with the silent Heian video below):

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The Cooper O' Fife sees the Germlin style turned to folk, and Ichabod Crane bends it in the direction of Manchester post-punk. Strewf! has the feel of The Residents rewriting the Oliver Twist musical, and Dracula (a duet with Kyoka, who's just moved to Berlin at this point) collides New Order riffs with gothic motifs and a touch of Henning Christiansen's horse sacrifice.

Goodiepal and Fade to White are warm and sinister in equal measure, but continue to be drawn from a place just beyond my rational ken; it's as if Click Opera sucks up all the sense, and what's left to songs is to present my secret emotional life, my dreams, the things that tug at the edges of consciousness.

If Joemus seems a bit light on well-made songs, the last few make up for the deficiency. I now regret including The Mouth Organ -- a remake of a song on the 2002 Milky album -- and tend to skip it when playing the album. But The Man You'll Never Be is a nice dark maudlin-but-mocking number about getting older -- Cohen meets Pinter, if you like -- and The Vaudevillian (actually the Joemus song I play most live, along with Widow Twanky) is a funny-tragic and rather magisterial ending in which the Tony Newley character is carted offstage in a coffin, then wakes up dead in a universe in which God has also died and is rotting slowly, accompanied by the pathetic sound of a tap dripping in the distance.

Conclusion: I went through a period of listening to Joemus every day on my computer and loving it -- it sounds particularly good on small speakers, because the cheap strident sounds Joe loves to use just shoot out all vivid and brash (on bigger speakers the bass is doing some weird stuff). I last listened to it driving around West Tokyo in Hisae's friend Satoshi's car, and it still sounded pretty great; innovative and interesting.

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The album seems to me the most enjoyable thing I did all decade. Lyrically, some of the songs are clearly fluff, but the interest lies in the organic electronic textures, the personae they encourage me to adopt, the unexpected juxtapositions -- that bipolar thing -- of joy and despair, swagger and creep, bawdy and maudlin. If you could travel back through time to 1968 and ask the eight year-old me what he really liked about pop music, he'd probably say he'd been touched by the old schmaltz of Noel Harrison and Michel Legrand doing The Windmills of Your Mind as well as the lyrically meaningless but sexually kinetic energy of Tommy James and the Shondells doing Mony Mony.

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Joemus -- with me as Noel Legrand and Joe as the Shondells -- touches both those bases. Perhaps it's my 1968 album, not my 2008 one.
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The Obligations of Sleep


Bowie in Fear and Loathing


Let's Discuss Killed Tom


Heads Up, You Slaves of Labour!


Gaius Maecenas, Trusted Friend and Counselor of Octavian


26 Poets Named for Alphabet Letters


Adoxography: Praise of the Worthless


The Pussy is Nothing but a Void


You Have Beautiful Loins / Groins
(like two coins in a fountain, like two grottos in two mountains)

Snapshots of flower arrangements from our friend Izumi's ikebana class