In 1999, the Scottish musician Momus released an album of song portraits entitled Stars Forever. The work was unique in that each of the thirty tracks included on the double album was commissioned by a fan for a fee of $1,000. The purpose of the project, in part, was for Momus (born Nicholas Currie) to pay back legal fees incurred by one Matthew Jacobson, the head of the American independent record label Le Grand Magistery. You see, the previous year, Currie composed, recorded, and released a song titled “Walter Carlos”, which was a tribute of sorts to Wendy Carlos, the electronic music composer perhaps best known for her Grammy Award-winning debut studio album, Switched-On Bach. “Walter Carlos” was included on initial copies of Momus’ 1998 album, The Little Red Songbook. In the lyrics to his song, Momus imagines a pre-transition Wendy going back in time to marry herself. Although Momus was a fan of Wendy’s and meant no ill will, the song did not sit well at all with Miss Carlos. Wendy sued Momus for $22 million. The case was eventually settled out of court, with Le Grand Magistery agreeing to remove the song entirely from subsequent editions of the album, replacing it with three previously unreleased Momus songs.
It’s certain that back in 1999 Momus couldn’t have predicted that a concept somewhat similar to the one used for his Stars Forever project would be implemented twenty years later when penning his first memoir, Niche: A Memoir in Pastiche. In his most recent printed work (in addition to recording over thirty albums, Momus has had six novels published), the musician who named himself after the Greek god of mockery cleverly resurrects 217 deceased creative individuals, many of them writers of renown, to tell his life story through.
Niche is divided into six parts, one for each decade of Momus’ life. As the book progresses, one by one, each of the dead is presented to the reader. Some of the more esoteric amongst the departed will first describe what they were best known for before providing a half-page to a two-page account of an event that occurred in Momus’ life. In every case, Momus has had some interaction with the dead narrator’s work, and in more than a handful of the cases he’s had either a direct or an indirect interaction with the individuals themselves when they existed on this mortal plane. The dead only ever refer to Momus as ‘N’, and they speak as if breaking the fourth wall in a film, allowing the reader to imagine the action being described occurring just beyond their ghostly form.
Momus does an impressive job writing in the style of each of the over two hundred narrators. Some of the more notable accounts from Niche’s corpse raconteurs include Anthony Burgess who goes in and out of the fictional Nasdat language used in his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. The grumpy ghost of Norman Mailer momentarily drops the script he’s been provided and humorously complains, “…who the fuck is this schmuck we’re having to describe and why, exactly, are we doing it?” Harold Pinter’s contribution is delivered, appropriately enough, as a short play while E. E. Cummings imparts his piece in the form of a poem. You get the idea.
Momus is an exceedingly intelligent and worldly writer. It didn’t hurt that his father was a linguist and an English teacher who had the family travelling from Scotland to Greece to England to Canada and back again. Even as an adult, Momus has never really stayed in one place for long. Niche follows him from London to Paris to New York to Berlin as well as to various cities in Japan. If you’re already a fan of Momus, you may already know some of the stories included in Niche, like when he married a teenaged British-Bangledeshi girl whose infuriated father subsequently tried to have him killed. Or the story of how Momus permanently lost sight in his right eye after contracting an infection due to dirty tap water.
If you’re amongst the unenlightened, you’ll still find a lot to love in this book. Since the mid-eighties, Momus has been a consistently active part of the ever-changing music industry. He’s shared record labels and toured the world with Britpop bands you know. He’s collaborated with the likes of Vampire Weekend, Stephin Merrit, and Kahimi Karie amongst others and enjoyed great success in the Shibuya-kei genre in the mid-to-late nineties. Niche is a uniquely original take on the oral history memoir format. Lou Reed, Kathy Acker, David Bowie, Mary Tyler Moore…the dead have a lot to teach us. Spend some time with them via Momus’ excellent Niche: A Memoir in Pastiche.