Monday, September 7, 2009

The Charm of Innocence


I've never heard of the Scottish artist and musician Momus (real name is Nick Currie). But recently a reader left two links in the comments on Escape into Life . . . the lyrics of Currie's song, "The Charm of Innocence", and the audio version of the song.

What did it mean? What was the connection?

You could say that I'm preoccupied with the question of innocence. I've written about my past in a novel called The Novel of Life, which is really the story of my wayward adolescence and how I lost my innocence . . .

On the other hand, I don't believe that we ever fully lose our innocence. I believe the quality of innocence can be retained in adulthood. Here I'm thinking of something akin to the Zen concept of "beginner's mind". It means to live without preconceived notions.

And to be an artist one must remain a child, as Picasso once said.

Momus is the Greek god of satire, mockery, and also of writers and poets. His name is related to "blame" or "censure".(1) Laurence Sterne wrote about the Greek god of Momus in Tristram Shandy.(2)

My past does not haunt me. I am still curious about it. I listen to these lyrics, inflected with a Leonard-Cohen-like melancholy, and immediately that vagrant, aimless youth returns to me. I remember how I was, the self-abuse, the drugs, the misfits I met along the way . . .




Lyrics to The Charm Of Innocence

I was born with the charm of innocence
On my back like a cross
Thorns upon my forehead
Round my neck I wore it
Sometimes a rabbit's claw
Sometimes an albatross

It began at a school that turned boys into gentlemen
Then turned them on to debauchery
I was forced to my knees in front of these gentlemen
If I refused they would torture me
On Sundays I'd stalk the Botanical Garden
And under my uniform something would harden
Whenever I passed a girl of my own age

Or did it begin with au pair girls from Germany
Paid by the hour to look after us?
Did it begin with that first opportunity
To corner a stranger with nakedness?
Maybe the clinical way they undressed me
Stayed with me and deeply distressed me
I think, at heart, I'm something of a prude

I was born with the charm of innocence
On my back like a cross
Thorns upon my forehead
Round my neck I wore it
Sometimes a rabbit's claw
Sometimes an albatross

Then at 18 I decided I wanted
To be a commercial photographer
I rented a studio down by the docks
Which I shared with a friendly pornographer
I photographed models in fluorescent light
Whose veins were so blue and whose breasts were so white
I assumed, like the moon, women were blue cheese

When I left home I already had five years
Of self abuse under my belt
I found certain women who'd let me try anything
Just to find out how it felt
In some garish hotel room with vile decoration
The wallpaper witnessed my first pollination
The paisley patterns witnessed an abortion

I was born with the charm of innocence
On my back like a cross
Thorns upon my forehead
Round my neck I wore it
Sometimes a rabbit's claw
Sometimes an albatross

In the army they taught me to share the abuse
That I'd kept up 'til then to myself
There's nothing like killing
For coaxing a shy boy of twenty-one out of his shell
In the dark continent with a peace-keeping force
I fell in with a bunch of Algerian whores
And promised them I'd try and keep in touch

We met up again in the 18th arrondisement
I remember them well
Their lank stringy hair and their big bulbous noses
Their unmistakable smell
I'd approach all the ugliest, seediest jerks
And ask them to keep a young model in work
Some men, thank Christ, don't discriminate at all

I was born with the charm of innocence
On my back like a cross
Thorns upon my forehead
Round my neck I wore it
Sometimes a rabbit's claw
Sometimes an albatross

I will pass my old age by a pale two-bar fire
Patiently waiting to die
Twitching the lace as the schoolgirls go past
Tracing a page of Bataille
And if you catch sight of my secondhand coat
Leaving behind it a faint whiff of goat
Remember both of us are naked underneath

I thought it would end with the first obscene phone call
The second professional kill
But somehow detached from my actual behaviour
This innocence burdens me still
Up in the attic I pick up the brush
Paint in the crow's feet, paint out the blush
The face this portrait is of is still capable of
The face this portrait is supposed to be of is still capable of
The face this portrait is of is still capable of (Paint out the blush of shame)
The face this portrait is supposed to be of is still capable of (Paint out the blush of shame)
The face this portrait is of is still capable of (Paint out the blush of shame)
The face this portrait is supposed to be of is still capable of (Paint out the blush of shame)
The face this portrait is of is still capable of (Paint out the blush of shame)
The face this portrait is supposed to be of is still capable of (Paint out the blush of shame)

(Paint out the blush of shame)
(Paint out the blush of shame)
(Paint out the blush of shame)

The Charm Of Innocence Lyrics

Footnotes:
(1) Wikipedia: Momus
(2) In Tristam Shandy, Laurence Sterne says the Greek god of Satire, Momus, thought that humans should have windows into their hearts so that their secret feelings could be discerned.

Image Credits:
http://www.tapingfortheblind.org/Programs/profile_comedy_show.html

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1 comments:

Kate Sherrod said...

When I first heard this song I pretty much said "huh, interesting" and went about my business.

Here it is a few days later and I can't get it out of my head, not even with my patented earworm cure (Schubert's Trout Quintet, if anyone is interested) -- because it isn't an earworm in the ordinary sense. It's more like a haunt.

Especially that last repeated refrain.

What an odd, uncanny song.

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