STEPHEN O’HAGAN from THE ESSENTIAL PENGUINS
1. Who are you?
Stephen Henry O’Hagan, Reggie Chamberlain-King, Edith Bumble, Joselyn Fozzy
and whomsoever else I desire.
2. No, really, who are you?
All of the above. A nom de plume is a uniform that you can take off after a job has been completed. It reminds one of the two elements that an artist
must keep in mind; 1) being an artist is an occupation that must be clocked in and out of, it is not a vocation 2) your work has nothing whatsoever to
do with yourself. If one ignored these one may do something reprehensible, like being sincere.
3. What are you up to at the moment?
I continue to be gainfully unemployed. The days are puttered out between various pointless trivialities, much like they would be if I had an
occupation. I choose not to bore you with any of them.
4. What three rules would make up your manifesto?
The first would be “write a manifesto.” The second might be “re-write your
manifesto.” I don’t imagine there being a third. Manifestos are very important, but like all important things, they are ultimately trivial. It’s
necessary to set a perimeter of rules in which to work; if you had absolute freedom, how would you know where to begin? However, one’s interests change
so rapidly (and by one I may just mean me) that no manifesto could hope to cover them all in one draft. Rules are not made to be broken, that would be
self-defeating. Rules are made to be amended when it suits you.
5. If you were the dictator of a modern industrial country, what would
you abolish? What laws would you implement?
I have learned from the greats. Let me abolish free press and opposition parties. Allow me to introduce acts of ‘enabling’ and laws for the
protection of people and state. The populace shall abandon city life for a more productive agrarian existence. And I shall give my dear lady all the
shoes she wishes. I don’t believe there is much creativity left in the art
of totalitarianism. But, then, didn’t Mr. Eliot suggest that all dictatorships should contain every dictatorship that has gone before it?
Actually, the sentiment sounds more like Mr. Pound.
6. What are your lyrics about?
They all spring, invariably, from questions, i.e. “How would you write the
opposite of ‘There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’?” or “How would a better
theme tune to this documentary sound?” I write with great infrequency and only out of necessity. I don’t mean necessity in the way that some punctured
troubadour does. I have nothing to get off my chest. A song is only written if it is needed. For example, if it is decided that we are to play a certain
venue on a certain date in the style of a gothic, jazz quartet, we beg the question “What songs are necessary for that occasion?” Only a fool would
write twelve songs, when they only plan on playing eight. One’s time could
be better spent reading a book. The lyrics, then, are often about nothing more than themselves or are closely tied to a single idea (“How do you write
a song for Doris Day, now that she’s dead?”). Of course, you could suggest
that lyrics about lyrics are also about every lyric that has gone before them and that every song must contain, within itself, every song that
already exists. Rather than pop music, it could be a critique of pop music through the medium of pop music. Or I could be trying to cover my lack of a
cohesive ideology through post-structural rhetoric.
7. What is your opinion on the contemporary music scene? What do you
I wasn’t very sure there was a contemporary music scene, but I’ll take your
word for it. If there is a scene in Belfast, it is a self-serving clique whose members pass their time clapping and congratulating each other for
making music which Tad were making some ten years ago. Naturally, I am all for elitism, but I’m not sure that it works if you let any unqualified
person take part. As for other quadrants of the nation, or the world even, I
have no idea. I don’t browse any of the periodicals, nor do I listen to the
radio (excepting Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Wogan on beebeecee radio 2), nor do I even watch the music television channels. I am kept abreast through the
likes of ‘Pop Matters’ and other internet sources, a demimonde of such vulgar eclecticism that one couldn’t pretend for a second that there was
homogeneity or a sense of scene. I can say with certainty, though, that there is contemporary music. And that I like/dislike some of it.
8. What distinguishes you from your peers?
Mainly my genes.
9. Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I wouldn’t dare look to the future; I’ve read ‘The Screwtape Letters.’
Wherever the future is, I’ll be surprised if I can tell the difference between it and now. Every moment feels practically the same. I do plan,
however, on dying in Puerto Rico. This may well be in five years time.
10. Any regrets?
That I have not yet done anything worth regretting.