John Higgs is a novelist, biographer and cultural historian, whose work traces the impact of countercultural ideas on mainstream culture. Using the likes of Jung, Alan Moore, Ken Campbell and Robert Anton Wilson as frequent reference points, Higgs created an alternative history of the Twentieth Century with Stranger Than We Can Imagine, and investigated the fault lines of modern Britain whilst tracing the path of an ancient road in Watling Street. He has also written wide-ranging, informed and entertaining biographies of Timothy Leary and The KLF, and published two novels as JMR Higgs.
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
I think I’m lucky, in that I don’t think anyone has ever had any expectations about my life. No-one has ever set any arbitrary goals for me. I’ve always been left to my own devices.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
My biography of The KLF is probably a good example of that – it’s really not what you’re supposed to do when writing a music biography.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
At the moment, the bit in my next book that I wrote yesterday afternoon. But if I’m to take a broader view, I think Stranger Than We Can Imagine is holding up well. Events since that book came out are being kind to its argument.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
The obvious primary answers to that are my partner and our kids, but if you want me to cast the net out a bit wider I’d say becoming friends with the late Beat writer Brian Barritt back in the 90s. That old goat was a real education.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and/or sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
I’d express my irresistible charm and sexiness musically, then I’d deliberately undercut it with lyrics that went off on a tangent about elm trees or something.
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
I’ve never had the opportunity – no-one has ever offered me riches. Although I suppose I’ve never followed any path that might have led to me selling out for coin, so there’s that.
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
The public personality that exemplifies everything I’d like to be is the TARDIS – it takes people to where they need to go, shows them strange new things and trusts them to do something good in response. Plus, it might look a bit cronky on the outside but internally it’s all going on.
The public personality that incarnates everything I’d least like to be is Boris Johnson. He’s driven entirely by desire for power – not to use that power to achieve something of worth, but power for power’s sake. He’s willing to sabotage his friends, family and party for his own advantage. He is a man who has lost his soul.
If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
I’d rather leave all the stuff behind, if that’s okay. It seems like a good opportunity to declutter and get rid of baggage.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
Quotation-wise, I guess nobody will ever better Kurt Vonnegut’s “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Joke-wise, anything Bob Mortimer does with his wig is pretty much my level these days.
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
You’ll have to take my word for this one as it’s not public at the moment, but there is an extraordinary portrait of William Blake by Melinda Gebbie that leaves you feeling like you’ve met the man and for a fleeting moment understood him.