"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New Musical Express FEBRUARY 3, 1972 - by Nick Kent
A FLIGHT OF FANTASY
Nick Kent explores the bizarre domain of Roxy's synthesizer kid
Eno's playboy bachelor flat in mystical Maida Vale possesses a decor that is God's own gift to a journalist caught for a good opening paragraph. Take the music room, festooned with all manner of bizarre technological innovations - keyboard instruments, sprawling tape equipment and suchlike. The walls are decorated with objects d'art as diverse as the cover of a True Hollywood Confessions mag, a grim article on a child-killer and a series of out take shots of Kari-Ann posing for that legendary first Roxy album cover. Directly adjacent to all this hangs the maestro's current fave stage costume - a rather remarkable black jacket embellished with garishly coloured peacock feathers pointing out in all directions. I hesitate to further describe the oddities to be found in other rooms. What was the sponge frozen for posterity in a jar doing in the fridge? And those ducks on the wall? No matter. I braced myself and left the lounge where I had been soothed by the music of (I think) Chopin coming from the radio and stepped out, determined to discover just what makes this man tick.
I motioned toward the music room where I found Eno - Brian Eno is his full and real name - deep at work. An easy smile spread across his gaunt features as he acknowledged my appearance. I swiftly surveyed my potential interviewee's style: the colourless prominent cheek-bones; the eyes framed in subtly effective mascara, the sparse hair and comely scarecrow physique resplendent in leopard-skin print shirt and black Oxford bags. So this was the mysterious Eno of Roxy Music, the bizarre figure prophesied for the title of Face Of '73 by at least one English music paper. But enough of this vanity: yours devotedly decided to probe deeper. What is the current philosophy of this strange young man?
"Well it's strange you ask that, as I've suddenly become converted to the idea of discipline in general. I came to this conclusion after listening again to the third Velvet Underground album. I'd always been intrigued by The Velvets' relationship with Warhol's factory, thinking was tied in with their love for the sinister, until it just dawned on me that The Velvets' whole approach to their music is identical to Warhol's approach to films. They believed that there should be no concept attached to art, that you don't have to consciously follow any specific patterns, that art just creates itself as it goes along. There are passages in a Velvets' song when you expect there to be, say, a guitar solo, and there isn't. The whole thing is just so obvious really."
Ah, ha. Obviously this man is an intellectual, thought I. However, his theory of discipline seemed to be finding its way into practice for, while he spoke, he was still working away perfecting his latest tape-loop. "I've been working so furiously of late that it's becoming obscene," he quipped.
At that point a lady-friend of Eno's high-stepped it into the room with various beverages. Her name was Cassandra and she looked rather like one of The Ronettes, with a thick frizzled mop replacing the busby-like hair formations of the aforementioned. She was, it turned out, a native of San Francisco, an actress amongst other things who had fallen madly in love with the Divine Mr. E when the Roxies played the Bay area. Who says that good old-fashioned romance doesn't still exist in the mean world of showbiz?
And, by the way, how had Eno enjoyed the first tour of the States?
"Enormously. I made it a rule to try and get out as much as possible, meeting people and such like instead of getting bogged down in the whole Holiday Motel routine which seems to constitute most groups' existence when on tour in the States. Only the food, which is absolutely disgusting, brought me down."
Had his, shall we say, bizarre appearance caused any riots in certain States?
"We got the usual strange looks in airports, but once they discovered we were English we were just taken on curiosity value. Only one incident came close to an eruption of all-American violence - that was when I discovered the rest of the band had left me to finish my meal in some bar and I found myself being stared at by a rather large fellow sitting right in front of me. I hurriedly finished my meal, head buried down in the food, when this guy's friend started dancing a jig around the table. I got up to pay the bill with this fellow dancing around me and was doing my best to totally ignore him, because I knew if I were to make the slightest move, the play would explode. The maid was doing her best to ignore what was going on and I paid the bill and motioned towards the door with this character still jigging around me. So I pulled out a cigarette and simply asked if he had a light. He stopped dancing and lit my cigarette, by which time I was out of the door."
"The only other unpleasant incident I can recall, besides performing at a truly horrible festival in Miami in which I kicked over the speaker system in disgust and had to face the possibility of being beaten up by backstage heavies, was when someone threw a beer can, hitting me on the chest while I was out front doing the harmonies on If There Is Something. It's a particularly dispiriting feeling having stale beer running down your stage costume. After the show, I was informed that it was actually a symbol of affection."
"Another thing about the States was the lack of promotion meted out by Warner Brothers. We had a reception in New York but otherwise we kept to doing a few radio spots which were quite farcical. On one of them it was obvious that the interviewer knew absolutely nothing about us and had just been given a promo sheet beforehand. He asked me about an album I was supposed to be recording with a Rupert Frupp. I informed him that the name was in fact Rodney Frock."
Rodney Frock, who is also known as Robert Fripp, guitarist and mastermind of El Crimso - a progressive rock band - came together one day and recorded a one-off piece with Mr. Eno taking care of synthesizer and Mr. Fripp playing guitar. The result is a piece lasting some thirty-five minutes which Fripp considers the finest work he has ever created. The track is used as a prelude for every Crimson gig and plans are underway to release it as cheaply as possible.
"Fripp and I tend to complement each other greatly in the sense that I am by no means a musician, whereas Fripp most certainly is and can therefore form my fantasy ideas and turn them into something of substance. My main concern with this album is that the price be kept as low as possible, mainly because it cost next to nothing to make but also because it can set a precedent for an actual market for electronic music. Certainly I'd like to play with Fripp in concert but the sort of music that would occur would have to have an atmosphere that was conducive to its performance. I'm thinking in terms of something like a sauna bath."
Eno is passionately involved with experimentation in electronic music, dismissing most past attempts at a fusion with rock and citing Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland as easily the most successful of the few that have actually made a real statement. Right now he has a rather innovative scheme which be hopes to implement on future Roxy sessions, involving defined patterns for each individual instrument. He draws a complex design stating his belief that Captain Beefheart may also have stumbled upon the same idea on his more revolutionary recordings.
"Right now I'm very interested in Muzak as a form. I used to suffer from long stretches of insomnia and was forced to construct a piece using tape-loops that took the form of Muzak which, in turn, was conducive to sleep. Really, the potential to be found in the use of electronic music has only just begun to be mined."
The next subject is the teen-idol image that is beginning to show itself.
"Well to begin with you must understand that I never really thought I'd be noticed, simply because on the early gigs I was stuck behind masses of electronic gear. People didn't even know I was on stage with the band, showing real surprise when I suddenly appeared from amidst this barrage after the set."
Now things have changed, and our hero is caught up by the whole rock syndrome. The Face of '73?
"Oh God. I'm really fed up with all this thing about glamour. We had to get a girl in to pose for the cover of the new album, which I thought was a drag because it's all becoming too stereotyped. Personally I'd prefer a nice a nice unpretentious unglamorous picture of the band, wearing false beards and denims and standing around a tree with 'Support Ecology' on the back of the sleeve."
Eno finally donned a remarkable coat which be claimed he had swapped for one Turkish cigarette (therein lies a story) and began to heap his equipment into a large steel case in readiness for a performance at the BBC. I asked him if he had a final message for his fans throughout the world?
"Not really. But just keep harping on the theme of discipline and bondage."
"Yes," interjected the lovely Cassandra giving a graphic mime description of a woman tied up in readiness for flagellation. Say no more, thought yours devotedly and trudged out toward glamorous Westbourne Grove Tube Station.