INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The New Yorker JULY 10, 2014 - by Sasha Frere-Jones
THROUGH THE ENDLESS BLUE MEANDERS
I began with Eno because of the hair. He doesn't have much now, and I suppose that on the cover of his 1974 solo album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), you could already see male-pattern baldness kicking in. As a teen-ager, though, the images were as weird as I needed them to be. Eno's hair, as I saw it on the cover, was dull and golden, part of a washed-out photo-booth tessellation in the style of Warhol. And that title? A mountain! Tigers! I bought the LP on Fifth Avenue, along with The Rolling Stones's Exile On Main Street (more photo grids on the cover), and hated them both. Where were the hits?
The Stones became clearer years later, but I made peace with Eno within just a few weeks. The instruments sounded like instruments - a cheap guitar, a fancy keyboard, maybe a harpsichord - and none of the lyrics sounded like lyrics. Back In Judy's Jungle was arranged around a military-snare figure, though I couldn't imagine anybody marching that slowly to a beat. Eno sang, or talked, about what sounded like a Peter Niven movie gone wrong:
Fifteen was chosen because he was dumb,
seven because he was blind.
I got the job because I was so mean,
while somehow appearing so kind.
Drifting about through the cauliflower trees
with a cauliflower ear for the birds.
The squadron assembled what senses they had,
and this is the sound that they heard.
That sound was likely a guitar, except it sounded like an elephant charging a squadron. Who was this music for? Precocious children? Troubled adults?
I kept collecting Eno's solo records, and was altered forever by Another Green World and Music For Airports, both of which I describe in this piece for the magazine. It took me a moment to realise that Eno was involved in other records, as producer. Some of this music formed my vision of the choices available to me as a musician, when I was a barely informed teen. His work with David Byrne, on Remain In Light and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, changed my idea of where rhythms could land, and led me to the material that Byrne and Eno had drawn from, the music of the Nigerian master Fela Kuti. When I began forming bands, I often gave Eno songs, or songs he had produced, to prospective bandmates on cassette mix-tapes. One day, the circle had a chance to close.
It was 1997. My band, Ui, was on tour with a much more popular independent English band, Stereolab. They, cleverly, had singers. We did not. I had desperately wanted to cover St. Elmo's Fire, from Another Green World, but hadn't had any practical way to do so. The song is, more or less, about the meteorological phenomenon of St. Elmo's fire. When I proposed the idea to Stereolab, we were in London, staying at Southern, the studio that gave our label its name. The band agreed to collaborate, though they didn't know the song. I was surprised, as they knew mythic electronic-music obscurities and huge pop hits. Eno, though, fell into some grey area in the middle. It made little difference; the singers, Laetitia Sadier and the late Mary Hansen, learned the lyrics quickly. The bandleader, Tim Gane, lent us a rhythm machine, a keyboard, and a few pedals. Southern gave us free studio time. In two days, we laid down all the tracks and vocals. (My voice is buried mercifully low in the mix.) The resulting song is usually the reason somebody's heard of our band, which is fine. If an obscure instrumental artist was going to be introduced to a wider audience, Eno seemed like the right bridge. This playlist is a selection of Eno's own work and productions, though it doesn't close to summation or completeness. That idea would make Eno laugh, so I didn't even attempt to pull it off. Just listen to it, in the cool August moon.