INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Rolling Stone APRIL 2006 - by Rob Sheffield
MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS
David Byrne and Brian Eno were on a creative roll when they made My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts in 1979-80. Fresh from collaborating on the Talking Heads' paranoid post-punk breakthrough, Fear Of Music, the R2-D2 and C-3P0 of art rock set out to try something different. So they took found voices they taped off the radio, from Egyptian disco singers to whacked-out American talk-radio preachers. Since sampling technology didn't exist yet, they used tape splicing to create similar effects, cutting and pasting the radio voices on top of jazz-fusion noodling from Bill Laswell and other friends. The premise was Eno's homage to classical composer Steve Reich, who pioneered the use of vocal tape loops in his 1965 masterpiece It's Gonna Rain. Unfortunately, Bush Of Ghosts didn't fare so well. Legal complications held up its release when the estate of one of the radio evangelists complained. Yes, it's true: sampling clearances were a bitch before sampling even existed.
For a time in the '80s, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts had a lofty reputation, but it hasn't dated well at all. The half-funk background fuzak is extremely weak and pissy. Byrne and Eno used all these ideas to better effect on the Talking Heads' greatest album, Remain In Light, where they had a real rhythm section to work with - Remain In Light grabs your head and slams you face-first into the steering wheel, while Bush Of Ghosts just kind of sits there. The cut-and-paste style seemed innovative to rock ears in 1981 but mainly because rock ears weren't tuning in to hip-hop, where DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were using similar ideas but in a far more sophisticated way. That same year, Flash released his twelve-inch monster mix The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel, which did everything Bush Of Ghosts attempted to do - except it actually rocked.
The reissue adds seven more or less finished outtakes - but not Qu'ran, a track from the initial release featuring Algerian Islamic chants, cut because of fatwa-dodging concerns that unfortunately still apply. Compared to Wheels of Steel, Remain In Light or, for that matter, It's Gonna Rain, Bush Of Ghosts seems half-baked, putatively cerebral yet underthought, interesting only because somebody famous did it. It's definitely a curio of its era - but Byrne and Eno surpassed it many times, together and alone.