Artforum NOVEMBER 1996 - by Simon Reynolds


What a charmed life Brian Eno leads! Since his wife, Anthea, doubles as his manager, he doesn't have to deal with any of the ordinary hassles of a three-tier career like his - record producer, musician, visual artist. Freed of the burdens of scrutinizing contracts and paying bills, he can devote his energies to creativity, cooking, playing with his two small daughters, shooting the breeze with other artists, and taking short vacations (usually sans family, and in exotic places) to recharge his batteries.

Not that Eno is a slacker, mind - most weekdays he's up and working before dawn. This is just one of the fascinating facts we learn in A Year (With Swollen Appendices), which is basically Eno's 1995 diary, unedited and uncensored (save for some intimate marital stuff). Also included are numerous E-mails to buddy Stewart Brand, which are added on a day-by-day basis, plus a hundred and twenty pages of appendices on the pet theories, obsessions, and projects of Eno's that crop up unelucidated in the journal - axis thinking, for example, or the excellence of screen-savers versus the crappiness of CD-ROMs, or Eno's koan system for generative music (music that grows itself as fractal variations within certain adjustable parameters), or culture defined as everything humans do that we don't really need to do.

Cobbled together, Eno frankly admits, to fulfill a book contract several years overdue, A Year really ought to be irritating. Yet it's an oddly riveting read, not only for its behind-the-scenes glimpses into the various big deal projects that took up much of Eno's busy 1995 (producing albums by David Bowie and James, working with U2, organizing a record/concert and a fashion show as charity work for Bosnia, directing art installations), but also for its healthy portion of quotidian trivia. In fact it's the trivia that best displays Eno's keen descriptive powers (at a children's party he's startled by an astonishingly greedy little boy who hardly played but compulsively sat determinedly jamming food into his mouth). Also engaging is Eno's candor: one night, he lets us know, I pissed into an empty wine bottle so I could continue watching Monty Python, and suddenly thought 'I've never tasted my own piss,' so I drank a little. It looked just like Orvieto Classico and tasted of nearly nothing. We also learn that Brian rarely gets erections in Ireland, and that some of his sexual fantasies involve plump women (on the beach watching topless French ladies with huge wobbling sousaphones of bum-fat, wishing I could hear them fart).

Rigidity of mind is for Eno the least likable thing in the world. The closest thing to bitchiness in an entire year's secret thoughts occurs after a meeting with The Cranberries, who firmly reject Eno's oblique strategies and flexible approaches (the reasons any band wants to be produced by him in the first place): Dolores has a rather startling clarity of intention about how she wants to record, he notes dryly of the band's obnoxious lead singer. Fanaticism, in pop or in politics, baffles Eno, and struggle and conflict are curiously absent from both his work and his world-view. He mocks the notion of the glorious struggle of the artist, and remarks of painters like Francis Bacon, I sort of admire... their obvious agony of effort, but it doesn't move me. Politically, Eno seems to align himself with a socially progressive, kinder capitalism (long-term planning, improved design) insofar as he participates in the Global Business Network, a future-scenarios development group founded by Brand and Peter Schwartz. His only comment on the life ninety percent of humanity are obliged to lead is uncharacteristically thoughtless: In New York you often look at people working for an honest minimum wage in mind-numbingly awful jobs and think, 'They are the suckers, the poor suckers.'... Why on earth don't they turn to crime?

Rejecting as adolescent the twin passions - romantic desire, underclass resentment - that fuel rock rebellion, Eno favors mind-states at once more mature and more childlike: fascination, reverie, awe, sensuous delectation. His great musical innovation, ambient, is closer in spirit to his other interests - food, wine, decor, perfume, gardening, screen-savers - than to rock's expressionistic urgency. Clearly representing some kind of model-for-living to Eno are the delighted, open-hearted responses of his daughters, Irial and Darla, to the world. When five-year-old Irial imagines digging through to the other side of the universe and finding a new world there, Eno asks what would be in that world: God would be there! And bears. Just bears and God.