Blitz NOVEMBER 1983 - by Johnny Black


"I visited a friend in Northumberland last week and she had a gravel drive," explains Brian Eno, "It was the most interesting gravel I've ever seen. She probably thought I was mad, because I spent all my time raking through her gravel, but I found about forty carnelians, some citrines and some rock crystal. Very beautiful."

Fresh from lunch in The City with a friend, a commodities broker, Brian Eno breezes into the offices of EG Records, settles into a high-backed executive swivel chair, and starts delving into a voluminous white plastic bag. He draws out a small package, carefully unwraps it and reveals a thick paperback, The Encyclopaedia Of Rocks And Minerals. "This is such a great book," he enthuses, "I'm fascinated by rocks. I seem to have a knack for finding them, because I always walk around with my head down."

When he's not staring at the ground, he's staring at the sky: the trip to Northumberland provided other delights: "We lay on our backs after midnight on August 12, which is the best night of the year for meteorites, and we counted thirty-five in ten minutes. Her farm is in the middle of the moors, and it was pitch dark, under perfectly clear skies, not a street light for miles. We must have seen hundreds."

"He was always looking for something different..." - Mrs. Eno (his mum)

Eno isn't quite like you and me. He will sometimes drop the word 'humans' into his conversation much the way we might use the word 'Martians', with an alien curiosity and a feeling of distance between.

The height of his popular acclaim was during the early '70s when, with long flowing golden locks, excessive make up and clothes which were a parody of futuristic glitter styles, he completely stole the show from Bryan Ferry during two years as Roxy Music's keyboard captain. It was a time that he hated. He loathed touring, he didn't get along well with Ferry and he was unhappy with the restrictions of traditional rock music.

Quitting Roxy in 1973, he nevertheless stuck in the rock song groove on his early solo albums, although he was steadily progressing towards something much less conventional. A collapsed lung in 1974 and being hit by a car in 1975 granted him two extended periods of enforced relaxation and solitude, during which he began to formulate ideas about his musical direction which were ultimately to plunge his career into the backwaters of cognoscenti cult obscurity. Simultaneously, however, they brought him such accolades as 'the father of modern electronic rock bands', and his name began to crop up as an influence in the work of everyone from David Bowie to New York No Wave bands like Teenage Jesus And The Jerks.

Today, he divides his time between travelling, writing and recording music, devising multi-screen ambient video installations and pursuing a number of related interests. His name is better known in the galleries and art centres of the world, from Tokyo to New York, Sydney to Naples, than it is in the boardrooms of most record companies.

"He spent three days twirling hoses to see what they'd sound like, and another day he had us all playing with gravel in little boxes." - disenchanted studio musician

"My earliest experiences of music were a funny mixture. My grandfather lived in an old chapel and I lived with him until I was about seven. He was a postman, but he spent all his time repairing these marvellous mechanical musical instruments, things with little men who came out and bashed cymbals, and others that had artificial waterfalls built into them. I was surrounded by these things, and he would put a penny in and all this strange music would come cascading out.

"My father too, was a postman, in Woodbridge, in Suffolk. I would always hear him walking around the house whistling and beating time. I once went to the Post Office late one night when he was on night duty and I heard him and three of his friends who had formed a whistling quartet. They did Anchors Aweigh in four part harmony whistling, with my dad beating time on those wire mesh racks they use for sorting letters.

"You know... I have a friend in New York, Bob Quine, who is very good at finding really old records. I recently asked him to find Ketty Lester singing Love Letters Straight From Your Heart and to put it in the middle of a blank tape for me, so I wouldn't know when it would come on. I have a soundproof room in my apartment in New York, and I went in there. turned out the lights and put on the tape.

"While I was waiting for it to start, which took about fifteen minutes, I tried to remember the exact moment when I first heard the song. There's a long river in Woodbridge, and beside it there's a bandstand. We used to all gather there with our transistors and listen to Alan Freeman's Pick Of The Pops on Sunday afternoons. One afternoon, just as the evening light was beginning to change, I heard that song, Love Letters, and I was so moved by it. It was such a huge experience for me. So I sat in my room and when the song came on again, it all just flooded back.

"I can be moved to tears quite easily by music, particularly Gospel songs, which is what I listen to most of all lately."

"ENO IS GOD" - graffiti in New York subways

As we talked, it suddenly struck me that the words and phrases Eno has used in the past to describe his evocative, ethereal music, seem just as much to be descriptions of the man himself. He once spoke of his music as having "an ambiguous mood of something denied", and another time of "an Arcadian kind of yearning", but the yearning is as much in Eno as in his music.

Since the release of Before And After Science, in 1977, Eno has virtually abandoned the formats of the rock song. All of his solo albums and collaborations with other artists have taken the form of avant garde electronic experiments but, it seems. he has quietly been writing songs throughout this later period, which are never released. He estimates that something over twenty songs exist, more than enough to fill an album, except that he has no intention of so doing.

"I've been working for ages on one song, called On That Golden Day. It's about someone remembering a day in his life when he was on a boat, becalmed in a lonely bay, miles from anywhere. On that day, he kept wishing the wind would come so he could move on, but now, as he remembers it, he realises it was the most perfect day of his life, but he wasted it, missed it because he was so anxious to be going somewhere else."

Exactly that sense of yearning for something lost seems to hover around him as he talks. Is the man in the boat Eno? "Well, it is something I notice myself doing quite a lot. If a song is going to convince you, then it must relate to a feeling that is always recurring. In my case. it is a feeling of being melancholy, but enjoying it."

Eno notices a long strand of black thread which has unravelled itself from the arm of his shirt. He takes a cigarette lighter and sets flame to the end of it, clearly enjoying the sight of the tiny fire burning up towards his arm. "Songs are rather like love affairs. I feel that I'm married to my ambient music. but sometimes in the studio, I'll spend an hour or two having a fling with an attractive, glamorous song.

"If I could learn how to incorporate the things I've learned in recent years into song writing, that would be wonderful. So far I don't know how to do that. and I'm not pushing the point."

"He was a lady killer... reportedly spent as long as thirty hours having sex with six women." - George Rush, U.S. journalist

In the Roxy days, Eno's sexual proclivities were the subject of much speculation, but later he seemed to settle for a while with Alex Blair, a New York girlfriend, and a cat called Poo-poo, in an apartment just north of Wall Street. Alex described him as having "social claustrophobia", which he partially confirms. "I enjoy going for solitary walks. In New York I would walk along the piers on the West Side, where there's nobody around. I'm not disturbed by people, but I see enough of them. I need time alone."

When asked if he has a current girlfriend, he considers the question a little longer than I might have expected before saying, "No, not really. I don't have a series of affairs either. I suppose I'm increasingly inclined towards monogamy, but I don't have any of that either." He grins engagingly. "I'm not so thrilled any more by the idea of sleeping with twenty-five women a month... not that I ever did. It's all part of something I want to leave behind."

I begin to have the feeling that I've stumbled into Eno's life, for a couple of brief hours, at a time when he's changing, perhaps allowing his yearning to take him back to the things he learned when he was very young. "I was brought up a Catholic, went to a Catholic school. I remember the sinister, archaic quality I felt there - every action was charged with repercussions in heaven. I lost all respect for it when I was fourteen, but now, I have increasing respect for it. If I was going to be a Christian that would be the one.

"I think I probably am religious, but not in any traditional way. People have a very bleak view of the future today, humans seem to be making a mess of things, which is probably because humans have deluded themselves into thinking that what they do is terribly important in the world. If you suspend that idea and accept that humans are not important, but nature is very strong, then even if everything gets fucked up by acid rain, nature will find a way to create a new ecology. It might well be an ecology without humans. Humanity might die, but the world will go on. I think the idea that we are part of something larger than ourselves is very difficult to comprehend, but it is a religious idea."

"He takes non-musical concepts and applies them to music." - David Byrne of Talking Heads

Wherever he goes, Eno carries a notebook. In the book he scribbles down thoughts, half-formed ideas, quotes from poets that have touched him, and most of all... diagrams. At a second's notice, while talking, the notebook will appear in his hand and he will begin flipping pages until he finds the diagram which illustrates his latest line of thought. Today he's pre-occupied by pendulums, and the complex patterns of movement that can be generated by subjecting them to simple forces.

Moving on to another diagram, he explains, "I was walking through a vast orchard in Pulau Lankawi, Malaya, in 1978, thinking about how chaotic the distribution of trees was. There seemed to be no order to them, until I came to a clearing and, when I looked round, I could see that all the trees were laid out in perfectly straight rows from that point, but you couldn't see any system until you reached that point.

"That became a very important idea to me, and I set about making music with that idea in mind. I create a number of musical sounds which are all cyclical, but because the cycles are of varying lengths, the beginnings and endings rarely coincide. On the few occasions where they do coincide, I place a singular, unique, musical event to heighten the effect."

Yet another diagram reminds him of a trip to Ghana in 1980. "I was in Osu, a suburb of Accra, just a few days after John Lennon died. I sat out on the patio at a big circular stone table with a hole in the middle. I put my headphones on, stuck a microphone into the hole and just sat there with the volume up very high, listening to the sounds of cars away in the distance, and someone singing over there, and some drumming from the other direction. After a while, I realised I was listening to it not as environmental sound, but the way I would listen to music."

It is precisely this kind of perception, this awareness of music in all its forms, that has made Eno an invaluable collaborator for David Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo, Ultravox, Robert Fripp and many others but he rarely involves himself in their lives for any length of time as anything other than a musician.

"I have a place near Bowie in New York, but I would never call round to see him, even though I like him as a person. People assume that, because I work with people for a long time, then we must be soul mates, but it isn't so. Most of my friends aren't in the music business at all."

Eno's place in New York is, however, not his home. He does all of his music and video work in Toronto, and spends much of the rest of the time staying with friends around the world, or living in hotels. "That's a sort of unsettled point in my life. I have no place that I can call home. I own my parents' house, and the New York apartment, and a flat in London where some friends of mine live. I'd like to have a fixed home, but it hasn't worked out that way yet."

"Really, I'm quite normal" - Brian Eno

The unsettled, globe-trotting life has left Eno with a curious not-quite-English and not-quite-American accent, which seems to embarrass him a little. "It's a lazy way of speaking. Dental language, really. You know? Like, when you're at the dentist and he pushes your tongue down with a depressor and all you can say is "Nnnngghh ..... nnnnggghhhh" when he asks if it hurts. Anybody can speak perfectly good American just by sticking your fist in your mouth and continuing to speak."

Eno is not, apparently, fond of Americans as a breed, much preferring Canadians. His new album, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks was recorded in Canada, even though it celebrates an American achievement, the Apollo moonflight programme. "It came about because the film maker Al Reinert had been working on a documentary film about the Apollo missions, and he couldn't find the right music, until he listened to my album On Land. He thought it was the kind of thing he needed, so he asked me to compose a score for the film."

Although Eno's albums never top the charts, and seldom achieve sales above about 100,000 worldwide, he makes a more than adequate living from those plus his other activities as a producer and video maker. There's also a constant flow of royalities from film and television programme makers who find his ambient music ideal as atmospheric background for everything from wildlife documentaries to serious drama productions.

More than probably any other musician, Eno leads the life he chooses, making exactly the music he wants with no concession to popular taste or commerciality, travelling the world and stopping where he chooses to spend a few days, weeks or months.

"Most of the things I like to do cost nothing. Last Monday I walked out onto the moors and found a rocky outcrop with a vast panoramic view, miles from anywhere. It was near sunset, and it faced west, so I sat and watched the sun go down, thinking what a deserted spot it was. Probably no one had ever sat there before me, I thought. When I stood up I noticed a huge heart carved in the stone. It must have been done by a stonemason. In the centre of the heart were carved the words, 'Kitty Lauder, you are my eternal love'. The man who did it must have spent days out there doing that. I thought that was beautiful."