INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Wired DECEMBER 1996 - by Colin Berry
THE LIFE OF BRIAN
For two decades, Brian Eno has been poised on the edge of pop culture, making and producing innovative music, sculpting audio and visual landscapes, caring passionately about art. Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices traces 1995, a period that finds him overseeing projects with David Bowie, Jah Wobble, James, and U2. With hubris and humility, the 425-page diary paints a complex portrait of the superproducer in his 47th year, a cranium tour of one of the most creative minds of our age.
As you'd hope, Eno is a pleasure to spend time with. He delivers razor-sharp commentary - re: Jay Leno, Bowie's eyes, farting, the Oklahoma bombing, the traits of a good dominatrix - with devilish snarkiness and brutal honesty. An accomplished chef, he cooks a mean risotto and knows his vintage Bordeaux. He's a dedicated family man, recounting lovingly detailed conversations with his charming wife and daughters. And on any given day, he interacts with Bono, Björk, Princess Di, Luciano Pavarotti, Tricky, Laurie Anderson, and Paul Simon.
Eno's appendices - essays, letters, short stories, annotated lectures, on ambient and generative music, pretension, artists' royalties, and other themes - make for some of the book's best reading. 'Unthinkable Futures' is provocatively twisted; 'Clock Library' explores a fascinating proposal to pen pal Stewart Brand; 'War Child' details his support of a nonprofit organization that helps Bosnian children.
But Swollen Appendices isn't a Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous segment: bad news trickles in from Eastern Europe; travel schedules undermine various plans (missing a boat in Egypt provides a riveting story); maddening hours are wasted in the mind-numbing tedium of the recording studio. More often than pride, what shows in Eno is self-deprecation: he regularly wonders "what the fuck [he's] doing." Such lapses offer proof that despite public adoration, pop artists suffer spells of panicked self-doubt just like the rest of us.
Early in the year, Eno writes, "Generally, my feeling is toward less: less shopping, less eating, less playing by rules and recipes. I favor more thinking on the feet, more improvising, more surprises, more laughs." Perhaps to be Eno is to awaken daily with such expectations, to attempt to eclipse each performance with the next. And I'll wager that most readers would give their eyeteeth for a single day's worth of his tribulations.