on some faraway beach

i've just finished reading david sheppard's biog of bwian eno. it's a good read, and mr sheppard is both knowledgeable and an elegant writer. and though a fan, he maintains enough critical distance from his subject to avoid hagiography.it's certainly better than eric tamm's rather miserable tome. a couple of things stand out - the book's 439 pages long, yet by page 365 we're only at 1984, leaving less than a hundred pages for the last quarter of a century. the other is the sometimes less than favourable opinions of brain given by his sometime associates. gavin bryars is particularly sour, as is john cale on occasion (but then that's probably to be expected). what certainly comes across is eno's ability to be in the right place at the right time, and his ability to soak up high art conceptualism and squeeze it into pop music with varying degrees of success. a certain steely determination that machiavelli may have been proud of seems to mark some of his dealings, while others are marked by a heartwarming generosity of spirit towards his fellow musicians.

as sheppard says in his intro, there's a huge amount of enoid info out there, so any obsessives are probably likely to find little in the book they hadn't known already. and that's largely true, though i did pick up a few nuggets (as well as spotting a couple of errors, sadsack that i am). nowadays eno seems a rather distant figure to me, and some things about him (particularly his somewhat patronising obsession with africa) kind of grate. let's not mention coldplay or u2 or james or robbie williams. so i read the book with a certain detatchment which grew as it went on (the last hundred pages became a bit of an effort). last night i stuck on music for films, followed by another green world. it's no exaggeration to say i know every last note, drone, whirr and hiss of those records. i was relieved to find that despite all the words written by brian or mr shepherd or lester bangs or whoever, there's still an essential opacity, mystery and unabashed beauty to eno's music of that time that those words can't get rid of.

cale is of the opinion that brian's always slightly removed from his music, citing his reluctance to sing as a sign that he likes to hide his real self, his essence. he might have a point, but then again it's the opinion of someone whose music has often been about revealing the dark corners of his own psyche (listen to 'music for a new society', if you can). there's something else at work in what i reckon is brian's most emotionally engaging work; stuff like 'becalmed', 'slow water', 'through hollow lands'. i don't know what it is exactly, but it's way beyond any talk of oblique strategies or systems and in their own quiet way those pieces are as emotionally charged for me as beethoven's late quartets, john coltrane or even mr cale himself. for those pieces to still curl themselves around my core in the same way they did some 30 years ago when i first heard them must count for something.


Garuda said...

Well put, as always. LOVE that pic of Bri too. That's him redefining 'lift music' isn't it?

Peter said...

i think it might be. in that pic he certainly lives up to bowie's description ('an alarmingly glamorous young man').

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