Brian Eno: A Sandbox In Alphaville
December 6, 2007 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Lester Bangs on Brian Eno

Expanding on an article he'd written for Musician magazine, Lester Bangs decided to expand and expound on the curious subject that is art-rock legend Brian Eno. Including not just an overview of Eno's life and recording career, Bangs did extensive interviews with Eno also, accompanying him to shows and recording sessions. This work was meant to be a chapter in a book mirroring AB Spellman's Four Lives In the Bebop Business, focusing on other artists such as Marianne Faithful, Danny Fields and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The tentative title for the book was Beyond the Law: Four Rock 'n' Roll Extremists.

Sadly, the book itself was never completed though the chapter on Eno was finished around 1979/1980. Never published until now (though pieces of it appeared in a Musician article he did in '79), this through examination of Eno's work during the '70's is a (dare I say) lost treasure that shouldn't be buried or lost.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred (32 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Prior discussion.
posted by grobstein at 6:17 PM on December 6, 2007

Okay, I cheated, that was really just a single gripe and link, not discussion.

I really liked this interview, and the meditations on death and control changed the way I listen to Music For Airports.
posted by grobstein at 6:21 PM on December 6, 2007

Thanks for this. I was just listening to Here Come the Warm Jets, oddly enough.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:43 PM on December 6, 2007

Eno is my Devo Joni Mitchell Jones's!
posted by doctorschlock at 7:10 PM on December 6, 2007

I'm lukewarm and conflicted about Eno. I absolutely love My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and consider it revolutionary. However I have to agree with the three-word revue of U2's album someone wrote that read "The forgettable fire."

Maybe I'll read the link though, and learn something about him as a person.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:58 PM on December 6, 2007

Thanks galaxie. Nice post!

An overlooked Eno album is "Thursday Afternooon." Quintessential ambient. For me it is like "aural ritalin" - I can put it on in the background and after about 5- 10 minutes, my brain has been rewired, and i am totally focused on the task at hand.
posted by post punk at 8:25 PM on December 6, 2007

There's ambient artists, and there's Eno.

Apollo is the best-ever album to study to. The Shutov Assembly the best to wander around art museums with.
posted by Camofrog at 8:36 PM on December 6, 2007

Awesome read, awesome post. Thanks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:36 PM on December 6, 2007

If Brian Eno had done nothing but produce Talking Heads albums, he'd still be a genius.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:36 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll have to read the article! A shame the font and colour choices are so unpleasant on the eyes...

I love some Brian Eno and there's none of it I don't like. I've been listening to his music for almost thirty years.

I think I told this anecdote here once before but I saw Brian Eno talk a couple of years ago and to my shock I disagreed with almost every word he said except for his politics. He spent some time slagging Reich's "Drumming" -- it wasn't even that he didn't get it, it's that he got it and thought it was a bad idea! -- and I wanted to shout, "D00d, people will still be playing Drumming when only historians remember your name." Eno is fine but won't be remembered with Cage, Stockhausen, Reich, Hendrix or The Beatles.

I've met quite a few celebs and they're either amazing or utterly disappointing. For example, Cage was colourless and effeminate -- I was devastated -- but I met John Sinclair this year and he was glorious, larger than life, full of joy.

Also on a tangent, I saw a performance of Terry Riley's "In C" the other day around here. It was lame; some performers used sequencers; others had no performance discipline and were winking at each other and interacting in non-musical ways. Also disappointing, but the worst part for me is that this piece blew me away when I first came to New York, over 20 years ago, and it wasn't new even at the time -- but the avant-garde has yet to come up with anything new in two decades.

At least I have a great idea for a piece of music from it. :-D
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:51 PM on December 6, 2007

Lester Bangs is to rock criticism what Lenny Bruce is to stand up. I'd highly recommend reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung if you enjoyed this chapter. Well informed, insightful, wonderfully opinionated and impassioned writing about music and bands that otherwise would be footnotes in my appreciation of sound. His collected writings really put the era before punk into context for a 17-year-old who couldn't see past Black Flag and Bad Religion.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:14 PM on December 6, 2007


Ooh, see also Lester Bangs' review of Astral Weeks.
posted by spiderwire at 9:31 PM on December 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

"It sounds better on Romilar than any other record I have ever heard."

Lester on Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.

posted by Kinbote at 9:54 PM on December 6, 2007

Dead Finks Don't Talk
posted by post punk at 10:12 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Brian Eno is one of those skinny fey twerps who turned into a pretty good looking middle-aged man.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:01 PM on December 6, 2007

I like how Eno seemed to be a real horn dog every where he went.
posted by 2sheets at 11:01 PM on December 6, 2007

Obligatory Brian Eno cartoon.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:46 AM on December 7, 2007

Brian Eno is like Quincy Jones. You turn around and it turns out he's behind the latest thing you think/thought was just fucking great.

I remember first hearing Roxy Music (I was 18)and thinking it was the greatest thing ever.
I had just gone through a big three-year long Talking Heads/ Late-Seventies-early-Eighties Bowie period.
I was also, of course, really into 'Walk on the Wild Side' around then too: I trie to seduce girls with "Perfect Day" (never worked).
Months later I heard "Babies on Fire" for the first time, and then all his other albums (bleeding into King Crimson a bit, too).
And of course U2 was all over the radio at the time as well, though I didn't like their stuff as much.

It took me years to make the connection.
Sweet post/article. thanks!
posted by From Bklyn at 1:04 AM on December 7, 2007

Great post, thanks!

Brian Eno's published diary, called A Year with Swollen Appendices, is a fascinating read. It gave me a lot of insight into creative processses. Also, he's extremely candid about everything, how he works, his obsession with bottoms... it's all good!
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:47 AM on December 7, 2007

Brian Eno is like Quincy Jones. You turn around and it turns out he's behind the latest thing you think/thought was just fucking great.

Every time I dust off some old favorite vinyl, it invariably has Eno's name somewhere in the credits.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:31 AM on December 7, 2007

Where would crossword puzzles be without Brian Eno?
posted by fungible at 6:18 AM on December 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

Thanks very much for that link, spiderwire (how come everybody else is only talking about Eno?); it's been probably a quarter of a century since I read that essay, which made me fall hopelessly in love with Lester Bangs the writer and mensch, but it's so vivid in my mind it might as well have been yesterday. How the man could write about music:
He climaxes, as he always did in those days, with "Cyprus Avenue" from Astral Weeks. After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock 'n' roll set-closers. With consumate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of "It's too late to stop now!," and just when you think it's all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it's sensational: our guts are knotted up, we're crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we've seen and felt something.
And about life:
But who is to say that someone who victimizes himself or herself is not as worthy of total compassion as the most down and out Third World orphan in a New Yorker magazine ad? Nah, better to step over the bodies, at least that gives them the respect they might have once deserved. where I love, in New York (not to make it more than it is, which is hard), everyone I know often steps over bodies which might well be dead or dying as a matter of course, without pain. and I wonder in what scheme it was originally conceived that such an action is showing human refuse the ultimate respect it deserves.

There is of course a rationale - what else are you going to do - but it holds no more than our fear of our own helplessness in the face of the plain of life as it truly is: a plain which extends into an infinity beyond the horizons we have only invented.
I still remember the horrible feeling in my gut when I read about Lester's death, and I still miss him.
posted by languagehat at 6:35 AM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Brian Eno's published diary...

I've only read excerpts, but it's really good. He's surprisingly lucid about stuff, particularly politics.

Of course it doesn't hold a candle to the music.
posted by OmieWise at 6:42 AM on December 7, 2007

Nor, really, to Lester Bangs, who as languagehat pointed out, was just an incredible writer. He could write the way Van Morrisson can make music. I love that essay on Astral Weeks - the thoughts he's expressing seem incredibly subjective but he's getting right to the heart of things. It's fantastic.
posted by tiny crocodile at 7:02 AM on December 7, 2007

Thanks for posting this. I spent last night listening to what is perhaps the most beautiful thing in the whole world, the second side of Before and After Science. I'm looking forward to reading this.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 AM on December 7, 2007

I have been having the hardest time trying to listen to Another Green World. All that brilliant stuff people keep telling me he's done seems to be on other albums. Maybe I'll give Music for Airports a try.
posted by shmegegge at 9:02 AM on December 7, 2007

I've never heard of either of these guys, but after reading this I was fascinated and entertained. Thanks for posting!
posted by hellslinger at 9:16 AM on December 7, 2007

Thank you Galaxie 500.
posted by elmono at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2007

shmegegge: I have been having the hardest time trying to listen to Another Green World. All that brilliant stuff people keep telling me he's done seems to be on other albums. Maybe I'll give Music for Airports a try.

I'd never heard of Brian Eno until a girl with whom I had a very brief relationship with nine years ago made me a parting mix-tape with "I'll Come Running to Tie Your Shoe" on it. That mix tape led me to a lot of things, so it took me a while to track down the album it came from. When I finally did, it amazed me; it wasn't really the fun pop I'd been expecting at all. I liked loud music then, listened to lots of it, and I hated it at first for a while, until it started seeping into my brain. Before I knew it, I was jabbering to everybody who'd listen about how great it was and seeking out the rest of his records.

For the space of about one year, every night before I fell asleep I'd lie on the floor of my room while I listened to "Everything Merges With The Night." It seems somehow kind of right in a way that Eno himself would probably find sort of silly, but it made sense, and that song always calmed me.

I know some of it sounds like 'soundtrack music;' maybe it is. Try listening to only one song at a time. Personally, "St. Elmo's Fire" is my favorite song on this record, because the sounds are so pretty, and I feel like I'm in a dark, lush forest every time I listen to it. (The whole record is like that for me.) In fact, you might also have some luck if you try visualizing while listening to it.

But if it's not working, move on. There are plenty of great starting points within Eno's work. Music For Airports is good, modern, clean, but if you want interesting ambient stuff, I'd recommend his absolute best ambient album, Discreet Music. Just the orchestral improvisation based on Pachelbel is worth the price of admission.
posted by koeselitz at 11:28 AM on December 7, 2007

That was a fantastic article, thanks again. I am definitely going to read more Bangs. Like l-hat said, that dude can write. Kind of a Whitney Balliet of rock. Any suggestions on his books?

Bang on a Can did a live version of Music for Airports that was interesting. this clip really doesn't do it justice.
posted by post punk at 5:10 PM on December 7, 2007

Back in the dark days before the internet, it was actually hard to find information - about anything, really, let alone about alternative points of view. And when I was a young boy, I ran across a copy of Creem, the one that contained Lester Bangs' James Taylor Marked for Death. It changed my life.

It also helped me find my way to a college radio staion in time for Roxy Music - which means I've been listening to Eno for over thirty years now. So, thanks for the link.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:55 AM on December 8, 2007

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