Friday, November 20, 2020

Brian Eno

There's an axiom that if you remember Woodstock you weren't there. Although the protagonist in my novel Miles From Nowhere (a follow-up to Jay and the Americans – coming September 2018) makes it to the Aquarian Festival (late), recalling it all (mostly), I believe there's something indeed that obliterates the recollection of our wild years; Quaaludes maybe. That said, I remember Roxy Music no sooner than Manifesto or Flesh + Blood, "Love is the Drug," the club-life exception. But my informative years didn't focus on the history or the music, I didn't know the names or the stories until I started my writing internship with the L.A. Weekly while dating an intern at Epic Records. Though we didn't get along, she was the most influential person in my life when it came to music, introducing me (during the failed Part 2 of our relationship), to Kate Bush, artists like Harold Budd and neoclassical darkwave. I went quickly from casual listener to student. It was through her as well that I discovered (read that as recognized) Eno (there was no "Brian" associated with the name at the time). In the glam era, it was hard not to notice Eno, who with Bowie and Bolan, Reed and Pop trailblazed the glam pathway. While my internist introduced me to Eno in Roxy, I take the credit for establishing, soon after, my 40-year relationship with Brian. For me, these are the LPs that have remained over the years so prevalent in my rotation (but don't confuse this with a complete discography):

1972 - Roxy Music, Roxy Music: The first Roxy Music album finds the British glam rockers injecting the, by then, stale blues rock of the era with an eyeliner-rimmed rawness neatly paired with progressive rock underpinnings of Phil Manzanera's wailing guitar. Although Eno didn't have a musical background, he quickly became a multi-instrumentalist and lent an experimental artistry via synthesizer and tape effects.

1973 - Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure: While less accessible than Roxy Music's first album (although this writer's preferred LP), For Your Pleasure landed neatly at the top of the British charts. Americans, however, were lost: Rolling Stone's Paul Gambaccini wrote, "The bulk of For Your Pleasure is either above us, beneath us, or on another plane altogether." Were it not for the incredible album jacket, I never would have picked it up.

1973 - Here Come the Warm Jets: Arguably Eno’s most seminal and timeless work was conceived directly after his departure from Roxy Music (with band alumni Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay). The album was painfully simple. Like artists such as T-Rex, whose Electric Warrior came out two years prior, the music bears spacious simplicity. Blank space was the goal. "I enjoy working with simple structures such as these, for they are transparent — comparable to a piece of graph paper and its grids. The grid serves as the reference point for the important information — the graph line itself."

1973 - Fripp & Eno: No Pussyfooting: I'd listen to this over and over while doing my homework drifting in and out of it's dreamy soundscape. When I worked at the Weekly, a woman in her mid-30's asked me if I could suggest something rather seductive, at which point, being 19, I swallowed my tongue. I mentioned No Pussyfooting and said if she wasn't happy with it, I'd buy it from her because my 3rd copy was getting a bit noisy, pop and scratch wise (we're so spoiled now). She said she liked the suggestive title. A day or two later, she came back into my office (cubicle) and said she bought Music for Airports and Another Green World.

1974 - Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy): A concept album inspired by a Chinese book of postcards depicting an opera: pure art rock. One of my go to LPs at 3am.

1975 - Another Green World: Another stellar used records find.

1977 - Before & After Science: To kick off another wholly prolific year, this album explores cagey drum sequences, African polyrhythms and layered sounds. It marries the two divergent paths Eno's music traverses — insular ambience and raucous rock, whether of the polyrhythmic or painfully simple variety.

1977 - Ultravox, Ultravox!: The Ultravox album was slammed upon its release as contrived, intellectual art-rock offered up by washed-out, synth-loving Brits with shiny new clothes. The band's obsession with the fading electro-pop genre in 1977 seemed antiquated at a time when punk rock's trajectory was more defiantly vocal. Yet the album has stood the test of time, it's the new wave we think back on far more fondly than the punk era (for me, probably because all the new wave posers were as skinny and passive as I was - I never got beat up at a new wave venue, lol. That was not the case when I ventured into the L.A. punk scene).

1977 - David Bowie: Low and "Heroes": Low balanced A-side rock with B-side instrumentals. Producer Tony Visconti captured Bowie's humanity in the wake of his recent departure from Los Angeles and its hedonistic claims on his soul. Bowiet called L.A. "the most vile piss-pot in the world," while Berlin was a "Spartan antidote" where he could/would recover from drug-fueled psychosis and make music (by Let's Dance, many of us were hoping for a relapse). Each LP features Eno on synth, keys and guitar, while the loose guitar stylings of Robert Fripp lend rawness to Visconti's impeccable production. I don't include Lodger, here. I have a tendency still to overlook it.

1978- Ambient 1: Music for Airports: While Eno ventured into the experimental ambient genre prior to Airports, the album levitated his relationship with the genre. Eno wasn't courting Billboard charts with this album (was he ever?), but instead wanted the music (as he wrote in the liner notes) to "accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."

1979 - Talking Heads, Fear of Music: A transitional, and perhaps difficult album for Talking Heads, one that led out of the punk era and into a more refined sense of artistry.

1980 - Talking Heads: Remain in the Light: In what was the largest commercial flop for Talking Heads, and the most important of their career, Remain in the Light fused pulsing guitar with African drums and time signatures that were difficult to digest in the bloated Pepto Bismol corpus of popular music in 1980. David Byrne told Rolling Stone that critical consensus was that it "too black for white radio and too white for black radio." Byrne and Eno, who later had a falling out in the studio, studied African voodoo and percussion before applying it in the studio. "Once in a Lifetime" of course would go on to become a hit and Talking Heads most iconic tune.

Of course Eno would collaborate with Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and produce U2's phenomenal Joshua Tree, I was off to New York in my club years - another era of "I don't remember; I don't recall."