Everything you'd rather not have known
about Brian Eno
Chrissie Hynde (1974) New Musical Express February
02: Pages 24 and 29
It was with a certain apprehensive curiosity that I first noticed
the brown lace-up shoes. He displayed a normalcy that I just couldn't
trust. After all, I'd seen his photos and I knew I was dealing
with no ordinary deviant.
Read more at www.pretenders.org
Yet the toned-down reserve, the limp handshake (handshake?) and
the nice-guy inoffensiveness had me baffled. He just didn't come
on like someone who keeps an extensive collection of breast bondage
literature in the bathroom.
I mean, what do you say to this guy? "Oh hi Eno .... Hear
you shaved off your pubic hair?" He answers the door wearing
a red satin kimono and black dress pants. We pass through the
dimly-lit hallway to a large white room which consists entirely
of a lit candle, two pillows, tape recorder and beige carpet.
"Carpeting gives you a whole new outlook on life, you don't
Eno's voice has absolutely nothing in common with the vocal tracks
on Here Come The Warm Jets, his forthcoming L.P.
His pronunciation is that of a soft-spoken gentleman. His singing
is not unlike the shriek of a hare that's just caught an air gun
pellet up the ass.
Given only the minutest amount of prompting, he will talk non-stop
for hours. In this case, the mere mention of his vocal techniques
sets him off.
"VOCAL TECHNIQUES. That's something I've never even thought
about. Why, I propose the question to myself do people sing certain
ways at certain times in history? Why should I want to sing through
my nose?" (He breaks into 'Baby's On Fire', a track from
H.C.T.W.J. and, as if it's her cue, a 6 ft. 2 in. 195 lb. negress
enters the room, lights his cigarette, and without saying a word,
-- "What I like is when you get a combination of something
that's very turned-down and dark and sinister, but not dramatic
- very underhand and almost inaudible, as opposed to the kind
of aggression that people like the Floyd use, which is very obvious
assault. Iggy Pop does it as well.
"I like taking something that's played down -low-key - contrasting
with a voice that's very anguished, making the whole sound grotesque
and aggressive in a pathetic and laughable way. 'Baby's On Fire'
starts out as though it's going to be very sinister, but has very
ordinary words, sung with an incredible amount of passion."
What about the song which incorporated 27 pianos? - the one that
was inspired by a dream . . .
"You mean 'On Some Faraway Beach'. It wasn't only inspired
- all the words to that occurred in the dream. I quite often wake
up and write down my dreams because I find them so completely
mysterious. I can't see what it was in me that made me put together
that particular combination of items.
"I find the dreams are always much more brilliant in their
construction than anything I consciously think of. On that particular
one, I just woke up with all these words in my head and I wrote
them straight down in the dark. When writing from dreams, you
don't feel any responsibility for what you do, which is important
to me. Another way I write lyrics is to get the backing track
down and then play it with a cassette near by and, as it's playing,
I start singing anything to it - like 'ba-do-de-be-de-n- do-day'.
And I do that a lot until I finally end up with a version in scat
singing. Then I listen to that again and again until eventually
I don't hear it as nonsense anymore and I start hearing words.
Then I write them out and they become the words to the song. I
find it absolutely impossible to sit down without music and write
lyrics because basically I haven't got anything to say in a direct
way like that. The actual musical context of a song is always
so much more expressive than the words are. Lyrics in songs, in
nearly 8O% of cases, actually make the song less interesting.
The lyrics I like best are the ones which are either completely
bland like the early rock lyrics, where there's obviously no attempt
to do anything but to sing a melody - or, on the other hand, I
admire the ones of the great librettists like Noel Coward. And
also Bryan . . ."
"Yeah, I think Bryan's an extraordinary lyric writer, but
in a style that I could never do. That kind of verbal imagery
doesn't really come from me very much. I have no pretensions to
poetry at all.
"The deciding factor about what words I use is what vowels
they have in them - what their phonetic structure is. "If
it said: 'Baby goes sloooo-ly', it wouldn't have the same aggression
rating, and that's the basis I choose words on. It could have
been baby's on anything - 'Baby's on hire' (ha ha ha). which is
an interesting variation.
"Fuck! I wish I'd thought of that! I should have done this
interview before I did the album!
"I'M ALWAYS PRONE to do things very quickly, which has distinct
advantages - you leave all the mistakes in, and the mistakes always
become interesting. The Velvet Underground, for example, are the
epitome of mistake-filled music, and it makes the music very subtle
"Any feature can be the most important one - as long as there
is one important feature. There are so many bands who present
you with a large number of well-done features - none of which
"I think that bands like Yes and E.L.P., even The Floyd who
everyone's saying are the beginning of something new and exciting
- the new rock tradition - are just tying up a lot of loose ends.
"They're finishing something off which is a useful function,
but not one which should be confused with breaking new territory."
His voice trails off as he spies a copy of Search magazine. He
leafs through it with obvious pleasure, but the gleam in his eyes
softens, and sadly he shakes his head, "It's a burning shame
that most people want to keep pornography under cover when it's
such a highly developed art form - which is one of the reasons
that I started collecting pornographic playing cards I've got
about 50 packs which feature on all my record covers for the astute
"There's something about pornography which has a similarity
to rock music. A pornographic photographer aims his camera absolutely
directly, at the centre of sexual attention. He's not interested
in the environment of the room.
"I hate the sort of photography in Penthouse and Playboy
which is such a compromise between something to give you a hard-on
and something which pretends to be artistic. The straight pornographers
aim right there where it's at.
"Which is analogous to so many other situations where somebody
thinks one thing is important, so they focus completely on that
and don't realize they're unconsciously organizing everything
else around it as well. I have such beautiful pornography - I'll
show you my collection sometime.
The last guy invited me up to see his etchings.
"One theory is that black-and-white photography is always
more sexy than colour photography. The reason for this is provided
by Marshall McLuhan, who points out that if a thing is 'high definition,'
which colour photography is, it provides more information and
doesn't require participation as much as if it is 'low definition'."
I.e. a horror play on the radio is always very, very frightening
because the imagery is always your own. If youUre choosing your
own imagery, you'll always choose the most frightening, or in
the case of pornography, the most sexual.
"The idea of things being low definition has always interested
me a lot - of being unspecific - another thing which is a key-point
of my lyrics. They must be 'low definition' so that they don't
say anything at all direct. I think the masters of that were Lou
Reed and Bob Dylan (on "Blonde on BIonde"). The lyrics
are so inviting.
"DO YOU KNOW WHAT 'burning shame' is by the way? It's a pornographic
term for a deviation involving candles.
"Very popular in Japanese pornography. They're always using
lit candles because Japanese pornography is very sadistic, partly
because of the Japanese view of women, which is a mixture of resentment
and pure animal lust.
"In the traditional view, a woman is still expected to be
at the beck and call of her husband, so that manifests itself
in that kind of pornography. Of which I have a few examples, of
"Mexican pornography is an interesting island of thought
because they seem to be heavily into excretory functions. The
traditional American view is that anything issued from the body
is dirty. It's incredibly puritanical and it resents bodily fluids,
so if one is trying to debase a woman, you cover them with that
and hence you get the fabulous term 'Golden Showers' - the term
for pissing on someone, which some well- known rock musicians
are said to be very involved in . .
"Here come the warm jets?"
"That's certainly a reference."
That he's considered to be a film star of sorts in a few very
'elite' circles. - Any chance of him making a comeback to the
"Some of the movies I did were very funny - they had to pretend
to have a plot. Ha ha.
"Can I show you my pubic area?" (! ! !) He exposes his
stomach down to his, ah - about six inches below his Navel. "Absolutely
bare! Now I've got this beautiful bare belly! I've got this new
Japanese thing, you see and the Japanese don't have much hair
on their bodies 'Japanese culture I tip as the next big thing."
I glance nervously over at the flickering candle on the windowsill.
Out of nowhere, Eno produces a very extraordinary looking object
which he explains to be the 'Double Punkt Roller', a massage device
used in Victorian times. I marvel at its aesthetic qualities and
he assures me that it can only be fully appreciated when used
on the bare buttocks. We conclude that art which demands participation
holds the greatest appeal.
"I think that until the turn of the century, art was always
the object - the thing on the wall - whereas now, the orientation
is more to think that art is the process, or what happens to you
when you view it. "I think this is an important part of Gary
Glitter's records in that they make you move in a funny sort of
way. Or reggae. It's not possible to assess them without taking
into account the part of their existence which causes a certain
kind of behaviour.
"I've always been interested in the idea of what I call systems
art/systems music', which is where you think first of all of your
activity as a system which must be intact and interesting - and
you think of the artwork which also must be interesting - and
you think of the listener as a system which must be interesting
too. So you must work on all these levels. "That's why I
don't like the idea of spending months and years recording, because
essentially, that isn't an interesting process to me."
AT THIS POINT, a leather-clad redhead, her fingers covered with
glue and green parakeet feathers enters the room and announces
the arrival of 'the carpenter'. At 1.00 a.m. the inhabitants of
the house appear to be waking up, an what all the excitement is
about I'm rather reluctant to discover. Gentleman that he is,
Von Eno sees me to the door, and, gazing down the night-time street:
"Did you know there's a girls' school with 400 girls just
round the corner? Very nice, I'll tell you, it really is lovely.
I mean they're so beautiful those little girls are. My conscience
won't let me tamper - feel I might damage their lives if I do
"one more time, this time with feeling, yeah…"