From The Archives: Everything You'd Rather Not Know About Eno
, May 26th, 2010 09:54
In this classic 1974 interview from Rock's Backpages, Chrissie Hynde gets more than she bargained for when sent to interview Brian Eno for NME
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.
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 need furniture."
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, exits.)
"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 80% 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 sloooow-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 and beautiful.
"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 are important.
"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 observer.
"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 realise 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 you err 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 Blonde). The lyrics are so inviting.
"Do you know what a '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 course.
"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 Screen?
"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, and 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 – I feel I might damage their lives if I do anything."
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