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Who He Is: Brian Eno is a quintessential art-school artist who has deeply and dramatically shaped and altered modern music making and appreciation, while aggressively insisting that he is not a musician, per traditional definitions of that term. He was the sartorially-spectacular synth player and tape manipulator in Roxy Music’s early days, before embarking on a solo career than produced some astoundingly creative and influential rock-based albums in the mid-’70s, most of which feature in my list below. Eno was a pioneer in — and actually named — the “ambient music” field, which offered conceptual “quiet” music as a supplement to enhance one’s natural and organic surroundings, rather than distracting one from the same; a lot of affronts and offenses have been promulgated over the years in the name of the “new age” music that Eno could be seen as inspiring, but his own instrumental efforts have clearly demonstrated the values to be appreciated within that idiom, if not its replicability. Eno has also had an extraordinary career as a producer, helming epic albums by the likes of David Bowie (whose Eno-collaboration “Berlin Trilogy” stands among rock music’s greatest creative accomplishments), Talking Heads, Devo, John Cale, U2, Ultravox and numerous others. He has continued to release challenging albums and publish provocative essays on the art of music-making to this day, a clear luminary in his field, shaping the textures of the modern rock idiom while eschewing any dogmatic adherence to the same.
When I First Heard Him: I had probably heard an early Roxy Music song or two featuring Eno at some point soon after their releases, but my most dramatic introduction to his catalog came while sitting in my bedroom at Mitchel Field in the mid-’70s listening to WLIR (92.7 FM), which was a truly brilliant radio station in terms of its free-form programming at the time. A very weird song with words about a “baby on fire” began to ooze out of my speakers one night, and I was utterly transfixed, most especially when one of the most insanely different and exciting guitar solos I’d ever heard sprawled out over several minutes of the song’s run. I would easily cite that as one of the most memorable moments of my radio listening career. It truly moved and astounded me, in life-altering ways. Thankfully, the DJ did ID the track on the air when it had run its course (sometimes that didn’t happen way back when, cue “confusing life before the Internet” tropes): the song was called “Baby’s On Fire,” it was by Brian Eno, and the guitar solo had been played by Robert Fripp, while current and former members of Hawkwind played key supporting roles. I would be hard pressed to find another artist who so fundamentally redirected my musical interests and loves as much as Eno did in that particularly memorable moment.
Why I Love Him: I don’t often promote my own music on my own website (self-marketing is not my strong suit), but were I to do so more often, there would be two points about my deeply-held personal creative values that I would stress, namely (1) Making music using non-musical elements is a glorious art-form, and (2) Making music where lyrics play a key role in the framing and appreciation of each and every song is equally brilliant and important. That second point is noteworthy to me with regard to today’s blog entry: lots of folks have written and will continue to write about Brian Eno’s instrumental influence, but I think he is also one of the finest lyricists to have worked within the rock idiom, ever, a true poet by any measurable rubric. If I think about where I developed and honed my personal preferences and traits when it comes to my own music-making, many of the intellectual trails lead straight back to Brian Eno, either through learned behaviors culled from deep spins of his solo albums, or through thoughtful appreciation of and reflection on his productions of other outsider and mainstream artists, or through adopting the premises framed in his writings about why and how he does what he does. Brian Eno should be the patron saint of musicians whose creative vision exceeds their technical expertise, as few artists have ever made such brilliant music with such limited chops as he did in his heyday. And that’s a compliment, not an insult, just for the record.
#10. “Sombre Reptiles” from Another Green World (1975)
#9. “No One Receiving” from Before and After Science (1977)
#8. “Broken Head” from After the Heat (Eno Moebius Roedelius) (1978)
#7. “On Some Faraway Beach” from Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)
#6. “Golden Hours” from Another Green World (1975)
#5. “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More” from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)
#4. “The Belldog” from After the Heat (Eno Moebius Roedelius) (1978)
#3. “The True Wheel” from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)
#2. “St. Elmo’s Fire” from Another Green World (1975)
#1. “Baby’s On Fire” from Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)