When I listen to Brian Eno’s music and the recordings of bands he has produced in his long musical career, it is hard for me to grasp the idea that he has called himself a “non-musician.”
Eno studied painting and experimental music in the 1960s and joined the glam-rock band Roxy Music as its synthesizer player in 1971. The popular belief is, he and frontman Bryan Ferry didn’t get on well, and Eno embarked on a solo musical career in 1973. The next year, he released two albums, Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. His musical endeavours continue to today (he and brother Roger released Mixing Colours in 2020 with an ambitious campaign inviting video submissions for the album’s tracks). Today’s selection comes from Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (and is joined by another post on a song from that collection, the calming and evocative title track, “Taking Tiger Mountain” — check it out… and if you search “Brian Eno” on this site, you will receive a LOT of results… he’s definitely a favourite).
As I mentioned in my post on “Taking Tiger Mountain” (and I’m sure a few other times), one of my brothers urged me to buy the album as soon as I purchased my first stereo. That long-play record has been in my collection for 44 years and still looks quite new. It was and remains pivotal in the development of my music tastes.
Looking at the album, I was reminded by the cover notes that English musician Phil Collins, once a member of Genesis along with Peter Gabriel (whose music has appeared on this blog several times), played extra drums on this song; English actor, singer and former model Polly Eltes sings the bridge part (“In my town, there is a raincoat under a tree… ”); and longtime Eno collaborator and former bandmate in Roxy Music and 801, Phil Manzanera, provided his trademark guitar wizardry, as well as assisting with arrangement and production on the record. (Incidentally, a line from “The True Wheel,” another terrific song from this album, was the inspiration for the name of the short-lived, live band project called 801: “We are the 801 / We are the central shaft / And we are here to let you take advantage / Of our lack of craft / Certain streets have certain corners / Sooner or later we’ll turn yours… ”)
The instrumentation (Eno creates unique arrangements of instruments such that, on one album, I recall he credited someone as playing “lead piano”), along with the background effects and production, all belie the notion of a non-musician, and make it understandable why so many musical acts have sought to work with him to bring his “aural landscapes” onto their creations.
Aside from his ambient and electronic works, Eno’s glam-rock song topics were mysterious and off-beat. The lyrics are often nonsensical (at least on the surface, not accounting for irony and subtle statements on the mundane in modern civilization):
“I can think of nowhere I would rather be
Reading morning papers, drinking morning tea:
She clutches the tray
And then we talk just like a kitchen sink play
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Living so close to danger,
Even your friends are strangers
Don’t count upon their company.
This is for the fingers,
This is for the nails:
Hidden in the kitchen,
Right behind the scales.
What do I care?
I’m wasting fingers like I had them to spare,
Plugging holes in the Zuider Zee.
Punishing Paul for Peter,
Don’t ever trust those meters
What you believe is what you see.
In my town, there is a raincoat under a tree.
In the sky, there is a cloud containing the sea.
In the sea, there is a whale without any eyes.
In the whale, there is a man without his raincoat.
In another country, with another name
Maybe things are different, maybe they’re the same.
Back on the trail,
The seven soldiers read the papers and mail
But the news, it doesn’t change.
Swinging about through creepers,
Parachutes caught on steeples
Heroes are born, but heroes die.
Just a few days, a little practice and some holiday pay,
We’re all sure you’ll make the grade.
Mother of God, if you care,
We’re on a train to nowhere
Please put a cross upon our eyes.
Take me – I’m nearly ready, you can take me
To the raincoat in the sky.
Take me – my little pastry mother take me
There’s a pie shop in the sky”
(“Mother Whale Eyeless,” by Brian Eno. Lyrics courtesy of AZLyrics.com)
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here’s the audio from Brian Eno’s official YouTube channel: