Brian Eno's Diary
I’ve long been an admirer of Brian Eno, and have lately been having a blast with his diary, "A Year With Swollen Appendices," which he kept in 1995. During the course of that year, he worked as producer with Bowie, U2 and James, in addition to his own musical projects, and found time to daily record his reflections—personal, quotidian, philosophical, unacademic, intuitive, autodidactic, humorous, and always interesting. I thought I’d collage a few choice ones:
April 17: [About his two little daughters] The girls naming their dolls: Irial comes up with names like Barassiwa, or Sharamooshala, or Ilazia Ha, all of which have very obscure pronunciations, whereas Darla’s are carefully considered permutations of Flower, Love, Heart And Beauty (such as Heart Love, Beauty Flower, Beauty Love Flower, etc.)
June 7: We all went to see Peter Gabriel in the evening at his enormous new/semi-derelict house in Holland Park. What a project to embark upon! He's a born DIY-er, but on a sort of cosmic scale…His interesting qualities are vision and stubbornness in about equal mixture—he’s so tenacious to his ideas. I give them up as soon as there's the least resistance, and try to find another way. He's like an army, unstoppable; I'm a guerilla, avoiding the main roads and looking for a good spot to snipe from.
We went for a coffee, and I asked him for a dress for Pagan Fun Wear. He had the idea to make something like a table worn as a dress, with gold cutlery, plates and serviettes on it—a meal served. Great idea, but very hard to get made in the time (especially since he wants to approve it first).
August 2: [On art] Trying to make things that can become better in other people's minds than they were in yours.
September 8: One history of music would chart the evolution and triumph of noise over purity in music. The Renaissance looked for clear, pure tones and coherent, stackable voices. Since then it has been outside all the way, with composer after composer looking for more raspy and complicated timbres. Indeed, if one measured noisiness of instrumentation on a scale of 100, the classical palette would stop at about 50, but the rock palette wouldn’t even start until about 30 (and would then continue all the way out to about 90—a figure constantly rising).
Distortion and complexity are the sources of noise. Rock music is built on distortion: on the idea that things are enriched, not degraded, by noise. To allow something to become noisy is to allow it to support multiple readings. It is a way of multiplying resonances. It is also a way of "making the medium fail”—thus giving the impression that what you are doing is bursting out of the material: "I'm too big for this medium."
October 3: Bowie called from a distant American hotel room to relay the O.J. verdict to me as it was delivered, describing the scene in court etc. Then it was on our TV too, so we were watching it together. I don't know what city he was in—Detroit, I think. Incredible tension, with Ito slowly going over all the rules. Then the verdict—and the beautiful sad face of Marcia Clark, outwitted by shysters.
March 22: Home early. Cinema: The Madness Of King George—betweeen so-so and OK. Like most movies, I shall probably never think of it again.
October 19: Reading Boorstin’s The Creators: what a bastard Beethoven sounds—arrogant, paranoid, disagreeable. Why am I still surprised when people turn out to be not at all like their work? A suspicion of the idea that art is the place where you become what you'd like to be—Peter Schmidt’s "more desirable reality"—rather than what you already are?
October 24: Interviews in the morning and visit to VH1 to do a chat show with J. D. Considine and others. Everyone talks ten-to-the-dozen and has immediate and passionate opinions about absolutely everything. This is TV passion—instant, intense, forgettable. I feel like a tweedy egghead snail—slow, careful.
[A letter to Dave Stewart of Eurythmics] A few years ago I came up with a new word. I was fed up with the old art-history idea of genius—the notion that gifted individuals turn up out of nowhere and light the way for all the rest of us dummies to follow. I became (and still am) more and more convinced that the important changes in cultural history were actually the product of very large numbers of people and circumstances conspiring to make something new. I call this “scenius”—it means "the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene". It is the communal form of the concept of genius. This word is now starting to gain some currency—the philosopher James Ogilvy uses it in his most recent book.
One of the reasons I'm attached to this idea is that it is capable of dignifying many more forms of human innovation under its umbrella than the old idea of genius, which exemplifies what I called the “Big Man” theory of history—where events are changed by the occasional brilliant or terrible man, working in heroic isolation. I would prefer to believe that the world is constantly being remade by all its inhabitants: that it is a cooperative enterprise. Folk arts and popular arts have always been criticized because they tend to exhibit evolutionary incremental change—because they lack sufficient “Big Men” making shockingly radical and unpopular steps into the future. Instead the pop scene carries much of its audience with it—something the fine arts people are inclined to distrust: the secret question is, "How can it possibly be good if so many people like it?"
I think I've always been fascinated by diaries and journals (pre-blog blogs), and the latest addition to my collection is Kurt Cobain's, which is very smart and very funny—highly recommended. Feel free to recommend any of your favorites in the genre if you like.