Brian Eno - A Year With Swollen AppendicesA Year with Swollen Appendices Brian Eno

When is a book not a book? When it’s a diary.

What I mean by that is that a diary isn’t a book in the sense that a novel is. It’s a mode of communication, but not to a mass audience. It employs the book-machine for its physical workings, to facilitate a bundle of 365 pages, but in most cases a diary is something to be filled a page at a time, then filed and quite possibly never read again.

Some say that diaries are always kept with an imagined future somewhere in the back of the mind, that you must imagine the trivia of your daily life will become important when you do (probably long after your demise), and scholars of the future perhaps will pore over your daily record. Or maybe even that your random ideas while riding the tube will be discovered to be of such import that your diary will be published! In Brian Eno’s case, why wait? At least for the last few months of 1994, he knew he would be publishing his diary for that year – the first year he managed to continue to keep his diary past January.

Brian Eno is a funny character. He’s likeable, he’s a lower-case ‘g’ genius, or he has been from time to time. He strikes me as a certain type of intellect, that I have a kinship with, a wandering dilettante – here I’m talking about his interests outside music. I imagine he is technically a great producer and musician, certainly he has created and produced some amazing albums (remember albums?)… an art student, a wag. Not quite in love with himself enough to be a dandy. I always imagined him as an idle rich, I mean that he grew up with wealth and privilege and all that, but apparently he was the son of a postman, the wealth came later. And seemingly never idle, au contraire, so what am I talking about? I mean, I guess, that there is an atmosphere around him that he will always be supported on this bubble of wealth, that it’s a very long time since he had to make a decision based on likelihood of being able to pay the rent. And this has probably been true for some time even though it wasn’t a condition he was born into. And I should point out that I don’t mean this as a criticism of him, moreso that he has an air of a gentleman with the leisure to experiment, which is actually a great mode.

Much of his diary logs sessions working with U2 – when I heard he was producing them, it depressed me. In my mind marked the decline of his career, the zenith being his album Here Come the Warm Jets. This is my own personal prejudice of course. U2 has for the most part been one of my least favorite rock groups (of course – they are abominable). No mention in here of the saga of U2′s label bankrupting Negativland for having the temerity to do a parodic remix of U2′s ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’. The members of U2 expressed their sympathy with Negativland but insisted they had no influence on the decision-making by the label (ho, ho)… This is a digression. The film Sonic Outlaws tells the story, and more stories of copyright infringement/remix culture better than I could anyhow.

This is a fun read, full of names dropped, if only because these are the sort of people he hobnobs with. “Dinner with Laurie and Lou where we discussed Andy”. (Anderson, Reed, Warhol, one assumes). And lots of reflections on modern life and methodologies (oblique strategies) sometimes verging on Jack Handy’s Deep Thoughts. That’s a little unfair. But no amount of fun-making is unfair when the person you are making fun of thought their own diary worthy of a mass audience! Really.

14 February

Beautiful sunny morning: early to studio (8.15). On the way in I saw Terry the greengrocer, the pleasantly weatherbeaten old jazzer who stands out all day on the corner. ‘Lovely day,’ I said. He agreed, and I said how I liked these cold bright days better than hot ones. ‘Oh I love them all,’ he said: ‘I’m just happy to be alive.’ I really think he’s telling the truth.

Long note to Stewart on the Net. Tidying up for Greenaway visit (he cancelled). Called Bono and had a long and interesting chat about soundtracks and the return of ‘big’ (and the end of ‘grey’). His feeling is towards making a positive, assertive, strong next record. Also talked about professorships and other accolades (he’s iust been nominated by some students for a poetry seat at Oxford).

Worked on Photoshop (moiré grids) and a piece of music aptly called ‘Cycle of Despair’. Desperate. Listening also to old microcassettes from many years ago (got that machine going). How strange to have these moments from so long ago – my Mum and Dad talking, a machine I liked the sound of in Long Island, a long forgotten conversation with a taxi-driver.

Went for a bike ride up Kilburn High Road. Saw a lady with her nose smashed in, sitting dazed in a heap of bloody tissues with a policeman nearby. The scene had an African quality about it: the nonchalance of the passers-by contrasted with the woman’s plight. Like that time at the festival in Ghana when the amputee was attacked by a swarm of bees and, after a few moments’ helpless and hysterical bouncing round on the ground, he just settled down and let them cover him. Everyone was watching and laughing.

Bought a computer for the girls! Performa 630 plus with all sorts of kids software.

Met with Barry Levine, music fixer for Judge Dredd, at 192. Doesn’t seem right for me. Hollywood usually makes me puke, I have to confess. If I were a little less snobbish I’d be cleverly ironic about it all and just take the money.

Home to dinner and rather fabulous Castillo Ygay ’68 or ’87 (not clear which! – tasted like ’68). Anthea and I talked through JAMES, Bowie, U2, Greenaway. All this work with others. When will it stop?

I love the juxtaposition of the amputee attacked by bees and the fabulous Castillo Ygay ’68.

10 November

Bill over to the studio in the morning, looking at my computers and chatting. He seems very happy. Letter to Van Morrison suggesting we try working like this: send me the tapes; I’ll fiddle and send them back.

Passengers getting a complete range of reviews – suitably controversial. But there is a good buzz about it. I wonder now whether U2 will adopt it as one of their own, rather than holding it at arm’s length and blaming it on me! Elvis Costello called re working on something for The X Files. Told me at length about his weekend in St Petersburg with a group of repulsive Anglos gloating over the chaotic collapse of Communism.

Paul Simon called: ‘l thought it long past time that we were in touch.’ He’s working on a musical about a fifties Puerto Rican gang murderer and his subsequent life in jail.

Bowie rang full of excitement about his concerts. Says he wants to work with Tricky and P.J. Harvey.

Here is a great story from the appendices:

Duchamp’s Fountain

The attempts to keep art special become increasingly bizarre. This was a
theme of a talk I gave at the Museum of Modem Art in New York as part of
the ‘HIGH ART/ LOW ART’ exhibition.

Looking round the show during the day, I noticed that Duchamp’s Fountain – a men’s urinal basin which he signed and exhibited in 1913 as the first ‘readymade’ – was part of the show. I had previously seen the same piece in London and at the Biennale of Sao Paolo.

I asked someone what they thought the likely insurance premium would be for transporting this thing to New York and looking after it. A figure of $30,000 was mentioned. I don’t know if this is reliable, but it is certainly credible. What interested me was why, given the attitude with which Duchamp claimed he’d made the work – in his words, ‘complete aesthetic indifference’ – it was necessary to cart precisely this urinal and no other round the globe. It struck me as a complete confusion of understanding: Duchamp had explicitly been saying, ‘I can call any old urinal – or anything else for that matter – a piece of art’, and yet curators acted as though only this particular urinal was A Work Of Art. If that wasn’t the case, then why not exhibit any urinal – obtained at much lower cost from the plumber’s on the corner?

Well, these important considerations aside, I‘ve always wanted to urinate on that piece of art, to leave my small mark on art history. I thought this might be my last chance – for each time it was shown it was more heavily defended. At MoMA it was being shown behind glass, in a large display case. There was, however, a narrow slit between the two front sheets of glass. It was about three-sixteenths of an inch wide.

I went to the plumber’s on the corner and obtained a couple of feet of clear plastic tubing of that thickness, along with a similar length of galvanized wire. Back in my hotel room, I inserted the wire down the tubing to stiffen it. Then I urinated into the sink and, using the tube as a pipette, managed to fill it with urine. I then inserted the whole apparatus down my trouser-leg and retumed to the museum, keeping my thumb over the top end so as to ensure that the urine stayed in the tube.

At the museum, I positioned myself before the display case, concentrating intensely on its contents. There was a guard standing behind me and about 12 feet away. I opened my fly and slipped out the tube, feeding it carefully through the slot in the glass. It was a perfect fit, and slid in quite easily until its end was poised above the famous john. I released my thumb, and a small but distinct trickle of my urine splashed on to the work of art.

That evening I used this incident, illustrated with several diagrams showing from all angles exactly how it had been achieved, as the basis of my talk. Since ‘decommodification’ was one of the buzzwords of the day, I described my action as ‘re-commode-ification’.

I guess there are some replicas of Duchamp’s Urinal floating around, but the point Eno is (willfully?) missing here is that just as Duchamp miraculously transformed a urinal into a work of art, the formerly anonymous object itself then becomes itself a document of art history (however Duchamp or Eno may have felt about it) – and its authenticity therefore is seen as important – whether it is or isn’t really – but it became a work of art whether it was or was not really already one (Duchamp: it was). The role of the curator clearly is not to recreate the second artistic act (Duchamp’s appropriation of a piece of folk art) but to administrate the transport and display of holy relics! For that matter, why was it important to use your own actual urine?

All that aside, diaries are a particular and peculiar book-form and I will be blogging on several more of them shortly.

One Response to “Brian Eno’s 1994 Diary”

  1. Very interesting stuff, and a cleverly written blog. Eno’s diary sounds like Eno to me, that guy that formed that 6,000 piece (or some other huge number–I forget) orchestra of amateur but sincere musicians to record the William Tell Overture.

    Brian Eno has fascinated me for a long time. His diary reads like name-droppers paradise, not that I find that offensive. One wonders if a postman’s son has moments when he says to himself, “I really know all these people, imagine that!” Based on my own humble upbringing I doubt that I’d be able to hold back a smirk in a similar situation.

    It doesn’t make a lot of difference to me whether writing is diary or fiction or non–It all runs together in my way of seeing things. I just came across Richard Brautigan’s work–I’d completely forgotten his existence– and thought that it read someting like an acid-laced diary.

    Looking forward to your next post. You might want to check out mine from Monday, The Maniacal Laugh, about an unconference in Madison that I attended and facilitated a meditation session in.

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