Honestly speaking, I should probably give more of a crap about Brian Eno than I do. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s inredibly cool, but I’m what I’d consider a novice when it comes to his music. I love the stuff he did with Roxy Music, and am a big fan of Here Come the Warm Jets (notably “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” and “Baby’s On Fire”). I listened to Before and After Science quite a bit in college, based on the strength of “Backwater.” I love that he was inspired enough by NYC’s fleeting post-punk phenomenon, No Wave, to attempt to capture it on vinyl as No New York (despite cotentious testimony from some of that document’s participants that Eno was some sort of plundering dilitante). I think his “oblique strategies” approach is intriguing, and let’s face it --- the albums he did with Bowie, Devo, Talking Heads and U2 are arguably each of those artists’ finest recorded moments.
At this point, before you read anything else, I’d steer you towards this exhaustive and informative piece on Eno’s most creatively fertile period in New York City, written by the great Simon Reynolds. The picture above is actually of Eno in New York in 1974 (as captured by Leee Black Childers), but the era Simon writes about is 1978 to 1984.
This all said, so much of Eno’s own work just plain bores the Hell out of me. As much as I want to get into his proto-ambient work and admire its aesthetic, nine times out of ten it just puts me to sleep. Literally.
But there was a passage in Simon’s piece that caught my attention….
Some of On Land’s glinting, diaphanous music soundtracked his first major video work, “Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan,” which comprised glacier-slow images of the New York skyline at sunset captured from the window of his downtown apartment. Both the audio and video reflected a desire to slow down the city’s hyped-up metabolism, to transform New York against its will into a more tranquil and ethereal place. The word “mediaeval” was a sideways allusion to an experience of culture shock and stimuli overload in Chinatown, where his senses were assaulted by strange smells and sounds. Eno decided that to survive in the city he needed to imaginatively transform the place into something less overwhelming; after all, he was a Suffolk native raised amid the “aloneness” and “very slow pace of things” that characterized that sparsely populated coastal region of eastern England. The idea of New York as a “strange, medieval, huge complex town in the middle of nowhere... suddenly made the place tolerable for me. You can easily live in New York and just see the mess of it. I wanted to make it mysterious again.”
Curiosity duly piqued, I sought out the video in question, and lo and behold, found it on YouTube.
My favorite part is this directive: “This is a vertical format video. Please turn your monitor or TV onto its right side.”
Yeah, have fun doing that.
Anyway, here `tis. Maybe have some coffee at the ready.