Tuesday 31 December 2019

Bookends 2019

It's been a great year for reading, with no books being rated by me as mediocre. The worst book of the year was The Last Hours by Minette Walters (2017), which merely read like a passable historical fiction novel, which is no great crime. There were some disappointing books, such as The Crying Lot of 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966), which seemed dated and unfocused. David Marusek's sequel to the excellent Counting Heads (2005) - Mind Over Ship (2009), struggled for coherence and left me underwhelmed. 

The best by far were Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (1987) and Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1946), two totally different but equally sublime novels. I'll be definitely reading more by Lively and Peake in the near future, and so should you! A shout-out goes to Sailor Twain by Mark Siegal (2012) and The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis (1986) for being the most entertaining books of the year. The most important book, for unfortunate reasons, was Sapiens by Yuval Harari (2011); a must-read if you want to understand where humanity has come from and exactly why it was almost inevitable the we should find ourselves in our current climate change predicament. Appropriate reading for humanity's last golden age? I wish that I could be more optimistic on the last day of 2019, but frankly rather than bury my head in the sand, like Australia's ruling Triple C Liberal Party (Climate Change Criminals), I'm going to bury my head in more books next year (including a recent Christmas gift - Bowie's Books (2019), hence the gratuitous Bowie picture above...).

Monday 16 December 2019

On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno - David Sheppard (2008)

Rating: Excellent

The Book

I've had On Some Faraway Beach sitting on my shelf for a decade, mostly because I don't really read  biographies much any more (or music related books for that matter). Due to some random reason my brain decided that it was time, something Eno would appreciate I'm sure (after all, I do use a system to choose what books I read, but I also leave room for randomness). David Sheppard's biography of one of modern music's most ubiquitous and important figures is particularly satisfying, even though it does suffer from the usual problem of too much focus in some eras and not enough in others. This is understandable, after all many reading this biography would be much more interested in Eno's amazing 70's and 80's period, than Eno's still prodigious but less fascinating 2000's activities, which are relegated to a succession of brief passages, although somehow even at this point Sheppard manages to cram enough compressed Eno detail to satisfy the seriously curious. Sheppard is a consummate writer, whose writing style is resplendent with erudition and jewel-like adverbs; however such literary indulgences suit a cultural figure such as Eno, whom is both a sensualist and an intellectual. Sheppard telescopes in on Eno's most important moments - his time in Roxy Music, his early solo albums, his 'invention' of ambient music and his incredible musical collaborations with the likes of Robert Fripp and David Bowie. It feels like you are placed completely within Eno's (past) world and are then invited to explore. For Enophiles On Some Far Away Beach is very satisfying indeed but for the more casual, yet curious fans, the biography may be just all too much to absorb in the end.


I've long been an appreciator of Brian Eno's music, and this biography has certainly reignited an interest in his music, which leads me to believe that those with a more casual interest should be compelled to listen to at least some of his music. On Some Faraway Beach reveals a prolific artist who works tirelessly on both his own projects and in collaboration with others. If you are put off by the notion of ambient music (if not then try On Land (1982) for starters) then fortunately Eno had his well perfumed fingers (Eno collects scents...) in many a musical pie. Listen to his work with Bowie, Talking Heads, John Cale and of course, the first two Roxy Music albums, although Eno is perhaps more well known for his production work for the likes of U2 and Coldplay, if that's where your tastes lie. Eno has often been accused of being pretentious (something he's actually welcomed) and this biography does little to dissuade such thoughts, however Eno's approach to music and culture in general is absolutely fascinating. His obsession with working with systems that use initial agreed elements that then either play out or influence a given musical situation has led to a great deal of brilliant music. Then there is his Oblique Strategies cards that contain advice to get you out of a creative impasse, or to generate new ways of thinking about music and art. If you are not particularly interested in reading On Some Faraway Beach then please do listen to Eno's music, which is diverse, immersive and ultimately extremely rewarding.