Two years ago, I thought it would be fun to write a short book on Another Green World for the Continuum 33 1/3 series of music books, and that fateful pact I made has weighed on my psyche like a ten-thousand-pound albatross ever since. After various fits and starts, I’m happy to say I’m making good progress on the book. Nothing feels better than getting at a project that’s been on the back burner for so long and watching it assume a shape and personality in your hands.
After a dark and dreadful New England winter I’m feeling rejuvenated, inspired. There are roses blooming on my block on vines so massive they look like grand old trees. The community gardens in my leafy Boston neighborhood are in full generative swing. I feel inspired by doing interviews; I feel inspired by being able to think about ideas again, and that process of discovery. Part of it, too, is that I am starting to see connections grow organically, nodes in the circuit where stories meet — I can sketch mental schematics that are going someplace interesting.
Part of the reason I was so stymied was because everything else in life came first — my day job helping to start up a new research center in the confines of the MIT Media Lab, a big move from New York City to Boston, my health, bills to pay. Another reason why my brain was so stopped up was because I felt for a while that I just couldn’t write anymore, outside of the odd article here and there. When I was caught up in thinking about music full time, writing to pay the rent, getting promos, dealing with labels, and just trying to keep up with the relentless breakneck pace of all of those bits being pushed around the Web, I started to hate music, and I had to step back for a while. I could no longer keep up with every new release. I started avoiding new releases. I went through one moody month in which I listened to nothing but Sun Ra’s entire discography. Then cycled through other stuff — Coltrane, Ayler, old disco records.
I got interested in other things — technology, for instance. Free software. Politics and the US elections. Film and video — I inherited an old video projector from 1995, aimed it at one of my slanted ceilings, and use the hazy flicker of old Cabaret Voltaire videos to light my 200-year-old apartment at night. I read Mastering the Art of French Cooking cover to cover and taught myself about béarnaise sauces and soufflés. I attempted to master passages from Horowitz and Hill’s classic The Art of Electronics in parallel with the art of French cooking, in the interest of balance. (I finally learned how an op-amp worked, after avoiding the subject like the plague when I was a student at MIT years ago.) I re-read Jane Jacobs’ “Death and Life of Great American Cities.” I took up cycling (so very Kraftwerk), and now I cycle back and forth across bridges, about eight miles a day. To offer some perspective on this achievement, two months ago I had three broken ribs after falling down a flight of stairs while moving some wood furniture.
I have no interest in writing a standard rock biography of Eno. That would actually be pretty easy to do, and it’s been done. There’s a goldmine of archival interviews and material available online; I wouldn’t have to stray very far from my computer to put together a canned history of “the making of the album.” But I would be bored senseless writing that kind of book, and I don’t even read books like that. I somehow doubt Eno does either.
I’m trying to write an exploratory book on the ideas underpinning the music — I have little interest in the detailing the minutiae of recording sessions and gear. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve learned some fascinating things about the way that Another Green World was put together in the studio. But I’m also interested in Discreet Music, which came out the same year (1975); I’m interested in Evening Star; Obscure Records, Harmonia. I’m interested in cooking, gardening, painting, cybernetics, and televisions turned sideways. But instead of my base of information getting too unwieldy — like my overgrown garden yard in Boston, which is bursting with so much entropy right now that it’s practically impossible to see the marble paths that wind through it — I actually feel calmer and more focused. Every day I hear from an Eno collaborator or friend who has useful advice or a unique perspective or encouragement to offer.
It’s also been helpful to really be into music again. I had just gotten in touch with Dieter Moebius and one searing summer night while I was working I put the Eno/Moebius/Roedelius record After the Heat on the stereo. I was really moved by it, playing certain tracks over and over and hearing something new each time. It was like I could see the pathways of all of the electronic music that came before it and after it, traveling through that record like so many streams.