I broke up with Brian Eno in 1980.
He was different after the car accident of 1975. It left him a bitter man, and he stopped working for our relationship a few years later. Our anniversaries used to be delightful; I never knew what to expect. I received a telegraph in 1978 to meet him at the airport on the day of our anniversary and my heart skipped a beat. Were we going somewhere? But when I met him at the airport, all he wanted to do with sit at the terminal and drink the overpriced bottled water. “What are we doing here?” “Shh and listen,” he said. I didn’t hear much. The airport speakers were playing a nice tune, I remember, but it was too silent to be heard over the sound of planes ascending and descending and people getting on them. He stayed at the airport and I left. You might say he stayed at that airport for the rest of his life.
I had a few flings with him after that. He came to my house in 1981 with a bouquet of roses and told me he was a changed man. He made me a CD titled My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I suppose the title was a reference to his life without me. We made love to “The Jezebel Spirit.” It wasn’t a great CD, but it was certainly better than listening to his airport and film music. But a year later, he was back on it. I suppose there’s no such thing as quitting, just stopping for a very long time. My heart sank when I received a package from him entitled “Music for Plate Tectonics.” I didn’t listen to it, but when I told him it was over, I suggested he change the name to something punchier. He asked me what I thought of “On Land.” “Whatever,” I said and left.
In 2009, an old friend of his, David Byrne and I had breakfast together. I remember thinking that David still had a funny voice, even though he was in his late fifties. David told me that Brian Eno was a changed man. “I’ve heard that one before,” I said. “I heard the new U2 album today, No Line on the Horizon. It wasn’t very good. He produced it, right? Some ‘changed man.'” David didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. I put down a twenty on the table and left without getting my change. I suppose the waitress got a nice tip out of it.
I woke up in the middle of the night. Someone was tossing pebbles against my window. I opened it and there he was. I didn’t recognize him at first; he didn’t have a single hair on his head. I went down to the front door to greet him, but I refused to let him come inside the house. “Please,” he said, but I shook my head. “You should go.” “Here,” he said and thrust forward another package. “I told U2 I didn’t want to produce their new album; that they had to find someone else; that I had to do something else. This is it.” The album art was pretty, I admitted to myself. It was like a picture of a city taken from the window of a plane right as it landed if they made cities more colorful. But I told him I didn’t want it. I told him that I listened to his last one, Someday World, and it wasn’t much of anything at all. I told him I wanted the old Brian Eno back. “This is the old Brian Eno,” he reassured me.
I didn’t go to sleep right away. I kept tossing and turning, trying hard not to listen to my urges telling me to listen to the new CD, but I eventually gave in. The first song was good. “Return,” it was called, and it really was a return. The guitarist, who turned out to be the fellow from Underworld, surprisingly, sounded like the Edge, but the Edge before Brian Eno got to him. Even though it sounded like he was just strumming the same two chords over and over again, it was still simultaneously twitchy and melodic. Soon after, Eno’s warm voice added a simple melody over the guitar, and proceeded to direct the two in his typical crescendo but over an atypical nine minute length. It was good, but I was still skeptical.
But the CD was just surprise after surprise after surprise. “DBF” sounded like a Talking Heads song after they met Eno (but without David Byrne’s voice over-top). It was seriously something else to hear Brian and Karl play the same sound over and over again; you’d think you’d get sick of it fast, but you don’t and when you finally do, they switch on an entirely different sound. And each track seemed to have us going further and further back in time; the man who once treated instruments until they sounded like other instruments was back on “Time to Waste It,” where the vocals became less and less human with each subsequent line. “Lilac” is the opposite, where the harmonizing vocals provide a warm blanket while Brian adds more and more electronic blips and bloops to the instrumentation.
In contrast, there was no warmth to be found in “Moulded Life,” though it was hard to argue with the thick brushstroke of a bass line. And while all five of these songs were funk, or Brian’s own version of it, closer “Cells & Bells” is completely different. It sounds like they took the piano loop to one of Brian’s ambient songs and flooded it with noise while Brian sang robotically over-top. It didn’t sound like the soundtrack to a hotel anymore, but the soundtrack to a dead planet. But in the middle of the song, at the 4:09 mark, where they have a child repeat Eno’s last few lines, it’s like a glimmer of hope.
I think I’ll give him a call. Ask him if he wants to go for drinks with me sometime. Maybe people can change.
I can hope, anyway.