Some wisdom from Brian Eno

Brian Eno is one of the smartest musicians around, and his interests go far beyond music. This morning I stumbled across excerpts from a documentary on him, and learned a few important things. At one point he says something I’ve long suspected, but his assessment carries far more weight than mine:

I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out.

I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.

We know so little history that the thought surprises us, but one hundred years is not a very long time. What one technology gives, another can easily take away. The surprise here is that the age of commercial recorded music lasted so long (and peaked so lucratively!)

Something else he said resonates with me. He is talking about Frank Zappa, another rock musician as famous as Eno for exploring the fringes of music.

Zappa was important to me because I realised I didn’t have to make music like he did. I might have made a lot of music like he did if he had not done it first and made me realise that I did not want to go there. I did not like his music but I am grateful that he did it. Sometimes you learn as much from the things you don’t like as from the things you do like. The rejection side is as important as the endorsement part. You define who you are and where you are by the things that you know you are not. Sometimes that’s all the information you have to go on. I’m not that kind of person. You don’t quite know where you are but you find yourself in the space left behind by the things you’ve rejected. [Emphasis added]

I am prone to spend time keeping up with the public antics of people whose thinking and behavior I disapprove of, both secular celebrities and Christian ones. Friends have occasionally chided me for it—why waste your time?

Here Eno zeroes in on the reason: it is important to know who you do not want to be. And that knowledge comes best in the form of someone who is living it out. It’s helpful for me to understand the abstract reasons for not employing sarcasm, bombast, or pugnaciousness in my writing—but it’s far better to locate a writer who thinks just the opposite, and revels in those things as he writes on similar topics. By studying him I can get a fully fleshed out picture of the person who behaves that way, and strengthen my resolve not to become that kind of person.

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