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David Sheppard: On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno (2008) April 3, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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David Sheppard: On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno

This is, as far as I know, the first proper biography of Brian Eno — original member of Roxy Music, collaborator with Robert Fripp and David Bowie, inventor of ambient music, producer of U2 and Coldplay, and so much more.  Fortunately, it’s a good book.

There are other books about Eno. Eric Tamm wrote a musicological take on Eno’s albums called Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound (now available as a free download at Tamm’s website). Eno published a diary of a year in his life, A Year With Swollen Appendices. (The year in question was 1995.) The 33 1/3 series published Geeta Dayal’s book on Eno’s album Another Green World. This one, a biography of Eno the man, may explain why there are Eno fans in the first place.

Sheppard’s book is long and well-researched, drawing on published accounts as well as a variety of interviews with many of the people who’ve been a part of Eno’s world. The book covers Eno’s life from his childhood well into the 21st century. I was pleasantly surprised by some of Sheppard’s choices of interview subjects; I hadn’t realized, for example, how early people like John Foxx and Colin Newman had crossed paths with Eno. The book feels like it’s exhaustive, giving a lot of coverage to Eno’s time in Roxy Music but also mentioning more obscure activities, like his production work with the Urban Verbs, without ever being a dry recitation of facts. A lot of personalities come through in the book, and there are some surprises and some great anecdotes.

It’s not a case of unadulterated hero worship, either — a few people, perhaps most notably Gavin Bryars, occasionally pop up in the narrative to argue that Eno gets credit for things others did first, or that some of his projects really are just the work of a dilettante with no deep understanding of what he’s doing.

Overall, though, Sheppard does a good job of intelligently discussing Eno’s music in the context of its times, be it Roxy Music in the glam era or working with Bowie in the punk era, and he presents Eno as a fascinating and complex and certainly not perfect person. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.

(Beats the hell out of the Roxy Music book I struggled through a few years ago, Paul Stump’s Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural Biography of Roxy Music. There are three other Roxy Music books out there now. I’ll give another one a shot one of these days.)

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