With most musicians the obsession of Brian Eno tends toward the analogy of driving on the highway: anyone driving faster than me is insane, and anyone going slower than me is an idiot. I’ve done more than my share of eye-rolling as it seems nearly any musician will pledge some allegiance to ‘Brain One’ no matter how tenuous the connection, yet it is undeniable how pervasive an effect Eno has had on the world. From his early work with Roxy Music, then moving on into a solo career where he largely created the ambient movement (along with significant contributions to progressive rock and world music) we could stop there and have a significant figure to consider. Then of course we would be leaving out, world-renowned producer, visual artist, writer, and visionary thinker who helps found organizations like The Long Now Foundation. Author David Sheppard acknowledges that on the highway of Brian Eno, he drives in the unrestricted lane of the autobahn. I drive pretty fast myself, so I was quite excited to encounter this book.
The biography of a renaissance man (truly an apt description here) must be one of the harder tasks in telling the story of a life. There are so many avenues to walk down it would be easy to lose focus. Sheppard starts off, “You couldn’t make him up. Or at least if you did no one would quite believe you.” The density of Eno’s multi-varied accomplishments is something that Sheppard is acutely aware of and are enumerated with humor and appropriate awe in his opening chapter. Indeed there are so many facets to Eno that Sheppard could only hope to build a frame around him and “try to fit a skyscraper into a suitcase.” Nonetheless with this book we are treated to a wonderful framing of an inconceivably accomplished life.
Of course this biography is destined to be incomplete as Brian Eno is alive and well (61 today), but we are left with a detailed tent pole chronology that gives us an excellent portrait of the man up to very recent history (Spring 2008). While the opening chapters provide a warmly detailed account of Sheppard’s interest in Eno as well as the years of his upbringing, the bulk of the book deals (understandably) with his professional life. There is a dizzying plethora of material on Eno as so many love to explore every inch of his output. Certainly this is in no small part due to Eno’s enthusiasms for being interviewed and giving talks, but Sheppard has been exceptionally detailed in finding choice interviews and quotes from Eno’s many collaborators. Beyond that, he had the handy cooperation of Eno himself and his wife Anthea to provide new and revealing detail. While Sheppard is clearly a fan’s fan, he manages to temper the honorifics and hyperbole with a critical eye to give us much better than what could have been a gushing tome.
While Eno’s published diary gives us a personal insight and Eric Tamm’s book gave us a detailed musicology, Sheppard’s biography fills a much needed space in providing a fabulous and engrossing bridge between the two. He gracefully merges groundbreaking collaborations, ideas, and music with an intimate portrait that is equally fascinating.
“On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno” by David Sheppard, 2008, hardcover: 480 pages, $18.45 on Amazon, ISBN 978-1-55652-942-9.