Not Their Life


I didn’t like* David Byrne’s and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts when I first heard it. I remember being discomfited by* the implied condescension of the samples, which I assumed was implicit in their choice of American radio preachers, and which I felt extended by implication to the “world music” vocalists they pirated. The condescension was confirmed when Eno referred to the contrast between his and Byrne’s “futurism” and their pirated vocalists’ “primitivism.” How arrogant, how stupid.

I was also depressed by Byrne & Eno’s attraction to other people’s passionate utterance, and the implication that the producers, the pirates, the guys with their names above the title — they, in their purported sophistication, were incapable of producing such passionate utterance with their own lungs. As a punk rock and free jazz devotee (among other musical allegiances), and as an aspiring, perspiring musician myself, I was passionately in pursuit of the passionate utterance. The singers Byrne and Eno pirated sounded great. But the new context — no.

I haven’t read Amos Tutuola’s novel, which Byrne & Eno quoted for their title. I heard it’s good. Maybe some day.

Next day second thoughts below . . .

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The old settee actually exists.


An unexpected realization when I was writing a book that briefly sketched the lives of Irving Berlin and Woody Guthrie over the book’s length: I don’t enjoy reading biographies. For one thing, they’re all the same: A prominent person achieved prominence amidst a lifetime of tedious and often tawdry detail, and then they died. A good biographer minimizes the tedium, whether through discretion or style or both, but it seems that few biographies avoid the intense linearity of the form. 

That linearity points to another unexpected realization, in which a study of the phenomenon of nationalism (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, by Benedict Anderson — I was writing a book about national anthems, so wrapping my mind around the history of nationalism seemed the thing to do — and I learned  a lot) shed light on my lack of interest in biographies. Among Anderson’s observations: that the novel developed around the same time as the newspaper, and that both evinced a tremendous sense of time’s simultaneity, with their sense of “meanwhile.” The newspaper page tells several stories simultaneously, which occurred in real time simultaneously, by featuring the lot of them on the same page, all of them jumping to other pages, where, often, they share space with still other stories. A whole lotta “meanwhile”s going on in the newspaper. Novels, meanwhile, usually have parallel stories running simultaneously, which  depend on the reader’s ability to hold both stories in their head as the novel jumps between them, showing that sense of “meanwhile.”  Read more of this post