RW: A lot of people might say that you and Roxy Music were responsible
for inventing that sort of self-referential rock, what one might call
BE: "I think so, too. I suppose my disenchantment with that, and with some of
what I did, was from the same feeling. In fact I suppose that's a good way
of making the division between the work I'm doing. There are two separate
strands going on: sometimes I describe them as 'the slow stuff' and 'the
stuff with a beat', but actually a more accurate division would be 'the ironic
stuff' and 'the sincere stuff'. The 'ironic' mode would be about distorting the
currency of rock music in some way so that it's a very conscious working
within a tradition, and it relies on people having a good knowledge of that
tradition to understand it."
RW: Most records that go out these days from new bands don't work at all
unless you know a great deal about the tradition of rock music.
BE: "Yes, it really is culturally inbred music now. One of the great things about
rock music has been that what comes out actually is an overall sound for
the times. I heard 'Da Doo Ron Ron' on the radio today, and I thought,
'God, that's so identifiably of its period, everything about it has the feeling
of that time... and if I'd never heard it before, I'd be able to place it in time
very accurately.' With that placement, you can place a whole lot of... well,
lifestyle attitudes that go with it.
But of course we didn't have people saying that the Crystals were the saviours of Western culture at that time. Two aspects of this go hand in
hand: just as Roxy and Bowie and others produced the metarock thing, so
the critics were equally responsible... because they all wanted to say,
'Look, this is more than just a game... there's some Big Deal going on
RW: It would be interesting to know what would've happened to music if a
lot of people hadn't felt that way in the early Seventies. But it isn't just
critics who think like that. A lot or musicians seem to operate as
critics in a sense. In fact that's virtually what metamusicians are.
BE: "That's right. They're already playing the part of the critic as well when they
make the work."
RW: And implicit in what they do is a critique of other people's music.
BE: "Yes... each piece of music stands as a re-evaluation of rock music to
date. It says 'This it is okay, this isn't.' Re-evaluation is an idea that
interests me a lot. It's normally assumed that the artist is the one who
innovates... but actually, if you look at what artists do, maybe four per cent
of their work is innovation, then there are a whole lot of other things.
For instance, they ignore a whole lot of available options. They re-
evaluate a whole lot of other things that already existed from the whole
history of their medium, and they choose to repeat these ones. They
definitely condemn other aspects. So 'ignoring', 're-evaluating' and
'condemning'... three different ways of dealing with your history to date and
re-using that history.
And I think what's problematic about criticism is that it
always wants to concentrate on that little four per cent (of innovation)
without seeing the whole of the rest of the work.
- Brian Eno in dialogue with Richard Williams, Melody Maker January 12 1980