INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
All About Jazz MARCH 14, 2021 - by Nenad Georgievski
A YEAR WITH SWOLLEN APPENDICES: BRIAN ENO'S DIARY, 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Published diaries are a strange affair. The relationship between the diarist and the diary itself is a private affair, considered to be almost sacred. People write their deepest, most heartfelt passions in their diaries, their thoughts, and desires, and they are safe in the knowledge that the diary will not be seen by others. This is why they record their thoughts as they consider the diary will keep their secrets until the grave. And reading someone's diary entries can be voyeuristic as there are mysteries and intrigue involved. Certainly, they provide an insight into other people's minds. One of the best things about reading someone else's diary is discovering what the writer has chosen to record. Books that are based on diaries also provide the reader with something really special, that's to say, the feeling that someone is confiding in you and is sharing things that he or she would never tell anyone else.
One of the most interesting diaries to be published in the last few decades, and which has been re-published for its twenty-fifth anniversary, is Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices. A lot can be said about Eno and a lot has been said. As philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once put it, "Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see." Eno's work, be it music or visual arts, have been about the expansion of thought and emotion, and often he was able to hit those targets that no one could see. His has been a lifelong quest to see what else could be called music or art. Brian Eno is a cultural polymath with an insatiable curiosity and as a result, he is one of the most interesting, polymorphous, and inimitable artists whose creative endeavors in the last fifty years have crisscrossed so many areas, yielding great results. Of the many hats he wears, Eno is a essentially a musician, and an exceptionally influential and creative record producer who was early on inspired to make music by utilizing nonmusical approaches and chance that have resulted in groundbreaking records, productions, art installations. In his work, there is a constant dialogue between different areas and mediums and this continues to excite him to this very day. Most of these endeavors feed off, and into, one another. There is a sense of exploration in these works, allied to a brilliant intelligence and childlike curiosity that have been at the heart of his creative life.
His interviews and occasional writings have been a treasure trove of ideas and thoughts and apart from those conversations in print - and three books by other authors - very little of his writings exist in print, until this diary was published. For the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, the book has been redesigned and it features two ribbons, pink paper delineating the appendices, and is adorned with a hardcover. It also has a new introduction and up-to date notes by Eno. It's 1995 and Brian Eno decides to keep a diary for the year ahead. But this is a diary with a difference. Flicking through through the five hundred pages one can instantly see its appeal. In their diaries, people provide frequent reports on the events and experiences of their everyday lives. These reports capture the particulars of their experiences in a way that is not possible using traditional designs. As a book, A Year with Swollen Appendices is difficult to describe or categorize because it steadfastly refuses to do only one thing; instead, it does plenty. Certainly, it serves as a time machine that overflows with various events and brainstorming.
The book reveals the many Enos in existence: the artist, the producer, the father and husband, the conceptualist, the questioner, the collaborator, the traveler, the humanitarian, the professor, the musician, etc. These are all neatly named at the back of the book's cover and through various diary entries, these different sides all seem to appear. And on various days, he interacts with a colorful cast of characters such as Dave Stewart, Bono, Björk, Luciano Pavarotti, Princess Diana, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Paul Simon, to mention but a few.
The book doesn't aim to be a literary masterpiece in the most traditional sense, but as a diary and as a maze of thoughts and observations it aims to hit several other targets that draw the reader into a world of interesting observations, ideas, funny quotations, oblique strategies, naughtiness, book references, projects, travels, etc. Over the course of that year Eno was working on several music projects such as David Bowie's conceptual art crime record Outside, (funny, no mention of the record's potential follow up i.e. the Inside), the joint effort with U2 under the moniker Passengers, the Mancunian band James, the collaboration with bassist Jah Wobble on what would become Spinner and Help, a charity record that provided aid for the War Child charity. Musically, it is interesting to see what he brings to the processes behind the record-making for different parties. It is his innate understanding of the processes as he instinctively knows how to enrich the music-making process or to propel it and the artists into other interesting areas. During the '90s he went from strength to strength as he produced some of the watershed records of that decade.
All throughout the book there are thoughts and views on the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, which was reaching its tragic culmination during that year. These thoughts go parallel with his thoughts on music and arts. At the time, Eno endorsed the War Child organization, which organized exhibitions by musicians whose works financed its efforts, the Help record and Pavarotti's peace concert in Modena, Italy. And twenty-five years later, the world hasn't changed that much in that part of the world. The former Yugoslavia was the first country to implode and sink into a terrible civil war. More recent examples are countries like Syria, Ukraine, or Libya. The book covers his past peace concerns and activism, which he still engages in all these years later, which shows it was never a fad. To this day, he still speaks truth to power and endorses peace efforts, fights social injustice and organizes debates with people from all walks of life as part of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.
The second part of the book i.e. Eno's appendices consists of essays, letters, short stories, and annotated lectures on ambient and generative music, pretension, artists' royalties, and other subjects that offer another round of absorbing reading.
Throughout, Eno's writing is practical, sharp, evaluative, insightful and sometimes funny, while his personality is singular enough to provide this book with consistency and coherence. A Year With Swollen Appendices is a fascinating literary curio. Eno's attitude and unadorned style make for enjoyable reading and most importantly it shows someone who really knows how to tell a good story.