"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Stylus NOVEMBER 20, 2003 - by Gentry Boeckel
BRIAN ENO'S CINDY TELLS ME
In 1974, when Brian Eno still had hair, and when he was known as a somewhat sexually perverse and burgeoning musical genius, he invited then NME interviewer Chrissie Hynde to check out his collection of “burning shame" Asian porn. I guess it makes sense that this same person whose solo debut cover art contains a picture of (amongst other oddities such as crab legs, toy giraffes and blue plants) a nude playing card - the eight of spades to be exact - showing a squatting woman urinating (in what looks like a junkyard) as a dapper gentlemen holds up the back of her skirt, would take a humorous anti-feminism stance on a track from his first post-Roxy Music outing, Here Come The Warm Jets.
It shouldn't be surprising, though, that Eno, breaking from Roxy Music, and attempting to establish himself sans-Bryan Ferry, would take an obvious anti-Roxy stance. Ferry would never sing “Some of them lose and some of them lose / But that's what they want and that's what they choose," in reference to the feminist women's failed forays into the world of labor. Ferry would never risk a gesture that which would likely alienate a large portion of his audience. Post-Country Life, Ferry had crafted himself into the neo-English crooner, the ladies man. Eno on the other hand had no image to protect but that of the flamboyant, flashy eccentric.
A period-piece no doubt, yet one that still retains its sardonic bite today, Cindy Tells Me oozes with Eno's particular droll humor. Not nearly as amusingly dark as Baby's On Fire, as flippant as Dead Finks Don't Talk, or as homoerotically taboo as The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch, it is instead rather earnestly sung, yet at the same time containing the underlying feeling of almost sympathetic patronization. It is also one of the more straightforward tracks on an album that hosts a nearly five minute dream set to twenty-seven simultaneous pianos, as well as two pre-shoegazing, heavily layered and sound manipulated experiments (aptly the opener and closer).
“Cindy," Eno's link to the female psyche, tells him “the rich girls are weeping" and that they've “given up sleeping alone." An opening rebuke explicitly stating the newly liberated women's weakness in the face of failure, and more subtly hinting at their forced lesbianism (no men want to sleep with them?) only begins Eno's head-shaking verbal assault. And now they're so confused by their new freedoms, he continues, hardly attempting to mask his I-told-you-so contempt. The question of who exactly is being spoken about is brought to light when Cindy goes on to tell him, They're selling off their maisonettes / Left their Hotpoints to rust in their kitchenettes. These are upper-middle class feminists: The Feminine Mystique women, not Bell Hooks women. In the final line in the first verse, Eno gives a final excoriation, accusing these newly liberated women of idly wasting their time with their reading of radical texts (And they're saving their labour for insane reading).
The chorus, a simple yet sly twist on an old phrase, has Eno belting out some of them lose / and some of them lose, but little do we know the spit hasn't even begun to fly, ...but that's what they want / and that's what they choose. Finally, in what is possibly Eno's main reason for this entire admonishment, he tells these freed women, It's a burden / Such a burden / Oh what a burden to be so relied on. Examining his (man's) own plight, the plight of dependence, and saying, look what you've taken upon yourself, is it worth it?", Eno comes off as both misogynist and sincere.
What will they do with their lives? Eno asks himself. He then answers his own question, thinking maybe they will [Live] quietly / Like labourers' wives, or Perhaps they'll reacquire those things / They've all disposed of. To suggest that the women and their achievements would regress (due to their own failure or to society's disapprovement?); Eno firmly displays his pessimism towards this new movement and their new freedoms.
Squashed between lyrics like If you'll be my flotsam / I could be half the man I used to and Now I've found a sweetheart / Treats me good, just like an armchair, the exceedingly more direct theme of Cindy Tells Me is a welcome anomaly, whether you agree with Eno's assessment or not. Nevertheless, no matter what side of the argument you are on, Cindy Tells Me is intelligently witty, and performed with commendable aplomb: Anna Quindlen eat this salty heart.