#429: Brian Eno, "Another Green World" (1975)

—but what point is there, I often wonder, in even trying to assign meanings, in bothering to try to understand mysteries: things happen, things don’t happen, and who (not me, usually) can say why, and who knows the sum of everything I don’t know (have never known; will never know) that informs those happenings and non-happenings, and how would knowing alter what’s already transpired: “Honour thy error as a hidden intention,” reads the first of the Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards Brian Eno designed with his friend, the late painter Peter Schmidt, and which Eno used extensively in the composition and recording of Another Green World: generous advice for any artist contemplating one’s next move, because whose life can proceed without full respect given to one’s countless errors, without at least pretending (or accepting) that one meant some of them: but is meaning even anticipatory, or only retrospective? That evening—all those evenings—I wandered Hooker Avenue looking at footprints in concrete sidewalk squares and the etched plexiglass of bus shelters and crows inscribing dusk and chain-link fences orange with rust: everything seemed marked—there seemed a necessary link between my next move as an artist and my next move as a person: the poems I’d begun writing in response to the maddening, endless, meaningless rattle of an idling Ford F-250 diesel engine on an otherwise beautiful sunny September morning because I felt if I didn’t write them I might never write anything else, and in one of which I encoded my debt to the moods Eno’s music offered me as I wrote—“the extant daydreams of the man ironing / a pair of trousers and wandering some greener world…”

Still, if I ever thought that Eno’s music might offer me meanings, a record such as Another Green World, with its sideways pop songs accompanied by small instrumentals, confounded that belief: making meaning and evading meaning is one of the primary tensions of this LP, famously composed (or improvised and then edited) in the studio rather than being planned, and anyway, as with most pop music, meaning resides less in these songs than in whatever experiences we connect to them—as Eno said, “meanings can be generated”: or, as in “Sky Saw,” the first track on Another Green World: “All the clouds turn to words / all the words float in sequence / no one knows what they mean / everyone just ignores them…”

The fretless bass and “Anchor Bass” and Jaki Leibezeit-style drumming (by Phil Collins!) that begin “Sky Saw” would have, had I heard them in my teens, meant nothing I wanted to be involved with—too proggy and noodly, too excessive—but the “Digital Guitar” and “Snake Guitar” (such fanciful instruments fill the LP’s liner notes) and John Cale’s seesaw viola line that ends the song, well, sure, those would’ve always sounded great to my ears. But by the time I bought this record, in grad school, I could appreciate this song—even if I still preferred the short instrumentals on the LP, musical fragments that rarely resolved and onto which I could project whatever feeling I liked: sometimes, I’m pretty sure, I could listen to an hours-long loop of “In Dark Trees” or (other times) “The Big Ship” (“My intention,” Eno wrote three years later, in the liner notes to his record Ambient 1: Music for Airports, “is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres”)—

—but I never finished my idea that Eno’s seventies solo LPs seem to concern middle age to me, or mean more to me in my own middle age than a lot of other records, or than they did when I was younger, even though Eno was himself a young man when he recorded them—“On Some Faraway Beach,” yes, but, on this LP, “St. Elmo’s Fire” (“Brown Eyes and I were tired / we had walked and we had scrambled / through the moors and through the briars / through the endless blue meanders…”) or “I’ll Come Running” (“I’ll find a place somewhere in the corner / I’m going to waste the rest of my days / just watching patiently from the window / just waiting, seasons change, some day, oh ho / my dreams will point you through that garden gate…”) or “Everything Merges with the Night” (“Rosalie, I’ve been waiting all evening / possibly years, I don’t know / counting the passing hours / everything merges with the night”) or especially “Golden Hours,” which begins with Farfisa chords (“Choppy Organs”: the song also credits “Spasmodic Percussion” and “Uncertain Piano”) so lush and familiar that—because I heard this synthesizer sound throughout the pop music of my childhood and absorbed it environmentally—it triggers a near-unconscious nostalgia in me, even before Eno starts to sing lyrics that explicitly reference perceptions of time and age and discordant piano notes ring low in the mix:

“The passage of time / is flicking dimly upon the screen / I can’t see the lines / I used to think I could read between / perhaps my brains have turned to sand / oh me, oh my / I think it’s been an eternity / you’d be surprised / at my degree of uncertainty / how can moments go so slow? / several times / I’ve seen the evening slide away / watching the signs / taking over from the fading day / perhaps my brains are old and scrambled…”

At that point, Robert Fripp’s sparkling guitar and a background voice sighing like John Lennon’s in the middle of “A Day in the Life” animate the song’s dreamy order before contrapuntal overdubbed vocals (“who would believe what a poor set of ears can tell you?”) and John Cale’s rich, romantic viola slide the song toward its fadeout.

And if I sit here on a mid-May morning in 2015 listening one more time to Another Green World—the album both background and foreground—while outside my window winds swirl hurricanes of hundreds of maple keys, and feeling still almost certain that events I experienced in 1995 happened, say, just a few years ago and that 1975—well, those things happened a long time ago, of course, I was a tiny kid then, but it wasn’t forever ago, it’s not history, I’m not that old—and maybe now this all sounds as noodly and self-indulgent and excessive to you as “Sky Saw” once sounded to me, one more dude’s self-pitying moan about how mystifying life feels from his own compromised and minor point of view: but maybe I’m not totally wrong, since, as theoretical physicist Paul Davies has written in Scientific American, “We do not really observe the passage of time. What we actually observe is that later states of the world differ from earlier states that we still remember. The fact that we remember the past, rather than the future, is an observation not of the passage of time but of the asymmetry of time.…the flow of time is subjective, not objective”—and there’s always another world and it’s always a greener world, and maybe middle age means admitting that that world’s (or this world’s) as much a daydream as the buzzing, humming, twinkling textures in “The Big Ship,” building and shimmering and cresting and fading, so many hidden intentions disguised as errors—

—Joshua Harmon