Do you have some Christmas lights in your house, or maybe a lava lamp? Put those on and go lie down on the floor. You can’t listen to this record with the regular lights on. You can’t listen to it from your regular comfort position. You have to create an environment that opens your mind to different dimensions of understanding. Then maybe, you know, something visionary will trickle in. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is not regular music. Brian Eno, for his part, was very much into the idea of making music for specific places and experiences: music for airports, music for moon landings, music for floating down the Nile, music for opening Windows, etc. Actually, it wasn’t so much about telling you what the music was for, but allowing the music to be unobtrusively part of your life and coloring your perceptions in a subtle way. This is not one of those experiments in ambiance. This is music you have to pay attention to. But it’s certainly good for coloring the perception.
Egghead record producer meets nerdy neurotic rock star; surreal adventures through space and time ensue. That’s my pitch for the animated sitcom mockumentary of Brian Eno’s friendship with David Byrne. I imagine a lot of time was spent drinking tea and thrift store shopping. And of course, lest we forget, musical history was made. I have come back again and again to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – both here and IRL – and I think the case has been thoroughly made for its significance as an historical document. Besides elevating electronic music in prestige, making the use of samples a legit creative process and other broad strides forward, what they really did – the thing that makes the album so special – was to find strange beauty in the forgotten and the never-ran. I’m fairly sure that The Moving Star Hall Singers of Sea Island, Georgia were not about to change the world and were remembered by no one but themselves when Eno and Byrne recontextualized them for their own purposes. Call it musical upcycling. It’s the creation of an entirely new reality using found bits and pieces of other narratives, other realities, other moods, other contexts.
David Byrne and Brian Eno’s album My Life In the Bush of Ghosts is so much fun that at first you don’t notice how some of the found sounds they used are actually kind of disturbing. In that regard the audible whipping in The Jezebel Spirit takes the cake, but this one is pretty scary too. I’m not sure if the insistent percussion makes the preacher’s voice creepier or if he’d be more scary alone, but it’s definitely eerie. And genius to take something no one in their right mind would want to listen to, and make it worth listening to. Eno and Byrne used snippets of obscure records, old radio broadcasts and whatever else they liked the sound of, mixed with a trailblazing combination of new instrumentation and electronic sound effects. It was absolutely unique in its time and stands as one of the cornerstones of basically the entire genre of electronic music. Many, many careers have been built on duplicating its principles of sound collage, but no one has ever done it better.