In Brian Eno’s A Year with Swollen Appendices, one of my very favorite books, the well-known rock producer, visual artist, and “non-musician” musician writes out all the things he is, including “mammal,” “celebrity,” “wine-lover,” “non-driver,” “pragmatist,” and “drifting clarifier.” The list gives us a kind of overview of the man’s many facets, as well as of the many facets we all have, but it doesn’t mention one of his most important roles: that of a singer.
Even within the realm of music, you might not immediately associate Eno (who there made his name spouting synthesized sounds into Roxy Music’s early records, creatively shaking up big acts like David Bowie and U2, and pretty much inventing the wordless ambient genre) with singing. But of course he’s done it since his earliest solo albums and continues to do it on relatively recent ones, and you can hear samples of both here in this post.
“I believe in singing,” says Eno. “I believe in singing together.” He expounds upon this belief in an NPR segment called “Singing: The Key to a Long Life.” He also credits the practice with the ability to ensure “a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor.” It offers the chance to “use your lungs in a way that you probably don’t for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly,” to experience “a sense of levity and contentedness,” and to “learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness.”
Beyond simply, er, singing the praises of singing, Eno also explains just how he goes about his own practice, regularly bringing together not just friends willing to sing, but “some drinks, some snacks, some sheets of lyrics and a strict starting time” — all centered around a carefully curated selection of songs. Years of this have convinced Eno of singing’s importance to our very civilization, to the point that, as he says, “if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others.” And it would certainly encourage whichever student turns out to be the next, well, Brian Eno.
P.S. Here’s Eno’s Group-Sing Song List:
Can’t Help Falling In Love
Love Me Tender
Keep On the Sunny Side
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
If I Had a Hammer
I’ll Fly Away
Down By the Riverside
Chapel of Love
Wild Mountain Thyme
Que Sera, Sera
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.