How does “non-musician” musician, former Roxy Music member, Talking Heads, U2, and Coldplay producer, and visual artist Brian Eno define art itself? “Everything that you don’t have to do.” He has expanded eloquently on that simple but highly clarifying notion in speech and writing many times over the past couple of decades, and this past Sunday he made it the intellectual centerpiece of the fifth annual John Peel Lecture, a series named for the influential BBC DJ and whose past speakers have included Pete Townshend, Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church, and Iggy Pop.
You can hear Eno’s introduction to his talk at the top of the post, stream the talk itself within the next 25 days at the BBC’s site, and read a transcript here. All of the John Peel Lecturers so far have discussed the relationship between music and wider human culture, and Eno has plenty of stories to tell about his own career in both music and the wider cultural realm: the importance of his time in art school, how he fell into performing with Roxy Music, how a relaxation of the band’s “strict non-drug” policy resulted in one “hilariously chaotic” performance, and how John Peel himself premiered his first album with Robert Fripp on the radio — by accidentally playing it backward.
All this will inspire even the most Eno-familiar fan to revisit the man’s catalog of recorded works, which you can easily do with the Spotify playlist “Touched by the Hand of Eno,” featuring “150 tracks handpicked from 150 albums/EPs/singles that credit Eno as composer, instrumentalist, vocalist, mixing engineer, or producer, sorted in chronological order.” (If you need to download Spotify’s free software, you’ll find it here.) The playlist includes cuts from Eno’s own albums, of course, but also those of Roxy Music, Genesis, Ultravox, David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, Depeche Mode, Laurie Anderson, Coldplay, and many more. And after you’ve virtually flipped through these selections from Eno’s body of work, you can watch Eno flip through physical selections from Peel’s library of records just above. Sure, you don’t have to do any of this — if anyone can explain to you why you should, Eno can.
Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.