BRIAN ENO 'I don't get much of a thrill spending money'

Brian Eno: ‘I don’t get much of a thrill out of spending money’

The musician and artist, 67, on collecting fossils, having a regular job, and enjoying surrender
Brian Eno, in profile, wearing a jacket with a turned-up collar
 Brian Eno. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Observer
The English have a horror of people who rise above their station. Because I’m well known for music, people think my art is a hobby. My station was supposed to have been decided 45 years ago.
The secret truth about our art schools is that they’re really good at producing pop music [Eno attended Winchester School of Art]. If you did a cost-benefit analysis of British art education, you’d find it was incredibly efficient. Yet the schools which keep producing people like Damien Hirst and John Lennon are treated as if they’re a silly luxury.
I was the sort of child who collected fossils. I was pretty weedy and lived in fairly rough area, so I learned that you survive by being funny or brainy. I started going for funny, but I wasn’t that good.
I’ve always liked technology because I never learned to play a conventional instrument. I started making my own signal generators and so on, and suddenly I had instruments that only I knew how to play.
Jeremy Corbyn is the most interesting thing on the British horizon. It’s like Octavio Paz said: communism may have been the wrong answer, but it wasn’t the wrong question. I like that Corbyn is asking questions that have been out of the discourse since the late 70s: what do we do about gross, and growing, inequality?
Social mobility has slipped back. If I were 20 now I’d have so much less opportunity than I did. A-stars and the right university have become very important, and nearly all those things eventually come down to money.
People always thought of video as a narrative medium, the descendant of film and theatre. The breakthrough for me was when I realised that it was really a way of controlling light on the surface. I could make this spot green and that spot red and have them change very slowly to their complementaries.
Everyone tells me I’m not extravagant enough. I don’t mind spending money, but I don’t get much of a thrill out of it. You just end up with another object in your life and think: “Oh fuck, now I’ve got to look after it.”
David Bowie was a very alive artist, right to the end. It says something nice about the British that they were willing to support someone who was experimental for his whole career.
Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, dancing: all the things we like doing are about surrender. Religion is the formalised social version of that. I love gospel music for that reason, but I’ve never liked the idea of adherence to a “book” or the idea that there is “truth”.
The key to my success was obsession. I don’t really believe in luck; things happen to everyone, but you have to be ready for them. I decided early on that I was never going to get a [regular] job, because I never wanted to be in a position where I couldn’t act on something if it turned up.
The artist Peter Schmidt was the person I addressed all my thoughts to, my mental frame of reference. In 1980 he died of a heart attack. He was 49, I was 30. He was out walking in the sun in the Canary Islands and miscalculated. That was a big moment. I realised I had to explain things to people who I couldn’t assume understood what I was thinking.
It would be great if my children retained the confidence I had that things will work out, so have a try. So far they’ve done that – they’re very experimental.


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