Tag Archives: Brian Eno

New York Stories: Meeting Spalding Gray

Being a teenager in South Jersey in the 80s, obsessed with the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Andy Warhol, etc., I understandably had dreams of moving to NYC. Hell, repeated late night, VHS viewings of Midnight Cowboy and After Hours only inked the deal. I imagined trolling those mean streets, humming “Everybody’s talkin’ at me…,” bumping into Marty, Woody, Patti, and Iggy on a weekly/bi-weekly basis. This daydream was reinforced by something that happened while I was a sophomore in college, living near—but not in—NYC.

The fall of 1989. Sunday, September 17 to be exact. My college roommate, Dav-o, and I had just seen left-of-center trumpeter Jon Hassell perform at the World Financial Center. Hassell alone would be enough to draw me, but the real thrill was that the sound was mixed by Brian Eno. In fact, I sat as close as possible to the mixing board and watched the Master at work (the closest I may ever get to seeing Eno perform “live”). On the Metro North train back to our college in Westchester, still on an ambient high, I saw someone standing in profile who looked an awful lot like Spalding Gray. Just standing. Not reading. Not writing. Not monolog-ing. Momentarily, I questioned my sanity; I had just spent an hour sitting a few feet from Brian Eno and wondered if my Dream New York was taking shape. I whispered to Dav-o, “Dude, I think that’s Spalding Gray! But I’m not sure.”

“Spalding!” my fearless roommate immediately yelled, and we both shrunk down in our seats to see if he responded. He did, laconically, as you might expect. He had a pencil over his ear, which I thought was a nice touch.

With prodding from Dav-o, I approached Spalding, apologized for drawing attention to him, and we engaged in a brief conversation. I told him I was a fan and went so far as to say that I too enjoyed telling stories. I asked for an autograph. All I had was a paperback of short stories called The Vintage Bradbury. Spalding balked for a moment, feeling disrespectful to the author, but ultimately took his pencil and opened the book. Just as he was poised to write, he paused, looked at his pencil, and tentatively said (at this moment, please adopt your best Spalding Gray voice, timing and delivery): “Um, sorry…It’s a #3 lead.”

 

We both stayed static for a moment, as if this might be a dealbreaker, but he then shrugged and continued.

When I read it, I instantly thought, “Man, you just gave me a great story!”

I’d say watching Brian Eno at work and meeting Spalding Gray within hours qualifies as one of the Best Days of My Life, certainly to the young, impressionable “New York” junkie that still lurks inside me. My run-in with David Byrne ranks pretty high, too. And, naturally, meeting Andy Warhol while I was still in high school has some currency. But they all pale next to my brief one-on-one with Mr. Iggy Pop. (Man, one of these days I’m going to have to write that post.)

My most interesting Adventure with Spalding was yet to happen, and here’s that post about it.

Until then, dig this. In 1992, Gray did an exclusive trailer for the documentary Brother’s Keeper, and until the film came out on DVD, this trailer was considered “rare and precious Spalding”…

And Everything is Going Fine opens today. It’s Steven Soderbergh’s portrait of Mr. Gray. I can’t wait to see it. Here’s the trailer…

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U2’s Barcelona Singalong

I love the title track of U2’s last CD, No Line on the Horizon. It bears repeating. I love that song. It’s a great start to a great CD, I think, and a couple of things really catch my ear.

My favorite CD cover in a long time.

The song begins with low-key instrumentation for the first verse and chorus: Larry Mullen, Jr’s playing a mere shuffle on the drums; the Edge’s guitar is more about holding chords than anything else. The second verse (beginning at 1:13), however, definitely ups the ante, adding a second drum track and many more guitars and so on. As this is the first big moment in the first song, you could say it’s the kick start of the whole CD. But here’s what’s I like about it: the chorus is only half the length that it is elsewhere in the song (in subsequent choruses they sing the title twice, yet for the first chorus they only sing it once). It’s as if in the final assembling of the CD, someone said, “OK, let’s get this show on the road. Let’s move this thing along already. Cut that damn thing in half!”1

The next cool thing is the song’s middle eight, at 2:10. It’s just a series of “Oh!”s, but it has “audience participation” written all over it. In fact, I listened to this song so much one night—singing along the whole time–that my wife had thought I’d put the CD player on Repeat and accidentally locked myself out of my office. She came in and said, “Will you please stop singing that ‘Oh!’ song! It’s driving me nuts!’”

OK, so now lets go to Barcelona, aka U2-Singalong-ville. These people are crazy-nuts for this band. They sing along with so many damn songs during a U2 concert, it’s no surprise U2 kicked off their 2009 tour there: Bono didn’t have to remember any of the lyrics, just mouth along with the crowd.

This is an audience recording of that night, June 30th:

Keep these facts in mind while it plays: “No Line on the Horizon” was only the second song they played that night, not the big finale after an awesome evening of entertainment. No, the band and audience were still in warm-up mode—but you wouldn’t know it from listening to this ravenous crowd. Also, this song wasn’t a single; it’s not as if it were a tried-and-true classic like “Pride (in the Name of Love)” or “One,” but this crowd already knows every word. Lastly: English isn’t their native tongue.

I’m telling you, these guys really love U2.

The fact that this is an audience recording (as opposed to a clean soundboard recording) is a nice touch. It puts you right in the thick of it. The tidal wave of “Oh!”s that happens at 2:07 made me feel like I was home, like I found my people.

Every May 10, the people of Barcelona unite to send a satellite birthday card to Bono.

U2 – No Line on the Horizon (CD version, 4:13, right-click to download)

U2 – No Line on the Horizon (live, 4:07, right-click to download)


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Gratefully, their first single from this CD (“Get on Your Boots”) included an alternate version of “No Line on the Horizon,” which does have a full first chorus. It’s because of the discrepancy between these two versions that I’ve come to the conclusion that the short first chorus in the final version was edited after the fact (as opposed to while it was being recorded). I could be way off, but it you’re familiar with producers Eno and Lanois’s “tricks,” you would see that this is probably the case. Interestingly, even though in a prior post I cast doubts on their tinkering, I think this is a brilliant move.

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