St. Elmo’s Fire – Brian Eno
Brown eyes and I was tired
We had walked and we had scrambled
Through the moors and through the briars
Through the endless blue meanders.
In the blue august moon
In the cool august moon
In the autumn of 1975 I had a crisis – my girlfriend Miriam Ryle had left me and meant it, I had left home and gone to live in the nurses’ quarters of Laughton Lodge Hospital, and I walked out of my Cambridge Entrance exam, and thus finally left school. All of these things happened in the same week. It was a sudden collapse in the House Of Cards – woman, home and education all gone, finished.
Simon Korner and I were doing the Cambridge Entrance exam together but I was finding it stressful – both the expectation of the school and my Dad (who went to Cambridge, Downing College) and I was actually finding it stressful. Conrad Ryle’s brother Martin who lived in Brighton was giving Simon and I extra lessons in English Literature but we still never got around to William Blake who was set sight unseen in the exam.
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
I didn’t know what he was on about to be honest. I found it disturbing. I wrote some guff or other. Then in the afternoon the paper was even more obscure and I drew some cartoons on it and left the room, and the school, and went down to the nearest pub to Lewes Priory – The King’s Head
in Southover St and bought myself a pint of beer. Had a fag at the bar. Freedom. School, dad, Simon would all have to be disappointed. I wouldn’t be going to Cambridge. I had a place at LSE anyway to read Law. Fuck Cambridge. My gap year started now ! This self-sabotage led me to leave home within days for Laughton Lodge
, a hospital for the mentally disabled between Ringmer and Golden Cross, between Lewes and Hailsham indeed. Two of my friends, Conrad and Tat (Andrew Taylor) were already working there and my interview for the job was mainly about not getting involved in any sexual scandals with the nurses (I did), so in two shakes of a lamb’s tail I was employed as a Nursing Assistant or NA. I had a white coat, a blue badge, and that was it.
I had a nice high-ceilinged room in a huge Mansion House – the Nurse’s Home – I shared a kitchen with a couple of Mauritian fellas, a shared bathroom and a huge staircase to climb to get up there. Good views of fields and trees and the hospital from my window, and we could get up to the roof too, but that’s for another story. I took my clothes, my record player, my books.
Here I have to acknowledge brother Paul
who had picked up
the Roxy Music baton with a teenage vengeance and run with it all the way to strutting around Hailsham school with his mate Vince in tear-drop collars, fat ties and huge platform shoes, then winning a Roxy competition and being sent all five Roxy Music LPs in the post (he already had them all!), but he’d also religiously followed Brian Eno’s solo career, which started when he left Roxy in 1973 after their 2nd LP For Your Pleasure. Paul bought both Brian’s first two solo LPs, credited to “Eno” : Here Come The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy).
They were both scratchy rock-ish albums which I’d found quite hard to get into, but which I now adore. We had them at home. By then Paul and Mum were fighting badly and she eventually kicked him out with a solicitor’s letter – he was 16 years old. He went to my Dad’s flat in Eastbourne but no joy there. Paul ended up renting some flat somewhere in Eastbourne and working for the tax office. I think that week of his life scarred him more than this week of mine did. Paul probably owns all of Brian Eno’s albums. I nearly do. I’ve got about 26 at last count, out of about 40, including his many collaborations. There are a lot of them, but the quality never dips – he’s been a consistently interesting fellow both in his music and his mental meanderings through the music business and he is something of a genuine hero of mine.
(But why did he have to produce three U2 albums ? To get paid probably – he’s been prolific but none of his LPs have sold in any quantity – even this one which is considered to be a masterpiece.)
This is from Brian Eno’s third solo LP Another Green World which was more electronic and synthesised than the first two. It was released in September 1975. Only a few songs had singing – one of which is St Elmo’s Fire – quite a traditional pop song in many ways. But his voice has a strange latent eerie quality that I absolutely love, but which I understand can drive other people up the wall. I can play this LP over and over again and never tire of the sounds coming out of the speakers. And that is true for most of his records. If you don’t have any Brian Eno records, I would suggest that this be your introduction. It’s also an essential listen as an influence on the next 30 years of electronica and pop. St Elmo’s Fire itself – a strange electrical weather phenomenon – is a beautiful bubbling wickedly playful piece of music.
Brian made Another Green World in London using his Oblique Strategy cards which he would consult to keep things random. Phil Collins plays the drums, Percy Jones is on bass on most tracks but on St Elmo’s Fire it’s Brian on everything including ‘synthetic percussion’ and ‘desert guitars’ (except for “Wimshurst guitar” credited to Robert Fripp, who’d been in mighty prog band King Crimson). It is a song that’s easy to love, like most of his music. He comes across as an egghead professor of ambient music, but his music has always been hugely accessible, certainly since Another Green World anyway.
You may think it strange that I left my mother who was being treated for psychiatric problems, on various drugs and treatments and regular hospital visits, to go and work in a Mental Hospital. She’d been diagnosed by this point in my life (some 10 years after the first breakdown) as Manic Depressive, Schizophrenic, Paranoid Schizophrenic, they hadn’t come up with BiPolar yet, still testing drugs and side-effects. But it didn’t scare me by then. I was actually perfect for the job. And look – it was just a job. And it was temporary. I was saving to hitch-hike round the USA with Simon next summer….