The Think Tank

By Stuart Maconie, from Select magazine, 1993. Kindly typed and supplied by Neil Scrivin.

Pop polymath, producer (U2, Slowdive, James) and aromaphile... we give BRIAN ENO his head.
Interview and earthy northern aroma: Stuart Maconie.

What do you like about this street (we're in Eno's North London base)?

"Living in this street is interesting because there are so many beautiful women passing by all the time. I don't know why. I can't believe it's because I live here. Beautiful women are at the cutting edge of culture just by the way they move, the way they look. You can't imagine that kind of woman living in Wimbledon."

What are your favourite smells? (His latest album, 'Neroli', is named after a pricey, grandad-style hair oil.)

"You may not recognise the names. Methyloctane carbonate. It's a smell exactly between violets and moto
rcycle dope - you know the smell of racing motorcycles? That has very powerful associations for me. Karanal which is like a striking flint, or when you switch an electric fire on. They're both used in perfumes. My favourite natural smell is Philadelphus or mock Orange. Balsam Poplar as well. That grows in Austria and Italy. I'll tell you a smell that's going to sweep the world. It's called 'sea moss algae' in the labs. It's very fishy and it's in Calvin Klein's Escape and Issey Miyake's new perfume. You couldn't have sold it ten years ago. It's so determinedly non-floral."

What are your favourite games?

"Scrabble and snooker. I like Scrabble because I'm really good at it. I've got a lot of unbeatable strategies. And variations to the rules. One variation is to play with all the tiles face up so that you can choose what letters you want. That makes for a hard, exciting game."

Would you make a good chat show host?

"No, terrible. I'm not interested in chat. I'm not interested in people's lives unless they're particularly extraordinary. The only chat show moments I've enjoyed were Grace Jones on Russell Harty and Oliver Reed on After Dark, just the feeling that something was happening that wasn't supposed to. My idea of the dreariest chat show host is Michael Aspel. He asks such stupid, unanswerable questions and then does this raised-eyebrow thing as if to say, You're a bit weird. I like Clive Anderson's show but I'm afraid I'm not that witty."

When were you last drunk?

"Last night. I had some wine with dinner and then went into the garden with my book. I couldn't focus on the page. I gave up the reading and just lay back in the deckchair with my eyes closed. And everything began to spin, you know, that awful sick feeling. I haven't had that in years."

What are U2 like in the studio?

"Committed. They care so much about doing well. And they don't require any diplomacy on my part. A lot of a producer's time is taken up by managing personalities, but U2 are such good friends that isn't an issue. I suppose what you want to know is do they take any drugs? Not as far as I know. Are there a lot of girls about? No. They do tend to start late, if that's any good."

Have you ever undertaken therapy?

"No. The idea that a rich, white, western male should have problems worth dwelling on is a little ridiculous to me. I don't really like that concentration on the self. Plus a lot of the people I know who are involved in therapy in some way are not what I would call particularly successful as human beings. Nor becoming any more successful. Its results don't seem very good."

Have you heard much of the music that cites you as influential (The Orb, etc.)?

"Yes. I'm very flattered. I think it's positions I've taken rather than actual records that have been an influence. I like some, but that's not important really. John Cage has been a big influence on me but I don't actually like much of it."

Which public figures do you most dislike?

"Rush Limbaugh, this very successful right wing American radio host. I think he's very dangerous. Baroness Blatch, the Tory education minister who wants to get kids to read Alexander Pope and fucking stuff like that. How awful for those kids."

When did you last dance?

"Yesterday. I dance everyday with my little daughters. We invent new dances. They come up with some corkers which they try to teach me. But if you mean in a public sense on a dancefloor... I suppose it was David Bowie's wedding."

What do you always carry with you?

"An electric screwdriver. One of those you can test the mains with. It's a beautiful little thing. I've had it about 30 years. Credit cards, magnifying glass... oh and of course my notebook. I've always had that with me since I was about 14. I almost forgot that in the same way you'd forget you've always got you arm with you."

Do you enjoy shopping?

"Oh yes. Here in Kilburn we have a very good selection of those bankrupt stock shops. I like browsing in there. New kinds of fish spatulas, devices for slicing eggs into funny shapes, I've got a lot of those. All bound for Oxfam."

How law-abiding are you?

"Very. Hardly anything I do falls outside the law. I smoke a joint about every two years... that's still illegal isn't it? Sexually most things are legal these days, so I suppose I fall within the law there. I always pay for my tube ticket. I'm not interested in joyriding."

What papers and mags do you read?

"Lots. New Scientist, Herald Tribune, Weekend Guardian, Art News, Art Forum, Whole Earth Review, The Spectator. And then there's a whole load of stuff I read occasionally, from the New Statesman to Big Ones and Forty Plus (Note to readers who've led sheltered lives: the latter two are 'specialist' porny mags whose titles are self-explanatory). I was in Spain recently and got a whole load of pornographic comic books. I must have them here somewhere... (goes to look for them, fruitlessly)"

What are you frightened of?

"I'm quite a coward. Any physically violent situation terrifies me. Although I did once save a woman from being mugged, so perhaps I think I'm more cowardly than I actually am."

What was the last sporting event you watched?

"All year I've wanted to watch a football match on TV. It became an obsession. When I'm watching football I go on to automatic, I stop thinking. It's a real holiday for me. Eventually I did get to see a little of the Cup Final. Do you watch Transworld Sports? That's great. I love watching sports where I don't know the rules."

Is there a piece of music which changed you?

"I'll give you three in different ways. 'It's Gonna Rain' by Steve Reich showed me that you get a lot of musical action from very sparse musical components. Also, I was seven in 1955 so I was born on the very cusp of rock and roll, and I have great affection for a record like Richard Berry's original version of 'Louie Louie', such a weird, radical sound, like music from another planet. Plus a piece of music called 'Paragraph Seven' by Cornelius Cardew (English avant gardist) which has very few rules and can be played by anybody yet still always sounds rich and beautiful and, in a way, the same. Cardew became a Maoist and disowned it as bourgeois. I had a rather nasty argument about it with him. He was killed by a hit and run driver in Camden who was never caught."

Will you be going to any of this year's festivals?

"(Laughs) Oh, I don't think so somehow, do you?"