Cooler Than Me: My mom and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
When I was fourteen, I discovered something that horrified me. I was listening to my mother blather on about the time she was front row at an Iggy Pop show and mid-eye roll I stopped. An epiphany rolled over me: my mom was, and is to this day, cooler than me.
In venturing to convince the world of this epiphany I sat down with my mom, Michelle Gosselin, a self-proclaimed audiophile and cool person extraordinaire and grilled her on some of her favourite albums. I may never get to her level, but maybe I’ll get a bit closer.
First on the docket was My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a 1981 collaborative album by Brian Eno and David Byrne.
The album came out when my mom was 20, living in the west end of Vancouver when young waitresses could still do that. Shocking, I know.
It was something I had heard of before but never really given the time to. Giving it a listen I could see why it was so influential for her, but granted, it is harder to experience these kinds of things in reverse.
“At that time, to the public, I think it was like we were opening ourselves up to more variety of music,” Gosselin says, “ it was something that was different, something that wasn’t like your average hit.”
Having been born post-1990, I am used to overlapping beats and samples. The kind of techniques that were new and exciting for people like my mom in 1981. The techniques that this album utilises in full.
Though, there is one thing that is undeniably different about this album compared to the stuff I am used to. Its analogue nature.
The second track, “Mea Culpa” is a personal favourite. The garbled vocals spin and circle around a persisting beat while the background synthesisers produce an ascendant feeling. It is like Gregorian chanting but funkier?
As a consequence of 1981, the overlapping beats weren’t mixed on a computer, but recorded on tape and then looped. The samples are not from already well-known songs by Lauryn Hill (cough, Drake, cough cough), but from preachers performing sermons (Help Me Somebody) and call-ins on radio shows (Mea Culpa).
This leads to a rawer and much less fabricated feeling to the music.
“What a relief (it was) to hear something that obviously means something to somebody even if I didn’t understand what the lyrics were,” Gosselin says, speaking, in contrast, to pop music at the time. “It had that beyond words sort of vibe to it, a lot was yet to come.”
This album is a product of its time. I don’t think it would hold up the same way if it came out now, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Over the years Eno and Byrne made changes to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, one of them was very vital.
They removed the song “Qu’ran” entirely and replaced it with “Very, Very Hungry”. The track features Muslim people from Algeria chanting prayers, and it was removed after Eno and Byrne were approached by a London Islamic organisation who found the song blasphemous.
This, however, was not the only piece of the album that was taken from another culture and went unrecognised. The title itself was taken from a 1954 book by the same name by Nigerian author Amos Tutuola.
This, though caught by Rolling Stone in their 1981 album review, would not have been seen by the regular listener. The writer of the review, Jon Pareles wonders, “Does this global village have two-way traffic?”
Is this album appropriative? I think it might be, but that is not my determination to make. Should it be listened to? Yes. If not for enjoyment, for an understanding of where we came from and where we are going.