Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Measure Beauty in Tons

by Michael Strenski

(The first is a freak with a masochistic streak...)

Brian Eno is an obvious genius. Anyone who has ever stumbled upon his work has come to this conclusion. We all know this. It is an undeniable fact, like Pi. Most realize it while listening to one of his four solo rock albums from the '70's, others from discovering his "Music for Airports" record (where he single-handedly invents ambient music). The fact of his genius has been confirmed and crystallized whenever we decide to delve deeper (which we all eventually do) into his life and work. His collaborations with David Bowie, John Cale, and the Long Now Foundation among others, cement his brilliance in the pantheon of great thinkers and creative artists.

(...and the second is a kitten up a tree...)

Whilst listening to an old mixtape the other day, I came upon a song of Eno's from the aforementioned '70's rock period that I think warrants closer inspection. On the surface, "the Seven Deadly Finns" is just another foot-tapping, booty-shaking, fist pumping, three-minute rock 'n' roll anthem. It's the type of song that implants itself firmly in your brain from the onset and never lets go. Never. I will be eighty years old and still remember the first time I heard "the Seven Deadly Finns". The same goes for such notable songs as the Violent Femmes' "Good Feeling" and Leonard Cohen's "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong". But those songs are nowhere near as jubiliant as "the Seven Deadly Finns".

(...the third is a flirt wih an awful print skirt...)

Within the first three seconds, the song commands your attention. Hell, the guitar tone in those opening moments brings a smile to one's face. The drums and guitar are forcefully driving, pausing briefly at the end of each bar for simple drum fills. Over the music Eno sounds like he's having a blast. All of the intelligence in the world would mean nothing if the song did not have this immediacy, the visceral thrill of a great rock song going for it. It does in spades. But beneath it, there is much more going on which keeps you intrigued and utterly devoted to the song.

(...and the fourth is pretending to be me...)

The first lyrical section of the song tells the story of French girls who are disappointed by the lack of romanticism amongst the local boys of the town. They lament over the fact that they never receive daisy chains from their male peers. But just when their story begins, a ship pulls into the local harbor and with a bang the song's title characters appear, lusting for the French girls. We find out that the port is famous for its women when Eno acknowledges that besides the Deadly Finns; soldiers, sailors, gigolos and governments have previously docked there for this very reason.

(...the fifth wears a mac and never turns his back...)

At this point, the song's locomotive pace changes to a bridge of sorts where over backing vocals of the la-la-la variety, Eno goes on to describe each Finn in turn (which I am dispursing throughout this post in a conceit stolen directly from Jonathan Lethem, a writer whose great piece The Beards also mentions Eno's importance). Like so:

(...and the sixth never shows his eyes...)

Following introductions, a particularly pleasant and slightly discordant guitar solo breaks in. Afterwards, Eno comes back into the mix but oddly decides to leave the story of the Finns behind as he did the French girls at the song's beginning. Instead he goes on to an all-new lyrical territory when he decides to break down the Meaning of Life: "Although variety is the spice of life/a steady rhythm is the source/simplicity is the crucial thing/systemically of course". This lyrical moment is on par with his statement that "the passage of my life is measured out in shirts" on "King's Lead Hat" off of his 01977 album Before and After Science (both song and album title are anagrams!).

(...but the Seventh Deadly Finn is so tall and slim, he should have never been with those guys...")

Now, it's about this time in the song where my brain starts to overload on joy and information and I think to myself that neither the song nor human achievement can be topped, but Eno does the darndest thing:

He fucking yodels. The song gets all psychedelic for a second and then he fucking yodels himself and the song home!


  1. I'll yodel my heart out in the canyon and marvel at the echo. I'll think of you. Get ready for that beat up postcard.

    Keep up the great work. You're clearly the only one committed so far.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. Have a splendid time in the canyon. I'll be hiding in the basement, listening to the Beatles and watching the Colors Trilogy.

  3. My question is: what two songs is "...Finns" sandwiched between?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. What do you mean?

    On the mixtape the "Seven Deadly Finns" appears between "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine" by the White Stripes and Francoise Hardy's "Tous Les Garcons et Filles".

    It's a pretty rocking tape.