The term “genius” has been so devalued by its inanely ubiquitous overuse by the media one can no longer be certain what it means. Read any music review, film critique or general piece of hagiography typed by some blogger and you’ll stumble over the word “genius” as frequently as a drunk stubs a toe against furniture in the dark.
For example, Kim Kardashian apparently has “a genius” for clothes. Her husband Kanye West is, of course, a self-confessed genius. What the word genius means in these two examples I’m not really sure. Unless, of course, it means “tasteless” and “delusional.”
Genius once meant something exceptional. It was the laurel crowned on the head of only the greatest talents. A friend once suggested there was greatness and then there was genius. His example went something like this:
Genius pervades all aspects of an individual’s life. The talent, the taste, the originality of thought. For example, David Bowie was once asked by Coldplay to collaborate on a song. He declined claiming the song on offer wasn’t very good. David Bowie had genius.
Brian Eno produced Coldplay’s fourth album. Brian Eno has greatness.
Whether this is a fair or even correct assumption to make—docking Eno for deigning to associate with that lot—who am I to say?
When I first heard of the multi-talented polymath Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno—the man with a name for every day of the working week—he was being hailed as “the genius” behind Roxy Music. I demurred. It was always Bryan Ferry the chief singer and songwriter who I thought of as “the genius” of that band. When Eno left Roxy—the cry went up that they were not the same without their impish knob twiddler. I couldn’t see it and wondered what the fuss was all about. Then came Eno’s first solo album Here Comes the Warm Jets and I began to appreciate what some of that fuss had been about.
By the end of the seventies as Roxy became less pop art and more soulful tunesmiths, Eno was still seeking out new projects—moving on, discovering, producing, creating, testing the parameters of music. He seemed unstoppable.
In all respects, Eno is more than the sum of his parts. He sets an example as a creator, an artist, a musician—of what it means to be alive and to do as much as possible. As he suggested in the profile of his life and career Another Green World:
All of the encouragement from modern life is to tell you to pay attention to yourself and take control of things.
Whether Eno’s merely great or a genius is immaterial. He’s a concept, an exemplar to do things better, to try them differently, to learn more, to do more.
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