The day I met Brian Eno

Marco & Brian Eno

Something unexpected (VERY unexpected) happened on Friday, May 20th. I was checking Facebook on my phone, my dull finger scrolling the news feed, when I came across a picture of Brian Eno in a David Bowie fan group. I’m a huge admirer of Eno, so I stopped for a second. Luckily, I still like to read the words accompanying a picture. The caption read that Mr. Eno himself was going to be in Rome for the opening of his new art exhibition, “Light Music”. More importantly, the event was free: no invitations needed, no expensive ticket, no dressing code or particular social status required. Fantastic!

Weather was excellent. I got to the city a bit too early so I decided to walk to the Roman Ghetto, where the Valentina Bonomo Art Gallery is located. I passed by the Space Cinema in Piazza della Repubblica, and saw a huge crowd gathered behind some barriers. I asked a kid, hey what’s going on: apparently, actor Russel Crowe was expected to show up at some point, to promote his new film. I was not interested and walked away. I wandered by the cinema again later that evening, and noticed how the crowd got bigger and bigger…

This was in contrast with the scene I witnessed at the art gallery. Only a handful of people waiting to get in at 5pm. I decided to take a stroll around the Roman Ghetto. That’s an area of Rome that I rarely visit, but it’s gorgeous. It’s the place to be if you wish to sample the exquisite Roman-Jewish cuisine. Restaurants are crammed one next to the other. The downside being (there’s a downside to everything), they are a bit too expensive. Anyway, I was determined to enjoy some fresh orange juice. Last time I was in the States, I complained about how difficult it is to find places where fresh juice is served. It’s pretty common in bars in Italy. It usually costs around 3 € (translating to almost the same amount in $). Guess what, I was the only Italian man to ever fall into a tourist trap… I did find a bar but spent 5 € on my juice: crazy expensive for the Italian standards. I was bummed but I desperately needed one.

After my small misadventure, I walked back to the art gallery. More people arrived, some of them carrying vinyls or cd sleeves. I wondered how many of the people in line were actually interested in the art installation? However, Brian Eno wasn’t around. I was feeling a little discouraged. Would he ever show up? I stayed positive and entered the gallery. I didn’t know what the concept of “Light Music” would be, so I took a journey into the unknown. The installation is very fascinating. I shall quote the description that appears on the website:

[…] an installation of light pieces, each of which seamlessly phase through an infinite combination of seductive self-generated ‘colourscapes’ using a series of interwoven LED lights, each accompanied by a unique musical composition. By extending temporal boundaries with a work that seemingly has no beginning or end, no finality, Eno “encourages people to stay in one place for a while”. “If a painting is hanging on a wall we don’t feel that we’re missing something by not paying attention to it. Yet with music and video, we still have the expectation of some kind of drama. My music and videos do change, but they change slowly. And they change in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you miss a bit”.

That’s exactly what happened to me. I really enjoyed staying still in front of the light paintings, being absorbed into them. It made me think about how crazy our lives are. It’s difficult to explain. I’m so much into what I call “slow living”. One thing at a time, and take your time with it, allow yourself the time to understand the essence of things. We don’t care about the essence of things anymore. Pretty sad. One day I asked a friend “Do you like Jim Jarmusch? I love his movies”; to my dismay, I got answered back “Oh no, they’re so slow, I can’t stand them”. This gives me a heartache. It’s like when you’re in the car and someone keeps skipping the songs before they’ve ended. Some people are totally missing out…

Here’s a video about the concept behind the light paintings:

Having said that, I thought the installation could have been stronger – now listen to me blabbering about art – if only the light paintings were hung to black panels. The walls of the art gallery are completely white and I think some of the magic of the light pieces is lost. I could only imagine what it would have been like, if I was surrounded by darkness. Please note, I’m no art expert whatsoever, so be cautious with what I’m expressing here. My (completely negligible) two cents.

I came out of the “Light Music” space, and more people were gathering in the patio (some of them sporting questionable outfits, I’d say), but still no Brian Eno in sight. I was getting bored so I decided to walk to a bookstore nearby and be back later. Somehow I found myself spending a lot of time in the bookshop (no wonder) and went back to the art gallery around 7.30pm. I asked a man if Brian Eno ever showed up. He replied, yes, he was here one hour ago. Greeted everybody, signed stuff, posed for pictures. One hour before: it was pretty much when I decided to leave for the bookshop. Life is funny (to say the least). The man added that Eno was now sitting at a bar down the street. Something in the way he said it, made me think he was making fun of me. It’s very common with Romans… you never know if they’re telling the truth, or shamelessly fooling you. Anyway, I walked down the street, and yes, Brian Eno was sitting at the same bar where I over-paid my orange juice. I was tempted to get closer and whisper: “Sir, this is a tourist trap! Grab your coffee somewhere else!”. I guess he wasn’t paying for anything, so it didn’t really matter. Apparently he was expected to return to the art gallery at some point before 9pm. I walked back and waited, enjoying free red wine (it was good wine, too), which paired well with the expensive juice.

While waiting, I met two new friends, Migena and Nicole, and we were in the midst of a conversation when I saw Brian Eno entering the patio. I was in awe. The man behind some of the music I loved the most was right there! In front of my very eyes. I approached him and asked if I could shake his hand. I hope it didn’t sound too stupid. Usually, when I meet one of my heroes, I try to restrain myself, even though my mind is blown. We’re all human beings after all; also, I’m not into the idolization of people. Best thing to do, is not to be too enthusiastic. Take it easy. I won’t ever say anything like your music changed my life forever blah blah blah. I guess they don’t care. They hear things like that all the time. I managed to maintain some kind of decency. I thought to ask Eno about a show he’s scheduled to perform here in Italy at the end of June. I could see a slight grin on his face when he said “Oh well, it’s not happening at the end of June, probably earlier…”, and I told him that I couldn’t find any info about it. So he replied, still with an amused countenance, “That’s because I haven’t made up my mind yet”. He smiled. A small connection was established; he seemed to be at ease. He asked where I was coming from, and if I would be traveling to see him perform. Time for a group picture with Brian and my new friends, and that was it. A perfect moment, that I will treasure forever.

I would like to thank Migena for taking the picture shown above, the actual proof of my brief exchange with Brian Eno. She is a very talented photographer. Visit her of Facebook: Jane Cave Photography

As I told a friend earlier, talking with Eno felt like “taking a trip to the moon”, and I still have to be back on Earth. Such an influental, inspiring man.

I’m going to listen to “Another Green World” tonight.


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