3 min read

Brian Eno on Gospel Music

Yom Kippur, the most sacred day in Judaism, is a time for self-examination, seeking penance, and granting pardon. On this day, it's believed that God evaluates everyone's actions from the past year. Observers fast and pray, seeking divine and interpersonal forgiveness.

For whatever reason, this contemplative mindset brought to mind a conversation between Brian Eno and his daughter about his draw to spiritual music from issue #34 of mono.kultur. I love this message of hope and optimism.

Irial Eno: With gospel, why do you feel so deeply affected by it? It being a religious music and you –
Brian Eno: – not being religious. Well, there's something I like about it as a music form, which is that it involves a lot of people who aren't professionals. Most of the people you hear in the recordings are not being paid anything. I think that really makes a difference. They're there as a kind of community who are there for some other reason than 'this is my job'. Nearly everybody there has a day job and so I kind of like the idea that people really are doing this for the sheer commitment of it. They don't have to do it. They could be doing something else with their time. This is the one time of the week for those people when, suddenly, they can be this person and you can hear that incredible liberation coming out of it.
I was worried about it at first. Why am I so moved by a music based on something that I just don't believe in? What I started to think was that one of the things we humans like doing is surrendering. We love to be in a situation where we're out of control, in a sort of controlled form. We constantly pitch ourselves into situations like books, or films, or sex, or drugs, or music, where we're taken somewhere where we didn't expect to go and it's amazing. It's lovely to do it with a group of other people who are also being taken.
I think that kind of consolidates something very important in humans, which is the idea that we are good at two things: we're good at controlling – we know that because of all our technologies and our ability to take over the world and fuck it up – but we're also good at letting ourselves go and being carried along with things. If you think about it, that must be what animals mostly have to do. Animals can't take control of their affairs in the way that we can. But what they can do is learn how to go with the flow. They pick up on things, they're sensitive, they're intuitive in ways that we admire and would like to be. But to be like that you have to surrender. You have to stop trying to push the control button all the time. You have to say, "Okay, I'm not in control anymore. I'm going with it."
Ideally, what you're doing on the axis between control and surrender is you're finding the right place to be at any moment in your life. Sometimes you can take control, sometimes you can do precisely what you wanted to do without interference. There are lots of times in your life where that isn't going to be possible so you have to have another strategy and that involves some kind of surrender. Partly having faith in the other people who are with you, but also having faith in everything. The basic message of gospel is 'everything's gonna be alright', and that's a fantastic message. A message of optimism. All of these songs, if you listen to them, even the ones that are quite gloomy, they're really saying 'it's gonna be alright'. You'll get through it. That's the message I want to hear.

Yom Kippur may be an unorthodox time to listen to Gospel music, but the hopeful and optimistic vibes from these playlists have me in a reflective mood.