STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (18)

By: Anthony Miller
November 22, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of proto-punk records from the Sixties (1964–1973, in our periodization schema). Series edited by Josh Glenn. Also check out our proto-punk playlist (a work in progress) at Spotify.

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ENO | “NEEDLES IN THE CAMEL’S EYE” | 1973

Eno? Proto-punk? That pandit of ambient, deviser of Oblique Strategies, and sought-after studio conceptualist and sonic soothsayer?

Remember that Brian Eno was Roxy Music’s “non-musician.” He was enamored with the amateur aesthetics of the Scratch Orchestra and Portsmouth Sinfonia, given to disregarding the manuals to the machines he adopted as his instruments, and inclined to combining musicians whose sounds he thought would conflict. Add to that the perspective Eno gleaned from one of his totemic tomes, Morse Peckham’s 1965 study of biology, behavior, and the arts, which propounded that the activity of art was “to break up orientations, to weaken and frustrate the tyrannous drive to order.” Peckham’s proto-punk title: Man’s Rage for Chaos.

“Needles” wastes no time getting under your skin. Guitarists Phil Manzanera and Chris Spedding barrel along in a driving 1-4-5 progression. There is a Velvet Undergroundian reverberation, created in part by Eno’s thwacking the tremolo bar of Manzanera’s Fender Stratocaster as it was being played. Spedding’s Duane Eddy-inspired solo contributes a little filigree to the turbulence with twangy climbs and convulsive stops and starts. Eno likened the guitar part to “a cloud of metal needles.” For the NME’s Nick Kent, it was “guitar thrashing synthesized through a metal gauze of sound.” Singing the praises of the album Here Come The Warm Jets in The Quietus, Gaz Coombes of Supergrass described the guitars on “Needles” as “big, filthy, dirty, and horrible things.”

From the onslaught of these guitars and propulsive double-tracked drums laid down by Hawkwind’s Simon King, Eno’s voice rings out. An “instrumental with singing on it” was how the singer synopsized the song. His fluorescent wail blazes like a flare in the miasma. The vocal here could be summed up in Dylan Thomas’s line from “Altarwise by Owl-Light”: “My camel’s eyes will needle through the shroud.”

“Needles” is among the songs Eno termed his “idiot energy” songs. Directives: Boisterous, Impetuous, Exultant, Inane. Prodromes of punk. Of the many cover versions of the song, I am most taken with the idiot energy frequencies emanating from those by Volcano Suns and the Hickoids.

Despite Eno’s regarding his “inexplicable lyric” as “written in less time than it takes to sing,” let’s thread our way through “Needles.” The title riffs on Matthew 19:24, the precept that gives long odds on the likelihood of a rich man entering God’s kingdom. This song is about shedding not possessions but explanations. The singer is receiving odd signals, possibly messages, arising from everywhere — looks from knowing people who won’t let in on their subliminal intel, fateful weather patterns, birds of prey (what — or who — are they?) with too much to say. Eno’s frenetic canticle closes by questioning our need to ask questions:

Why ask why
For by the by and by
All mysteries are just more
Needles in the camel’s eye

Accept the unanswerable. Mysteries produce a cosmology of chaos. That dromedary’s pupil is getting to be a pincushion.

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STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Mandy Keifetz on The Trashmen’s SURFIN’ BIRD | Nicholas Rombes on Yoko Ono’s MOVE ON FAST | David Cantwell on ? and the Mysterians’ 96 TEARS | James Parker on The Modern Lovers’ SHE CRACKED | Lynn Peril on The Pleasure Seekers’ WHAT A WAY TO DIE | Lucy Sante on The Count Five’s PSYCHOTIC REACTION | Jonathan Lethem on The Monkees’ YOUR AUNTIE GRIZELDA | Adam McGovern on ELP’s BRAIN SALAD SURGERY | Mimi Lipson on The Shaggs’ MY PAL FOOT FOOT | Eric Weisbard on Frances Faye’s FRANCES AND HER FRIENDS | Annie Zaleski on Suzi Quatro’s CAN THE CAN | Carl Wilson on The Ugly Ducklings’ NOTHIN’ | Josh Glenn on Gillian Hill’s TUT, TUT, TUT, TUT… | Mike Watt on The Stooges’ SHAKE APPEAL | Peter Doyle on The Underdogs’ SITTING IN THE RAIN | Stephanie Burt on Pauline Oliveros’s III | Marc Weidenbaum on Ornette Coleman’s WE NOW INTERRUPT FOR A COMMERCIAL | Anthony Miller on Eno’s NEEDLES IN THE CAMEL’S EYE | Gordon Dahlquist on The Sonics’ STRYCHNINE | David Smay on The New York Dolls’ HUMAN BEING | Michael Grasso on the 13th Floor Elevators’ YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME | Holly Interlandi on Death’s ROCK’N’ROLL VICTIM | Elina Shatkin on Bobby Fuller’s I FOUGHT THE LAW | Brian Berger on The Mothers of Invention’s WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE? | Peggy Nelson on The Kingsmen’s LOUIE LOUIE.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

MÖSH YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2024): ENTER SANDMAN | BORN TOO LATE | MILQUETOAST | GAS BURNER PANIC | CHRISTBAIT RISING | & 20 other Eighties (1984–1993) Metal songs. STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2023): MOVE ON FAST | 96 TEARS | SHE CRACKED | WHAT A WAY TO DIE | PSYCHOTIC REACTION | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) proto-punk songs. CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2023): PIZZA PURISM | BOY BANDS | THE ’86 METS | LOVE ISLAND UK | ELTON JOHN | & 20 other reconsidered enthusiasms. TEEN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2023): ANDY GIBB | VALERIE BERTINELLI | KIM WILDE | ARLO GUTHRIE | MIKE PATTON | & 20 other heartthrobs from our adolescences. DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2023): WE FOUND IT | TOGETHER AGAIN | SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | FANCY | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) Country records. KILL YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2022): LT. TASHA YAR | JOYCE SUMMERS | COL. HENRY BLAKE | MRS. LANDINGHAM | ALEX KAMAL | & 20 other TV deaths. BLURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2022): LEFT-CORNER BRICK | JOY IS RESISTANCE | THE FUTURE IS PASSÉ | EVERY MINUTE AN OCEAN | SHUT UP, HE EXPLAINED | & 20 other apothegms to live by. KOJAK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2022): ARK II | WKRP IN CINCINNATI | BUCK ROGERS | THE WHITE SHADOW | POLICE WOMAN | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) TV shows. KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2022): KUILL | CATO | COSMO | TRIXIE | VOLSTAGG | & 20 other sidekicks. NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | DOUBT | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

Categories

Enthusiasms, Pop Music, Punk