The master musician and producer offers a typically idiosyncratic take on his life and art.
In a memorable chapter of his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One, Bob Dylan recounts his work on the 1989 album Oh Mercy—the collection that began his artistic rebirth—with Lanois. The gifted French Canadian guitarist and engineer has clearly taken a page from Dylan’s unusual look backward, crafting his own nonchronological and discursive autobiography. Born in Quebec, Lanois got hooked on making music and recording at an early age; by his teens, he and his brother Bob were running a studio in the family basement. The signal event of his career was hooking up with Brian Eno, the English producer-musician, whose instinctive methods had a marked impact on Lanois’ production style. The book takes a fly-on-the-wall look at many of the author’s most celebrated records—his several projects with U2, Dylan’s Oh Mercy and the Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind, Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, Willie Nelson’s Teatro and his work on the soundtrack for Billy Bob Thornton’s breakthrough film, Sling Blade. Readers will savor the unique character of the producer’s unconventional technique, which often employs setting up a jerry-rigged studio with vintage gear in an exotic locale—a New Orleans apartment building, an abandoned movie house in central California. Lanois is a gearhead who can rhapsodize about the finer points of a recording console, a rare guitar or a classic motorcycle, but he never swamps his narrative by focusing on the technical. There is plenty of colorful material about his youth: a hitchhiking trip to Florida at the height of ’60s hippiedom, or his days slaving in Canadian show bands as an accompanist to exotic dancers. Like his own flavorful recordings and his best productions for others, Lanois’ book bursts with atmosphere and feeling. He is that rare breed, a lyrical technocrat, and he emerges from the work as one of music’s most unusual and charismatic figures.
There’s really nothing like this oft-rapturous work in the canon of musical memoirs.