Daniel Lanois covers a lot of territory, both physically and artistically, in his engrossing autobiography. The multiple Grammy-winning producer of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, and nearly every U2 record since 1984 shares the expected stories about the making of those records, his longstanding collaboration with Brian Eno, and even some brief encounters with the likes of Rick James and Raffi, but the more fascinating aspects of the musician’s life take place outside of the music magazines. In relating the facts of his near-impoverished Quebec upbringing, told in pieces around numerous jumps to the present day, Lanois draws on his skills as an arranger; only when you’ve finished the book and seen all the pieces laid out do you realize that you’ve been reading a song. Lanois is an easy, natural storyteller; he talks about playing bump-and-grind music for a burlesque dancer, offering advice to a heartsick Harry Dean Stanton, and repelling a home invasion by a couple of speed freaks by offering them soup. He rides his motorcycle to New Orleans, wanders the marketplaces of Morocco, records church bells in Oaxaca...and astonishingly, every detail proves to have a vital place in a linear narrative, and in the end you feel like you’ve been watching a movie on Lanois instead of a bunch of VH1 documentaries about his day jobs. “This is how I see God … (as) tiny molecular pieces of information constantly flying by,” writes Lanois, and in Soul Mining, he finds a place for every last one of those pieces and fashions them into a heartfelt hymn to the muse.
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Soul Mining: A Musical Life
Faber & Faber/FSG / November / 9780865479845 / $26.00