Reviewed by Dale Nickey:
Soul Mining (A Musical Life) by Daniel Lanois (2010)
Published by Faber and Faber
Daniel Lanois….the Ernest Hemingway of Rock and Roll. No…..well, not quite….um, oh I got it. Ernest Hemingway was the Daniel Lanois of literature. Yeah, that feels right.
I found ‘Soul Mining” at my favorite used book store. A shop called “The Five Dollar Bookstore”. However, in the case of paperbacks, we’re talkin’ three dollars. Three dollars for a peek into the rich pageant that has been (and continues to be) the life of Daniel Lanois.
For those of you out of the loop, Daniel Lanois is a French-Canadian artist/producer from the cold rural northern town of Hamilton. During Daniel’s childhood, Hamilton was civilization lite with a heavy connection to the land and the elements. After a wild untamed adolescence, Lanois became a full time musician and studio owner at the ripe old age of 17. He caught his first big break as a collaborator and producer with Brian Eno on the ambient classic “Apollo”; an album of music designed as a backdrop to the film footage of the manned Apollo moon expeditions. Soon after that, he was on to producing Peter Gabriel, U2 and Robbie Robertson and never looked back.
Daniel Lanois has long been one of my musical heroes. Little did I know that “Soul Mining” would make him a personal hero as well. I wasn’t expecting to find profiles of courage in the book. I’m not talking about artistic courage; a laughable concept in a pre-apocalyptic, post-Fukashima world. I’m talking about real “staring down the face of death” courage. Courage is different than fearlessness. Courage is when you are ‘load your drawers’ terrified, but have the clarity and calm to make the right moves when your adrenal glands are messaging you to run like hell. Imagine disarming two crack-crazed home intruders with the offer of turkey soup and a friendly game of pool until observant neighbors and friends could summon the police. Such are the tight-rope walks a soul takes during the course of a life well lived.
I was just hoping to pick up a few production tips that I would likely never use, or a hot tip on a stomp box or echo machine. Oh, I got all that. But, I also got a lesson on life. How our only regrets on our deathbed will be the dreams we didn’t pursue.
I was not expecting such rich narrative or descriptive prose from the musician/producer. I’m not sure why I should be surprised. One read of Daniel’s lyrics reveal him to be a deep and multi-layered writer. Knowledgeable about history and the applied science of sound as well as the mythologies of the Bible and Delta voodoo. But lyrics and poetry are to books, what the 100 meter dash is to the marathon. Someone who is a great sprinter is seldom a great distance runner and vice versa. Daniel Lanois turns that theory on its head and shows us there’s not much he can’t do.
“Soul Mining” is an easy and rewarding read. Any point of entry works for the reader. It’s more episodic than novelistic. It’s OK to skip around. I did. But ultimately, you must read the whole thing to really get the full breath and expanse of the man and his muse. Daniel Lanois is testament to the adage, “there’s no such thing as a bad boy”. Raised by a single mother of four, Lanois was a handful as a kid (as most are). But, his reckless youth merely underscores the redemptive powers of music. Once Daniel and his brother Bob got to work in earnest on their basement studio and the religion of music started guiding their life decisions, Daniel began regular deposits to the karma bank that would pay rich dividends later in life.
Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, U2, Robbie Robertson, The Neville Brothers, Brian Eno, Scott Weiland…….No, it’s not a guest list for a R&R Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It’s the list of artists Lanois has produced. Every artist Lanois produces, he collaborates with. In essence, all of these artists made a Daniel Lanois album. So signature is his sound; and so eerie is his ability to guide super talents in mid-life doldrums to career defining heights. Lanois can claim credit for kick starting Dylan’s comback in the 80’s with his production of “Oh Mercy” and thus, the beginning the bard’s incredible third act heroics, which include his Lanois produced multi-Grammy winning masterpiece “Time Out Of Mind”.
To call Lanois a producer/artist is to trivialize him. Lanois is a sonic explorer. That can mean building a New Orleans studio from scratch to capture the city’s wandering spirits for a Neville Brothers album, or risking life and limb traveling to the the rural wilderness of Mexico to hear the symphony of mission bells of Oaxaca. It could mean leasing an abandoned movie theater in Oxnard Ca. in order to create a comfy performance vibe for Willie Nelson. All the while, angels and spirits seem to travel with Daniel, saving him from catastrophes large and small.
“Soul Mining” is a manifesto to the nomadic, romantic soul of the artist. What did I learn from “Soul Mining”? I learned the past we make is often a collection of missed connections and chances not taken, but the future is as easy to change as our minds……