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My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Studio album by David Byrne and Brian Eno
Released February 1981
(See release history)
Recorded August 4, 1979 – October 1980, RPM Studios, New York City, New York; Blue Rock Studios, New York; Eldorado, Los Angeles; Different Fur, San Francisco; Sigma, New York
Genre Art rock, experimental music
Length 39:40
Language English, Arabic ("Qu'ran")
Label Sire
Producer David Byrne and Brian Eno
Professional reviews
David Byrne and Brian Eno chronology
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne chronology
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
The Catherine Wheel
Brian Eno chronology
Ambient #3: Day of Radiance
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Ambient #4: On Land
2006 Re-issue Cover
Singles from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
  1. "The Jezebel Spirit"
    Released: 1981

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a 1981 album by Brian Eno and David Byrne, titled after Amos Tutuola's 1954 novel of the same name. The album was re-released in expanded form in 2006.

Receiving strong reviews upon its release, My Life is now regarded as a high point in the discographies of Eno and Byrne.[2] In a 1985 interview, singer Kate Bush remarked that the album "left a very big mark on popular music,"[3] while critic John Bush describes it as a "pioneering work for countless styles connected to electronics, ambience, and Third World music."[4]

Byrne would tour to promote his collaborations with Eno in 2008 and 2009 and release the live EP Everything That Happens Will Happen on This Tour – David Byrne on Tour: Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno featuring a performance of "Help Me Somebody" in 2009.


Recording details

Eno had collaborated with Byrne's group Talking Heads on Fear of Music in 1979, and My Life was recorded mostly in a break between touring for that album, and the recording of Talking Heads' Remain in Light from 1980.

Drawing on funk and world music (particularly the multi-layered percussion of African music), My Life is similar to Talking Heads' music of the same era. The "found objects" credited to Eno and Byrne were common objects used mostly as percussion. In the notes for the 2006 expanded edition of the album, Byrne writes that they would often use a normal drum kit, but with a cardboard box replacing the bass drum, or a frying pan replacing the snare drum; this would blend the familiar drum sound with unusual percussive noises.

However, rather than featuring conventional pop or rock singing, most of the vocals are sampled from other sources, such as commercial recordings of Arabic singers, radio disc jockeys, and an exorcist. Musicians had previously used similar sampling techniques, but critic Dave Simpson[5] declares it had never before been used "to such cataclysmic effect" as on My Life.

The album was recorded entirely with analogue technology, before the advent of digital sequencing and MIDI. The sampled voices were synchronized with the instrumental tracks via trial and error, a practice that was often frustrating, but which also produced several happy accidents.

Also according to Byrne's 2006 notes, neither he nor Eno had read Tutuola's novel before the album was recorded. Both were familiar with Tutuola's earlier The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), but his My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was not easily obtained in the U.S. when the material was recorded. Even without reading the book, Eno and Byrne thought the title reflected their interest in African music, and also had an evocative, vaguely sinister quality that also referenced the voices sampled for the album: the vocalists were recorded sometimes several decades before being re-appropriated by Eno and Byrne, and the voices often seemed to take on unanticipated qualities when placed in the new context.

25th anniversary re-release

The album was reissued on 27 March, 2006 in the UK and 11 April, 2006 in the US, remastered and with seven extra tracks. To mark the reissue, two songs were made available to download online, consisting of the entire multitracks. Under the Creative Commons License, members of the public are able to download the multitracks, and use them for their own remixes.

The track "Qu'ran" was excluded from this release without comment. However, in an interview for Pitchfork Media about the 2006 reissue, Byrne said:

Way back when the record first came out, in 1981, it might have been '82, we got a request from an Islamic organization in London, and they said, 'We consider this blasphemy that you put grooves to the chanting of the Holy Book.' And we thought, 'Okay, in deference to somebody's religion, we'll take it off.' You could probably argue for and against monkeying with something like that. But I think we were certainly feeling very cautious about this whole thing. We made a big effort to try and clear all the voices, and make sure everybody was okay with everything. Because we thought, 'We're going to get accused of all kinds of things, and so we want to cover our asses as best we can.' So I think in that sense we reacted maybe with more caution than we had to. But that's the way it was.[6]

While discussing the re-release in 2006, the two began collaborating again on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which was independently released in 2008.


Differences in mastering and mixing

The original songs were remastered with higher gain. Other changes include:

  • "Mea Culpa" has 35 seconds of additional "I... uh..." stuttering and "mea culpa" speech at about 1:48, right before the synths begin to play the bell-like "melody." It also has about 35 more seconds of the instrumental bell-like synth line added at about 3:10, right before the reintroduction of the "mea culpa" speech. The original only has about 20 seconds of that melody before the speech returns.
  • "Regiment" has about 15 seconds of extra rhythm before the singing begins, starting at about 0:41.
  • "Moonlight in Glory" fades out 10 seconds later, which results in about 10 extra seconds of stuttering at the end of the song.
  • The instrumental introduction to "The Carrier" has been extended by about 50 seconds and includes the addition of the central instrumental section of the original piece. An additional spoken vocal part, a voice speaking quickly in Arabic has been added to the central instrumental section.
  • An additional 10 seconds has been added to the end of "Come with Us." Additional reverb and other treatment of the material has changed slightly. For example, at about 2:00, three percussion hits are heard. The remastered version uses backwards reverb to build up to the sound, whereas in the original the hits are clearly heard.


Original package design was created by Peter Saville. For the re-release, the new artwork was designed by Peter Buchanan-Smith, with booklet cover images and studio photography by Hugh Brown.

Having tried a few different directions for LP cover art, we decided to incorporate the video monitor as a painting tool, as Brian and others were doing here and there. By pointing the camera at the monitor and generating video feedback a few little cutout humanoid shapes pasted on the screen would be infinitely multiplied. And by fussing with the color setting on the backs of the TV sets one could saturate and skew the color quite a bit. I also took some pictures of just skewed vortexes and whorls of color, and then we did some images where we skewed the color on pictures that had been taken of ourselves and then took polaroids of the results. Somehow, despite it being very techie, these techniques also seemed analogous to what we were doing on the record. It was funky as well as being techie. Extremely lo tech actually, and not what you were supposed to do with a TV set.[7]

Track listing

Original LP (1981)

All tracks written by Eno/Byrne except as indicated. Notes below indicated the voices sampled, from the liner notes:

Side one
  1. "America Is Waiting" (arr. Eno, Byrne, Bill Laswell, Tim Wright, David Van Tieghem) – 3:36
  2. "Mea Culpa" – 3:35
    • Inflamed caller and smooth politician replying, both unidentified. Radio call-in show, New York, July 1979.
  3. "Regiment" (Eno, Byrne, Michael "Busta Cherry" Jones) – 3:56
    • Dunya Yusin, Lebanese mountain singer. (From The Human Voice in the World of Islam, Tangent Records TGS131)
  4. "Help Me Somebody" – 4:18
    • Reverend Paul Morton, broadcast sermon, New Orleans, June 1980.
  5. "The Jezebel Spirit" – 4:55
    • Unidentified exorcist, New York, September 1980.
Side two
  1. "Qu'ran" [sic] – 3:46
    • Algerian Muslims chanting the Qur'an. (Same source as side one track 3)
  2. "Moonlight in Glory" – 4:19
    • The Moving Star Hall Singers, Sea Islands, Georgia. (From The Moving Star Hall Singers, Folkways FS 3841). Produced by Guy Carawan.
  3. "The Carrier" – 3:30
    • Dunya Yusin. (See side one track 3)
  4. "A Secret Life" – 2:30
    • Samira Tewfik, Egyptian popular singer. (From Les Plus Grandes Artistes du Monde Arabe, EMI)
  5. "Come with Us" – 2:38
    • Unidentified radio evangelist, San Francisco, April 1980
  6. "Mountain of Needles" – 2:35

In the 1982 second edition, the track "Qu'ran"—which features samples of Qur'anic recital—was removed at the request of the Islamic Council of Great Britain. In its place "Very, Very Hungry" (the B-side of "The Jezebel Spirit" 12" EP)[8] was substituted. The first edition of the CD (1986) included both tracks, with "Very, Very Hungry" as a bonus track. Later editions (1990 and later) followed the revised LP track order without "Qu'ran."


A widely-circulated bootleg of outtakes was released in 1992 as Klondyke Records KR 21. Sound quality is nearly equal to the original CD release.

  1. "Interview" – 3:03 (excerpt from Brian's February 2, 1980 KPFA-FM interview, where he discusses recording the album)
  2. "Mea Culpa" – 4:56
  3. "Into the Spirit Womb" – 6:07 ("The Jezebel Spirit" with the original Kathryn Kuhlman vocals, which her estate refused to license)
  4. "Regiment" – 4:13
  5. "The Friends of Amos Tutuola" – 2:01 (released as "Two Against Three" below)
  6. "America Is Waiting" – 3:42
  7. "The Carrier" – 4:22
  8. "Very Very Hungry" – 3:25
  9. "On the Way to Zagora" – 2:43 (released as "Pitch to Voltage" below)
  10. "Les Hommes Ne Le Sauront Jamais" – 3:33 (released as "Number 8 Mix" below)
  11. "A Secret Life" – 2:34
  12. "Come with Us" – 2:42
  13. "Mountain of Needles" – 2:31

Except as noted, the tracks are the same mix as originally released.

2006 re-release

Remastered, with bonus tracks

  1. "America Is Waiting" – 3:38
  2. "Mea Culpa" – 4:57
  3. "Regiment" – 4:11
  4. "Help Me Somebody" – 4:17
  5. "The Jezebel Spirit" – 4:56
  6. "Very, Very Hungry" – 3:21
  7. "Moonlight in Glory" – 4:30
  8. "The Carrier" – 4:19
  9. "A Secret Life" – 2:31
  10. "Come with Us" – 2:42
  11. "Mountain of Needles" – 2:39
  12. "Pitch to Voltage" – 2:38
  13. "Two Against Three" – 1:55
  14. "Vocal Outtakes" – 0:36
  15. "New Feet" – 2:26
  16. "Defiant" – 3:41 (a radically remixed version of "Qu'ran" with a different vocal)
  17. "Number 8 Mix" – 3:30
  18. "Solo Guitar with Tin Foil" – 3:00


The track numbers listed here are the ones on the original LP release.

Release history

Region Date Label Format Catalog
Worldwide 1980 Sire LP 6093
CD 60932
1981 E'G 48
1988 Sire 2-6093
Cassette tape M5S-6093
1990 CD 45374
1991 LP 6093
Cassette tape 45374
1999 EMI CD 86473
2006 Nonesuch 79894


External links


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