David Byrne is one of the most passionate artists and most vocal proponents of artistic creation in America. His single-mindedness served him well as the lead singer of GBOAT (Greatest Band of All-Time) contender Talking Heads where hits like “Psycho Killer”, “Once In A Lifetime”, and “Burning Down the House” found the odd-ball group of art school students in MTV’s rotation. Since those days Mr. Byrne has collaborated with Brian Eno, St. Vincent, and Ryuchi Sakamoto, consistently made thought-provoking art, designed bike racks for New York City (and does a mean cover of one of Whitney Houston’s best songs as well as this). The man who seems to perpetually have creative irons in the fire still made time last year to write a thoughtful op-ed piece about the state of art in New York which was actually meant to be read and considered and which, in part, inspired me to start this blog. As much as I am interested in Mr. Bryne’s work as an artist I am even more curious about how exactly he engages the world, how he understand things, and what inspires him, and so I was thrilled when I came across a paperback copy of his book How Music Works the other day and my parents – who were in town visiting my wife and I – decided to buy it for me. I am only 100 pages into it and, if you love music or have any appreciate whatsoever for Mr. Byrne’s work, I am urging you to pick up a copy of this book. Mr. Byrne’s life-long interest in the subjects of music and art, and his perspective as an immensely successful musician, have now open themselves up to be related as so much anecdotal and factual information as a music-lover relates what he has learned about music’s place in different cultures and eras. It is truly fascinating stuff, and I would love to get back to it right now.
To me Mr. Byrne’s greatest strength in writing this particular volume is his ineffable humility, making each page a joy to read since he doesn’t write like someone who “knows how this works” but he is instead exploring, trying to understand the thing he loves so much better all the time, and share it with those interested in that same thing. These are Mr. Byrne’s words, taken from the books’ introduction:
I hope that you will find something to enjoy here even if you have no interest in my own music. I’m also uninterested in the swollen egos that drive some artists, although the psychological makeup of musicians and composers shapes music at least as much as any of the phenomena I am fascinated by. I rather look for patterns in how music is written, recorded, distributed, and received – and then ask myself if the forces that fashioned and shaped these patterns have guided my own work…Does asking oneself these questions in an attempt to see how the machine works spoil the enjoyment? It hasn’t for me. Music isn’t fragile. Knowing how the body works doesn’t take away the pleasure of living.
Cheers to that, David. If you read that above except and felt your heart leap a little bit then get yourself a copy of this book.
If you are not a fan of Talking Heads or Mr. Byrne’s other work, check some of it out below:
This is Talking Heads in Jonathan Demme’s brilliant “concert film”, Stop Making Sense: