David Byrne

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Dinosaur, “Kiss Me Again,” 12-inch, side A, 1978. Composed by Arthur Russell. Remix by Jimmy Simpson.

The personnel for this record blows my mind:

Arthur Russell (cello, organ)
David Byrne (guitar)
Sammy Figueroa (percussion)
Frank Owens (piano)
Henry Flynt (violin)
Peter Gordon (sax)
Larry Saltzman (guitar)
Peter Zummo (trombone)
Myrian Valle (vocals)

The Henry Flynt finale is an especially rewarding touch, & it’s kind of thrilling to hear him — and Byrne — on the same record as Russell, Gordon, & Zummo.

See Tim Lawrence’s richly detailed Hold On to Your Dreams, pp. 130-37, for an account of this record’s origins. Find a download link here.

Previously. And.

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Our current obsession with the 70s continues on PWHNY. Judging from a quick Google search, it appears this clip made the rounds in the blogosphere a couple years back. I guess I’m arriving late. In any case, here’s a 20-year-old Koons being interviewed by a 23-year-old David Byrne, who had just made his debut with Talking Heads at CBGB’s that summer. Conversation ranges from The Bob Newhart Show to middle-class bars and strip clubs in small towns to what sets New York apart for aspiring artists. Koons says he came here from Chicago largely in response to the underground music scene after he’d heard the Patti Smith Group on the radio. Have at it:

A couple other Byrne conversations turn up from the same period. Were they part of a larger project? Or just kids sitting around, getting high and shooting the shit?

At least a partial transcription of the conversation here.

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David Byrne gave a TED Talk last February, which has now been posted online. TED is a  nonprofit organization that devotes itself to what it calls “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started in 1984 as a conference that brought together leading practitioners from the worlds of design, entertainment, and technology. It now sponsors two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer — as well as a number of other programs.

Speakers who are invited to give TED Talks “are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).” Here’s how Byrne describes his talk:

My own talk (it wasn’t a musical performance) was based on the idea that the acoustic properties of the clubs, theaters and concert halls where our music might get performed determines to a large extent the kind of music we write. We semi unconsciously create music that will be appropriate to the places in which it will most likely be heard. Put that way it sounds obvious … but most people are surprised that creativity might be steered and molded by such mundane forces. I go further — it seems humans aren’t the only ones who do this, who adapt our music to sonic circumstances — birds do it too. I play lots of sound snippets as examples, with images of the venues accompanying them.

The talk makes a nice follow-up to our Faculty Resource Network seminar on the idea of “Lost New York,” because Byrne (a crucial member of the downtown scene that we discussed in our consideration of the work of Arthur Russell) talks about  the relationship between architecture and music. He even begins with CBGB, which cropped up frequently last week.


Rowdy was the night


Glad I made it out to Bowery Ballroom last night to see the last show of the Dirty Projectors’ four-night NYC stand. (Thanks again to those who conspired to get me in.)

I saw the show with my brother, who’d been to the previous night’s show at Music Hall as well. Together we’d seen Dave Longstreth play solo (as Dirty Projectors) back in 2003 or 2004, maybe earlier, when he was still working out the songs for The Getty Address. In those pre-Amber, pre-Angel, pre-Haley days it was just Dave, a cassette deck, and a laptop, if I remember right, but you kind of had an idea of how big — operatic, even — the stuff was that was going on inside his head. I don’t think I could have predicted that 5 or 6 years later NYMag would feature him as the centerpiece of the Brooklyn indie renaissance.

Full recap of the show at BV (where I nabbed the pictures above and below, too). Highlights, though: if night 3 of the hometown shows had been a Quaker Meeting, as Dave put it, all enlightenment and joy, night 4 turned out to be a dance party. Tune-Yards, opening, had the crowd in the palm of her hand with a set that helped clarify DP’s own African influences. Then the Projectors by turns rocked out — like choir kids doing Max Tundra tunes without the use of computers — and took some acoustic detours, including “Two Doves” w/ just Dave and Angel, which made me wish they’d gone on to play “Edelweiss.” Near the end of the set, The Roots made a guest appearance, folding the place inside out as they backed Amber’s solo vocals on “Stillness Is the Move.” ?uestlove was sporting a killer Cosby kids T-shirt. When they finished he tossed his sticks into the crowd.


Finally, for the second encore number, David Byrne, who through the whole show had been standing with Cindy Sherman against the wall near the front, like a humble presiding spirit, popped out from the wings to join in on “Knotty Pine,” their great Dark Was The Night collaboration. It’s a tricky song (aren’t they all?) and it seemed like a while since it had been rehearsed, which lent to the fun. Earlier I’d said to Nathan that DP seems to me to be the Talking Heads of his generation. Watching Byrne and Longstreth play off each other only seemed to confirm it.


Afterwards, through scenester cache not my own, we ended up in the green room for a post-show toast. Some kids from SNL were there, and my brother pointed out Michael Azerrad across the room. Years ago I gave my brother MA’s book for Christmas, so we shared a little sentimental fraternal moment over that. The first time I’d been in Bowery’s green room, coincidentally, Cindy Sherman had been introducing the act I was performing with. Crammed together into the room’s doorway, I told her so; she remembered the night, though surely not me in particular. (I was buried deep in the rhythm section, safely behind the star power.) And can I just conclude with an early New Year’s resolution? If I’m ever standing awkwardly in the same hallway with David Byrne again, I won’t chicken out from the chance to introduce myself properly. I kicked myself all the way home.


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David Byrne has an interesting piece up on his Journal, meditating on his participation in the recent Dark Was The Night benefit concerts at Radio City Music Hall. (The DWTN compilation, it should be noted, is pretty damn fantastic, with a few notable exceptions, such as the sprawling Sufjan Stevens trainwreck, which I quickly deleted from my iPod. It almost seemed a joke: after all, he can write perfectly listenable music.)

The upshot of Byrne’s piece is that the collection of artists featured on the double CD, many of whom performed together earlier this month, represent a triumph of art rock over a more decadent, bratty, or trashy rock and roll aesthetic. Byrne, who appears on the album in one of its stand-out tracks, a collaboration with Dirty Projectors, also sees this set of artists — many of whom are Brooklyn-based, part of what could loosely be termed a “scene” — as representing something of a renaissance in American rock in which commercialism is losing ground to serious artistry:

Besides their dedication to their art, most are successful — but one
senses that fame wasn’t their primary engine for choosing a career in
music. There was no hierarchy in this group — everyone was treated as
an equal, and participated with everyone else where they could. Many
were already acquaintances or friends. Times have changed. No one was
drunk, on drugs or two hours late for rehearsal. There was no “rock
star” behavior. That could sound boring — but such rebellious, clichéd
behavior hasn’t always guaranteed good music. When great music would
surface from a personal or professional mess, it often seemed like a
rare but happy accident, unlikely to be repeated.

Maybe it’s the
headiness of being surrounded by so many creative folks, but it seems
that popular music — some of it anyway — might be going through one of
its periodic peaks. It also seems that rock music, or some sizable
branch of it, has evolved from being a throwaway piece of merchandise
for teens to a respectable art form. The transformation, made in fits
and starts over many decades, seems more or less complete.

Is the subtext here the long shadow of Talking Heads? Certainly he presides over the DWTN enterprise like a protective spirit. He links to a duet he performed with Bon Iver. Here’s decent footage of “Knotty Pine,” his song with Dirty Projectors. Byrne’s the one center-stage in the red, white, and blue:

When I first saw Dirty Projectors — maybe five years ago? — it was just Dave Longstreth with a laptop and boombox, performing material he eventually released on his album The Getty Address, a song cycle in which he imagines Don Henley touring the Gettysburg battle site. As disarmingly good as he was then, I wouldn’t have expected that he’d come to be such a major player in the indie world.

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Yesterday, David Byrne and Brian Eno released Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, their first full-length album together since 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Unlike that album, this one actually features Byrne’s vocals. It holds its own against recent Byrne albums and other late Eno collaborations, with the exception of last year’s release from Robert Wyatt, Comicopera, which contains what I think are the finest Eno co-writes in years.

3D-Logo.gifI’m almost more interested in the duo’s demeanor and m.o. on this release than in the music itself, though I’ve enjoyed streaming it while puttering around the house catching up on work yesterday and this morning. I’m interested not just in the fact that the collaboration happened, this go around, via email (Eno writing tunes and hooks and laying down beats and Byrne composing songs and lyrics from these building blocks), but also in their decision to self-publish and -promote. “In the past, I might have undertaken all kinds of expensive marketing
plans to prepare for a record release,” Byrne wrote on his blog a couple weeks ago, announcing the early release of a free MP3 from the album. “[T]here would be a teaser, live
shows, posters, magazine ads, interviews, and advance CDs sent to
writers and reviewers. We’ve done a few interviews, but that’s about
it.” For this record, though, the “Internet word-of-mouth” experiment seems to be part of the fun. According to the Times, the free download, “Strange Overtones,” saw 40,000 downloads in the first three days it was posted. (If you’ve never read Byrne’s online “journal,” by the way, you should know that he’s among the best contemporary NY bloggers.)

They’ve now made the entire album available for streaming, and even set up a nice little widget that allows you to stream from blogs like ours if you’d like:

Byrne and Eno met on May 14, 1977, the day Byrne’s band, the seminal New York art-punks Talking Heads, headlined their first show in England, where they had traveled to support another New York punk band, the Ramones. Eno, an experimental musician who had played with the legendary glam outfit Roxy Music and was currently guiding David Bowie through one of his most fertile periods, was in the back of the club recording the gig illicitly; the band’s management confiscated his recorder and sat him closer to the stage. In some versions of the story, former Velvet Underground member John Cale (who had worked with other downtown New York acts since) was at the same gig. David Bowman, in his biography of Talking Heads, says that Eno and others recall Cale saying something to Eno like “Get out of the way, Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, I want them, you bugger.” Cale says he wasn’t there.

Eno did wind up producing Talking Heads records; he spent more and more time in New York, which he thought of, according to Bowman, like a “medieval European city”:

Eno liked shopping in Chinatown for weird odds and ends. The smell of burned meat was in the air from a shish kabob stand. He passed by windows hung full with dead red ducks. Windows full of water and huge fish with the faces of old men. An Asian dwarf writing calligraphy on the window of a bank.

Eno’s 1978 pop album Before and After Science includes a Heads-style homage to the band called “King’s Lead Hat,” an anagram for the band’s name. That same year, Eno also made downtown NYC music history by curating the album No New York, a compilation of four post-CBGB/post-punk minimalist bands: the Contortions, Mars, DNA, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (fronted by Lydia Lunch). In many ways, the No New York album is the bridge between the mid-70s downtown scene and 80s post-punk New York landmark bands like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo.

If Everything That Happens doesn’t fully live up to expectations, recall just how much its creators have shaped the soundscape of our own contemporary NY scenes — and how much better even their late efforts are than most of the crap rolled out and cut from corporate cookie-cutter music factories.

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