Songs You May Have Missed #654

David Byrne & Brian Eno: “Life is Long” (2008)

“Folk-electronic-gospel” is how David Byrne and Brian Eno refer to their 2008 transatlantic collaboration, their first since 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Eno says his longtime love of gospel music was initiated by Byrne and his work with Talking Heads–remember, “Take Me to the River” was an Al Green cover–and the horn charts here certainly wouldn’t be out of place on one of Green’s tunes.

Recommended Albums #25

Grown Backwards

David Byrne: Grown Backwards (2004)

Just at the point in David Byrne’s career when I’d pretty much lost interest–he’d apparently given up making conventional pop in favor of a world music agenda with his Luaka Bop label–someone who never gave me music before or since handed me a promo copy of Grown Backwards. I’d probably never have heard it otherwise. The promo did precisely its intended work, and dumb luck brought me one of my favorite albums of its decade.

Grown Backwards sounds like nothing so much as Byrne’s “record for grown ups”–intelligent and wide-ranging, but still slightly odd in Byrne’s inimitable way. The tunes bounce from style to style: eclectic, quirky pop, horn-laden funk, a sprinkling of that world music vibe (though not a heavy enough dose to be off-putting) and Byrne even covers two opera duets: the gorgeous Au Fond du Temple Saint, written by Bizet and sung with Rufus Wainwright; and Un di Felice, Etera from Verdi’s La Traviata. This ain’t no “Psycho Killer”. And this ain’t no foolin’ around. This is a guy bringing the richness of all of his musical interests to bear on a single album, and giving listeners credit for being able to handle the diversity of moods and settings.

However, the range of music here would prove to be a challenge to some “fans” with built-in expectations. As some of the album’s customer reviews on attest, many of Byrne’s fans from the Talking Heads days weren’t willing to follow him into some of this territory. Ironic that devotees of a band who once challenged expectations and broadened rock’s palatte would end up complaining that Byrne’s new stuff wasn’t the “same as it ever was”. I was surprised to read this is his only album to miss the Billboard top 200 album chart completely. The “fans” are simply wrong about this one. And if you come to it without expectations as I did you’ll find Grown Backwards contains lots of enjoyable musical moments.

Listen to: “Glass, Concrete and Stone”


Listen to: “The Man Who Loved Beer”


Listen to: “Au Fond du Temple Saint”


Listen to: “Dialog Box”

“Music is a Gateway Drug to Other People”…An Interview With David Byrne

(reprinted from Rolling Stone)

By James  Sullivan
September 12, 2012 11:30 AM ET

Just as he’s debuting  his new work with St. Vincent, the creatively insatiable David Byrne is also  publishing a book, called How Music Works. Beautifully designed by Dave  Eggers’ McSweeney’s publishing house, it’s a smart, accessible survey of the  ways music is affected by circumstances – time, place, money, technology, human  relationships – and how they can change the way we experience it. “Genius – the  emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work – seems to appear when a  thing is perfectly suited to its context,” writes the former Talking  Head, who has hit that mark many times over.

You are very busy at the moment. Yeah, everything kind of  happens all at once. Both [projects] were things that had a long gestation.

Have you felt particularly inspired or creative leading up to these  two releases? Uh . . . gee. I don’t know. Sometimes, you kinda get  lucky. I’ve never had writer’s block. I guess it’s good, but it means sometimes  not everything is as good as everything else. I find you have to keep the  muscles working, keep churning it out. I guess it’s a tricky subject for some  people, that they might get stuck, or overly self-critical. Or maybe they’ve had  a recent success, so they compare everything – “Is it as good as what I just  did?”

So your self-editor is not particularly critical? Well,  sort of. Yeah. Yes. And sometimes you go,”Wow, I really kind of fell into a good  one there.” I can tell when it seems to me I’ve hit gold, whether on my own or  working with someone else. But I can’t always tell, or maybe I won’t admit to  myself, that something isn’t all that exciting.

How easily did the writing for this book come to you after building  up so many years of experience in music? Well, some of the writing  got a start because I’d written various articles – for Wired magazine,  and I did a TED talk, which ended up being the first chapter, that sort of  thing. They kind of laid down the bones, and then I realized, “Oh, there are  three or four things I’m interested in, and they all seem to have to do with how  context affects music.”

There are other chapters that are pretty much straight  autobiography. Those came easily, the more anecdotal ones, where I  used my own experience to talk about performing and recording. But it’s  definitely going to disappoint people who are nostalgic, or have a desire to  know all things about the CBGB period.

But there’s still great stuff about that period. Yeah,  but there’s people who – that was the glory years for some of them. OK, but I’m  not gonna deliver that.

So will you one day write an actual memoir? I haven’t  thought about it, really. There’s going to be such a glut of these things, the  “aging rocker” memoir. There already are, and the pipeline is open, and it’s  pouring out now.

Can you talk about your use of the term “evanescence” – that  hard-to-define idea about music that sets it apart from all other art  forms? I feel like I have to remind myself and the reader that music  is not something they hold in their hand. It’s not a laser disc, or vinyl, or  MP3. It’s not any of those things. It’s what you hear. And when it stops, it’s  gone. The experience is over. We tend to mistake music for the physical  object.

You mention in the book you’re self-diagnosed with mild Asperger’s.  Do you feel like your intense interest in music helped you unlock human  emotion? Well, yes, in a way. It was definitely a place you could  go, as a teenager, into your own world, where you felt some kind of solace. It  was really super helpful. Anyone who’s had a strong musical identification with  some band or artist as an adolescent will know that feeling. I was barely along  that spectrum, but I eventually became aware that, oh, other people find it very  easy to be social, and I tend to . . . watch. Not in the Chauncey Gardner sense. [Laughs] And music became a  way of having a voice. Later on, I realized music was allowing me to experience  emotions, to communicate them. It was like self-therapy, unlocking parts of me,  little by little – making music or listening to it. I could tell it was changing  me. It could be that I’m aging out of that thing, as people often do. But then I  thought, well, music really seems to be helping me along that way. It’s almost  very concrete, the way it helps you. It’s not just vague. It’s really doing  something.

You write how music has also taught you about the world around you,  culture and history. The more you open yourself to music of different cultures  and styles, it can provide some profound cultural lessons. I would  like to think it can, that music is kind of a gateway drug [laughs] to  other people whose lives are different than yours. And it certainly does,  whether in other cultures or different parts of our own culture. But it’s really  tricky. There are plenty of people who are, I think, completely racist who love  hip-hop. So there’s no guarantee if you like the music you will empathize with  the culture and the people who made it. It doesn’t necessarily happen. I think  it can, but it doesn’t necessarily happen. Which is kind of a shame. It would be  nice if music was a cure-all that way. But it doesn’t seem you can count on it,  totally.

How did you begin working with Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s? They have  a great aesthetic that seems like a perfect match for you. I was a  fan of the McSweeney’s journal. I was working on this art book project, kind of  a fake religious tract, a Bible-type thing called The New Sins that was  meant to be placed in hotel drawers. I thought, whoever does the design for  McSweeney’s, that person might be very appropriate. I wrote out of the blue to  them. And I got an email back from Dave, saying, “Oh, I do a lot of that. I’d  love to design the book.” He’s an incredible designer. I did some McSweeney’s  events, and I did another art book with them . . . It does feel like, these  days, in the era of e-books, if you’re going to make a physical book, you may as  well make it into a really nice physical object. Otherwise, not. [Laughs]

And the two of you have a shared love of bicycles. We  have gone biking together. He mentioned in [a recent New York Times review], he asked someone,  “Let’s go for a ride,” and the guy showed up in the Spandex and everything. And  it’s like, oh my God, we’re just riding around the neighborhood here.

You write about collaborating. Can you talk about challenging  yourself that way? It sort of goes back to the writer’s block thing – it’s a really interesting way to keep the creative muscles active. People  whose work you like, who are different than you are, you’ve got to meet them in  the middle and adjust what you do to what they do to make it successful.  Sometimes you have to stretch, do something you haven’t done before. Yeah, like  Pitchfork said, I will collaborate with anyone for a bag of Doritos. [Laughs] That’s not quite true, but I’m definitely not doing it for the  money. It has totally paid off, creatively. Weirdly enough, occasionally you hit  something and it becomes really popular, and you’re not even trying.

Songs You May Have Missed #36


Forro In The Dark with David Byrne: “Asa Branca” (2006)

Forro (pronounced “fo-ho”) is a style of very percussion-based Brazilian dance music. Forro In The Dark, a New York-based group of Brazilian ex-pats who were playing a weekly gig at a club called Nublu, came to the attention of fellow New Yorker David Byrne, who then collaborated with them on their 2006 album. Here he sings the vocals in English of Brazilian standard “Asa Brance”.

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