David Byrne: At the Head of his Class

Posted in MusicWorld on April 30, 2002 by

"As an adolescent I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a scientist or an artist," David Byrne recently stated. "I eventually opted for art school because, A) the graffiti in the halls was better and, B) I wouldn't have to go through at least four years of boring shit before I had the opportunity to do anything bordering on the creative."

It's not hard to understand why David Byrne was initially hesitant to reunite onstage with former Talking Heads bandmates Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison when the band was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After all, in the decade-and-a -half since that seminal avant-art-punk-r&b combo quit performing, Byrne has expanded his artistic horizons far beyond the ones he explored in his original stint as the adventurous foursome's tightly wound frontman.

Byrne - who says that his early art-college background taught him "that anything could be art and art could be anything" - has long been adept at using his notoriety as a musician to expand his artistic horizons, regularly venturing into unexpected areas even further outside the mainstream than Talking Heads' boundary-breaking output. For instance, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, his 1981 collaboration with Brian Eno, helped introduce electronic music, third-world percussion and found voices to rock audiences. He's won acclaim for his scores for film (including Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor) and theatre (Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel, Robert Wilson's Civil Wars), and emerged as an accomplished filmmaker with the 1986 feature True Stories. And for the past dozen years, he's put his eclectic musical tastes to good use as head of the esteemed Luaka Bop label, whose eclectic catalogue encompasses an array of sounds from around the world, and has helped to win new fans for such diverse acts as Cornershop, Tom Ze, Susana Baca and Os Mutantes.

Luaka Bop is also the home of Byrne's most recent album, Look Into the Eyeball, a typically eclectic - and typically accessible - fusion of influences that strikes a balance between personal introspection, wry humor and multicultural experimentation. The album's pleasures range from the Latin funk of "Desconocido Soy" to the gospel uplift of "Walk on Water" to the rhythmic, orchestrated pop of "Smile" and "Everyone's in Love With You" to the classic Philly-soul style of a pair of tracks that boast arrangements by legendary r&b producer Thom Bell.

Describing the album's aesthetic inspirations, Byrne says, "I had been wondering if there might be a way to include the warm, lyrical, beautiful, emotional sounds and associations of strings and orchestral parts with groove music and beats for the body. I want to move people to dance and cry at the same time.

"Like the song 'The Revolution' implies, I somehow imagine that a real revolution is won by seduction, by winning over not just the mind, but the body and the senses as well. And that the sadness of some of these melodies are countered by the vigor and persistence of the groove."


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