Ahead of the past: David Byrne and Brian Eno, together again

Via Naples Daily News

Wayne Bledsoe, Naples Daily News, 25 December 2008 [Link]

The most enduring image of David Byrne is probably that of the skinny man nearly lost inside a seriously oversized suit. While Byrne sang in his characteristic yelp, the suit seemed to nearly swallow him.

At that time, Byrne was the frontman with the innovative rock act the Talking Heads — which was as responsible as any band for turning rock music into art, or maybe just smearing the line so that the audience had a hard time finding where the visual art separated from the aural creations.

“I know that borders exist, but they’re only there for marketing purposes,” says Byrne.

In addition to his work with the Talking Heads and his own solo albums, Byrne has written operas, scores for plays and TV shows and music for art installations. He’s directed the critically lauded film “True Stories,” founded the world music record label Luaka Bop and creates visual artworks.

His newest albums are “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” a collaboration with producer/composer Brian Eno, and the soundtrack for the HBO series “Big Love.” His new tour focuses on the music that Byrne created with Eno.

“Like a lot of people, my first instinct was just to do the new stuff,” says Byrne, “but people in the audience want to hear things from other parts of your career, too. Then I realized that Brian and I have worked on a lot more than just this album. There was ’My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,’ ’The Catherine Wheel’ and three Talking Heads albums. If I drew on all of that I had more than enough to do a live show and (the audience) could see a lot more continuity that you might initially think.”

Instead of adding video for onstage visuals, Byrne decided to add dancers, with parts created by three different choreographers. The key, he says, was to add an unexpected element of fun without being pretentious.

Byrne seems to like a challenge. On both “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” and the “Big Love” soundtrack, he works with existing elements. “Big Love” accompanies a pre-existing story, and Eno had already written all the music for “Everything.”

“It’s like you kind of have an assignment,” says Byrne. “Here’s a vocal melody. It already has a mood and a rhythm. Here’s what you have to work with. Can you change this chord in the melody? No.”

The one tendency that seems to connect all of Byrne’s projects is an appreciation for the magic in everyday lives.

“I tend not to go for the super-dramatic,” he says. “I think the big decisions of our lives are revealed in the little things.”

In fact, Byrne can take a mundane but functional concept like city bike racks and have fun with it. The longtime bicycling enthusiast will have a book, “The Bicycle Diaries,” out in late 2009.

The city of New York invited Byrne to be on a committee to come up with some new bike racks. Byrne came up with some ideas on his own — just to break the ice. However, Department of Transportation officials liked Byrne’s nine designs (which include a dog, a man, a dollar sign and a show) so much they wanted to inaugurate the new racks by putting up Byrne’s concepts. Byrne had the racks made from the same steel tubing that the current bike racks are made of, and the department had them installed around the city.

He admits that the whimsical racks might confuse some bikers.

“They sort of don’t look like bike racks,” says Byrne, “but functional doesn’t have to be boring.”

Byrne says he does little planning ahead beyond a few months, and there’s little that he really wants to do that he hasn’t.

“I wanted to do another movie, but I’m kind of spoiled in a way. I have all these other outlets. Now when I’m really struggling with something I can say, ’To hell with it! I’ll just write a song’ or something.”

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