David Byrne, the former Talking Heads singer, who has written 'How Music Works'
You may find yourself hermetically sealed from popular culture, but music still has an uncanny knack of permeating our lives. We live in a time when technology has made music both abundant and freely accessible. By contrast, original insight and analysis of the art form has become an extremely precious commodity, which is why the former Talking Heads singer David Byrne deserves great praise for How Music Works. It is as accessible as pop yet able to posit deep and startlingly original thoughts and discoveries in almost every paragraph. Not unlike getting your ears syringed, this book will make you hear music in a different way.
Though a calm and humble man, Byrne’s status in contemporary pop could not be higher, with Talking Heads’ brand of groove-fixated alternative rock influencing subsequent generations, from Blur to fellow New Yorkers LCD Soundsystem. He has been defined as “quirky” so much that it’s a relief to have to use that tired cliché only once here, with regard to the book’s structure – a winning mix of manual, biography and anthropological study presented over 10 stand-alone chapters.
Naturally, Talking Heads fans will find much to savour within them. Learning that the lyrics to 1980’s Once in a Lifetime were inspired by a recording of a preacher, or that the oversized suits worn in their seminal concert film Stop Making Sense were inspired by ancient Japanese theatre, is a joy.
Every form of music, from birdsong onwards, is considered and elegantly related to form, debunking romantic conceits about music and presenting a far more beautiful rationality. In the process, Byrne shows not just how music works, but how music publishing should work too.
-- by Oliver Keens
The Sunday Telegraph, October 1, 2012