Friday, May 28, 2010

David Byrne Approaches Limit of Awesome

Earlier this week, the folks at The Kitchen honored David Byrne for being awesome. An RISD dropout who mastered three instruments (guitar, accordian, violin) before high school, he's a pioneer in sampling, a videographer of volcanic ash clouds and a well-nigh genius of sound. In his free time, he puts together theater pieces, goes hiking and attends conferences on New Urbanism. Let's face it. Awesome.

This is what we imagine it would be like to be friends with Byrne:

(Setting: your apartment. A dinner party. It's been great -- you feel good, positive, pleasant. It's just past the peak of the party, say maybe 1:30am. Everyone is having fun. You're relaxed. The doorbell rings. It's DAVID BYRNE.)

YOU: Oh! David! David Byrne! How are you?

(DAVID BYRNE's skin is young, taut, almost ... is it ... sparkling? His white hair is punk-tousled from the ride on, oh what's that there? Just a friendly kangaroo. Somehow, he's smuggled a marsupial into the country, trained it and ridden it to the party. He tosses his housekeys to the animal, who catches them in its little pocket.)

YOU: Oh. You can. Park him ... in the ... ?

DB: No, no, no trouble; I'm just stopping by to say hello. How are you? (kiss, kiss) You look great. I brought guacamole! It's all local and organic (hands you a bowl of it: fresh, aromatic, bright). How are your parents? How's your broken heart? I heard about the loser. You are so much better, so dynamic and wonderful and gorgeous (hug. Pulls out a manuscript). I just finished writing a short story about a hypothetical relationship between Kant, Einstein and Eno. Keep it, read it, tell me what you think. (Then, presenting a bottle of Veuve.) Champagne?

YOU: Ummmmmm

DB: Hey (cocks head to one side). I know that look. Don't worry, I'm just like you. My head gets buzzy when I drink Champagne too. I too feel awkward when I foray into unknown territories. Just ask Norm. Oh crap. I have to go; I have a bowling date with Cindy Sherman. Gotta get there early; last time she slew me. Two turkeys! What a slut. (Climbs onto the kanga.) It was really, really, really nice to see you. I really mean it about the loser. You are worth so much more than that. Call me, will you? I missed you when was in Atlanta. (He taps the side of the beast, smiles, laughs, soars into the air. A flying drum circle trails him, rhythmically thumping into the night.)

Esoteric analogy? Perhaps. The point is: Byrne may be unpredictable, his work disarming, but he remains accessible. He is willing to take risks and look ridiculous, but he knows how to make it work. He's the guy that out of nowhere, comes up with a brilliant idea ... then actually follows through. Here Lies Love, his latest album (available in full on MySpace), is a collaboration with Fatboy Slim and some of the best female vocalists around, exploring the life of Imelda Marcos, beauty queen, shoe enthusiast and widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. It also might be an upcoming musical at the Public.

Obviously we're Byrne fans over here (see: gushing above). And there are some truly amazing parts to Here Lies Love, i.e., Alice Russell power-wailing "Men Will Do Anything" (p.s., get some good headphones and wait 'til minute 2:30 in that song ... it'll make yer head spin), the wildly catchy eponymous first track, sung by Florence Welch ("I know that when my number's up/When I am called from God above/Don't have my name carved in stone/just say here lies love"), Sharon Jones' "Dancing Together." A sultry Natalie Merchant shows up for "Order 1081" and it's even nice to hear from Tori Amos again in track three.

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim - Men Will Do Anything (featuring Alice Russell)

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim - Dancing Together (featuring Sharon Jones)

Some parts are oddly self-conscious: "Ladies in Blue," sung by Theresa Andersson, evokes the opening credits of a cheesy 80s movie -- but even this is a ride we're willing to take. It demonstrates his most appealing quality: from Talking Heads to unlikely musical collaborations and beyond, Byrne may not know where something is going, he's always fearlessly looking for the next great thing.

P.S. Our favorite Byrne-quoting-Dylan quotation: "'I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now.' It's like I feel like I'm getting older but in some ways feeling younger."

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