David Byrne Spectacular: Homemade, not too slick, precise but not cold

Photo by Tony Orlando via DavidByrne.com

Photo by Tony Orlando via DavidByrne.com

If you missed it, David Byrne was brilliant on The Colbert Report last night. You can watch Colbert’s “deep” interview with him here and his artfully intimate performance here. It was an awesome way to drift off into white-angeled sleep.

Yesterday, the New York Times offered a surprisingly bland review of the first of Byrne’s two appearances at Radio City Music Hall this past weekend, which, regretfully, I didn’t see. But I love Byrne’s reply to the review on his online journal, which includes his exhaustedly ecstatic backstage take on the Radio City performances and a bootlegged YouTube recording of its kicker, along with this gorgeous bit of fun love: “We bought 30 tutus, and asked the new dancers to wear white. When I saw it begin to come together in rehearsals, I was ecstatic — the “tidal wave” entrance alone was spectacular — but, like the rest of the show, it was all sort of downtown spectacular — homemade, not too slick, precise but not cold.” Forget the NYT’s Jon Pareles (he doesn’t seem to get what Vanity Fair’s Michael Hogan does); Byrne, a BOMB contributing editor, is a superior wordsmith. Those eight words — homemade, not too slick, precise but not cold — perfectly articulate my feelings about Byrne and what I hope to encounter in any work of art.

For more insightfully rewarding discussions about art and artists, read Byrne’s BOMB interviews with Djur Djura, Rosanne Cash, and Tom Zé here. I am particularly fond of this exchange between Byrne and Cash:

DB Do you ever think about what the function of songs, in this case popular songs, is to people’s lives? I don’t mean just yours.

RC I actually think about that a lot.

DB An awfully broad question.

RC Well, I think of it in even broader terms. I think about what art is meant to do in people’s lives. Partly it’s to express feelings that people have trouble getting in touch with or concepts they can’t quite put together in their mind.

DB Do you think that it’s a replacement or substitute for mythology or religion, which isn’t as strong for some people as it was in the past?

RC There seems to be a lot more intensity and passion infused in art and music. Because there’s very few places for ritual or for the sacred to be manifested. Or for something outside of yourself that speaks about transformation, human progress, those things. The church doesn’t really fulfill that role anymore. So you’re probably right. Art and music take a huge part of that. It’s a tremendous healing force. More healing than religion.

DB Does that seem like an impossible burden to put on popular songs?

RC Yes. It is an impossible burden. But don’t you think that’s why people become obsessed with the people that make the music?

DB Absolutely. It’s a balancing act. Because if it’s popular, it’s just a commodity that goes into the record stores and marketplace. And it gets marketed and prostituted in every kind of way. And yet, this commodity really has deep meaning for people. In our economic system, culture and soul is bought and sold. And we often see something that means a lot in our lives, changed, bent out of shape, and prostituted as it is marketed, advertised and promoted, and that can really hurt us.

RC There’s a piece from The New Yorker that I carried around in my purse for many years. It talked about what was happening with art now. In ancient Greece, someone would bring their piece into the marketplace, and people would come and see it and be inspired by it, and they’d go home and their lives would be changed. And now, people first look to the marketplace to see what’s out there, copy it, and take it back to the marketplace. So that all people see is their own reflections over and over and over again while this great unexamined world just drifts by. And sometimes it seems the shallower the reflection, the greater the obsession. Like with these mega-pop stars. There’s not much substance or dimension there, but there’s a tremendous obsession with them.

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