Memoir of David Byrne



Born a David whose last name is different than the one you’re thinking, I lived with my parents on a raft on a river running through the town near a sandy beach where my identity formed one July morning. My mother was at work at the neighbor’s bakery, my father having gone ashore to help with deliveries. Though the raft was tied to a dock, I was adrift without direction or purpose. Lolling about on one of the rubber raft cushions, I flipped the pages of a magazine that my mother had been reading, called Chad Magazine. On the cover, beneath the title, a tan man smiled back at me from a weight room, a striped towel draped across his evenly bronzed shoulders. Smiling back at him, I longed to be either a tan man like the man on the cover of Chad or the lead man of a band called Talking Heads Interrupted. Though both options seemed out of the question, it would be easier to lie in the sun than to find my art-rock sound, so “tan man” I would become. The next afternoon I went to the beach but without sunblock. Lulled by warmth and murmurs, I closed my eyes to a sky so bright I could see the capillaries branching through my eyelids. Once the sun catches you napping, it stops playing favorites. When I awoke my lids were burned pink, face burned pink, smiling was self-torture. Unable to shower for a week I adopted the stage name Mr. Burn, but my agent said, “No, David, too literal” and brainstormed with me alternate spellings.

Let it be said that a pallid boy of Scottish ancestry was raised on a raft and, grown to be a man, sings for an art-rock band whose music includes some punk and funk elements. Some hits are “Slippery People,” “Life During Wartime,” and “The Road to Nowhere.” His amazement with the ordinary grown weird upon examination is not posturing on his part but a way of seeing. He once hired fifty sets of twins or lookalikes for his film True Stories not unlike Andy Warhol doing double-images as a way of drawing out the strangeness of commodification. One hears doubling in songs by Devo and Negativland but this is neither here nor there. Sorry about that. Let’s just say that commercialism is replication in Warhol’s terms and for David B. too, but with his common diction and his naturally evangelic voice for music-shaping to acknowledge strangeness. One bottom line is to celebrate what we have in common as BOURGEOIS in all that is comforting about capitalism. When images of ourselves pass by rapid-fire with our trying not to watch them, David B. becomes a precursor to an age of irony that, in its inception, is a naïve period. It is an exploration of irony rather than a stubborn use of cringe-worthy attacks, so insensitive to people’s suffering. David B. is not so condescending but tests what irony can be like under the press of an affectionate scrutiny. We see an affinity for kitsch rising before we are forced to watch the fall of a man headfirst from the World Trade Center. Such falls are on our minds all the time. They are sudden death. They are present and human and want to say no to naïve irony ever after.