The "big suit" may be gone, and the hair has turned white since his days as front man for the Talking Heads, but David Byrne still possesses the same creative energy that fueled one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the 80's, and lead to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Coming from an art school background background, it not surprising that Byrne's creative work includes books, photography, and film in addition to his music. Since 1986, he's written or contributed to nine books, including the Tabloid inspired "True Stories" and 2009's "Bicycle Diaries", which chronicles his experiences pedaling through the streets of New York City and other cities around the globe.
David Byrne's latest book, "How Music Works", explores the business and the process of making and experiencing music . Last night, I attended a talk by Byrne and Bettina Richards of Thrill Jockey Records at Chicago's beautiful Music Box Theater. Music critic Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune MCed the proceedings and he did a terrific job of coaxing some thoughtful answers out of his sometimes bemused subject. Byrne, looking fit and more youthful than his 60 years, still has some of his trademark quirky mannerisms,and his occasional spontaneous chuckle makes you think there's more going on his head than he sometimes lets on.
Some topics that came up in the discussion:
•On mp3s: Though he knows many musicians who despise the artificial sound quality, Byrne doesn't see it as a big issue and thinks it's remarkable how up to 80% of redundant sound information can be tossed out and still retain an enjoyable listening experience.
•Licensing music out for advertising: Given the declining revenue generated for record sales, Byrne sees the need for modern bands to sell music rights to advertisers, though he's steadfastly declined commercial offers himself, saying simply "I don't need to".
•Visual aspects of performing: Byrne believes that every music act, even those bands that opt for street wear and no frills, makes a conscious decision regarding what the audience will see as well as hear. He related a couple of anecdotes regarding his own "performance art" including a pre-Talking Heads' performance which involved shaving his Amish-style beard onstage to the accompaniment of an accordion player, and more recently, emerging onstage in a tutu.
In all, Byrne came across as analytic but amiable, like a seasoned Sheldon Cooper.
David Byrne will perform this evening with St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) at the Chicago Theater, which he will presumably commute to via bicycle.