Cloudcuckoolander extraordinaire David Byrne (born 14 May 1952) is a well-rounded individual. He's most famous for his stint as the frontman and primary songwriter for the Post-Punk / New Wave Music band Talking Heads, but he's also a solo musician whose genre-hopping makes the Heads sound normal by comparison. He's also a visual artist, a one-time film director and actor, a published author, an avid bicyclist, and the author of a column about bicycling in The New York Times.
Byrne's music is impossible to pigeonhole and difficult to generalize. Even within a single album, he won't stick to one genre, nor does he play any given style straight. That said, elements that pop up frequently across his discography include: art-punk, funk, African-inspired polyrhythms, Latin American influences, and surreal lyrics (very surreal lyrics) delivered in an utterly deadpan fashion.
Byrne is also fairly notable for being one of few known musicians with Asperger's Syndrome to achieve critical and commercial success; he admitted to having the condition in 2009. Music, like acting, is often considered to be an extremely hard field for people with Asperger's and other Autism Spectrum Disorders to make any headway in, making Byrne's success and influence on popular music quite significant in that regard.
Microsoft Windows users may recognize his single "Like Humans Do" (from the album Look into the Eyeball), which was used as a stock song for Windows Media Player on XP.
Discography (studio albums in bold):
- The Talking Heads discography is on their page.
- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). A collaboration with Brian Eno. A pioneering example of sampling, setting spoken-word clips to electronic, ambient, and funk rhythms. Produced the singles "America Is Waiting" and "The Jezebel Spirit".
- A remastered version was released on CD in 2006, featuring several additional bonus tracks.
- The Catherine Wheel (1981). A soundtrack for the play of the same name. Sounded enough like Talking Heads that one of its songs was featured on Stop Making Sense.
- Music from The Knee Plays (1985). Songs intended as interlude music for Robert Wilson's opera, CIVIL warS. Brass band music.
- Rereleased on CD in 2007 under the title The Knee Plays.
- Sounds from True Stories (1986). A partial soundtrack for True Stories. Completely different from the Talking Heads album True Stories.
- The Last Emperor (1987). Soundtrack for the film The Last Emperor. A collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su. Won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Original Score.
- Rei Momo (1989). A collection of Latin American genres like salsa, rumba, merengue, and cumbia. Produced the singles "Make Believe Mambo" and "Dirty Old Town".
- The Forest (1991). An orchestral score for Robert Wilson's play of the same name. Mixes the classical traditions of Europe, the Middle East, and Japan, among other places.
- "The Forestry" maxi-single (1991). Remixes.
- Uh-Oh (1992). A fusion of new wave, funk, and Latin American styles, carrying on from Talking Heads' final album. Produced the singles "Hanging Upside Down", "She's Mad", and "Girls on My Mind".
- David Byrne (or as it's written on the cover, davidenryd) (1994). 90s Alternative Rock with some darker, Byrne-esque touches. Produced the singles "Angels" and "Back in the Box".
- Feelings (1997). Genre roulette, with Trip Hop and Alternative Dance as the glue (barely) holding everything together. About half the tracks were produced by Morcheeba. Gave us the single "Miss America".
- The Visible Man (1998). Remix album.
- In Spite of Wishing and Wanting (1999). Soundtrack for the Ultima Vez dance troupe's stage show of the same name.
- Look into the Eyeball (2001). Genre roulette. Produced the singles "Like Humans Do" and "U.B. Jesus".
- Lead Us Not Into Temptation (2003). A soundtrack for the film Young Adam, and a collaboration with members of Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian.
- Grown Backwards (2004). Genre roulette, though mainly acoustic music, with a full string section on most of the tracks.
- Live from Austin, Texas (2007). Recorded from a 2001 show, while touring in support of Look into the Eyeball.
- Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008). A second collaboration with Brian Eno. Electronic pop with Gospel and soul influences. Produced the singles "Strange Overtones" and "One Fine Day".
- Everything That Happens Will Happen on This Tour EP (2009).
- Big Love: Hymnal (2008). Soundtrack for season 2 of Big Love.
- Here Lies Love (2010). A collaboration with Fatboy Slim and 20-something featured singers. A dance-popera about the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines. Produced the single "Please Don't".
- Here Lies Love: Original 2013 Off-Broadway Cast Recording (2014).
- The Remix Collection from Here Lies Love (2014).
- Live at Carnegie Hall (2012). A collaboration with Caetano Veloso. Stripped-down, acoustic songs.
- Love This Giant (2012). A collaboration with St. Vincent. A fusion of brass band music and electronic beats. Produced the single "Who."
- Brass Tactics EP (2013).
- American Utopia (2018). A new solo album with production by Brian Eno.
- " The Best Live Show of All Time" NME (2018). A live EP with several recordings of songs performed during the American Utopia tour, bundled exclusively with the deluxe edition of the eponymous studio album.
David Byrne and his works provide examples of:
- all lowercase letters: The cover and liner notes of the self-titled album.
- Anachronism Stew: Here Lies Love covers a period from 1965 to 1986, yet the song "American Troglodyte" references the average US citizens surfing the internet and listening to 50 Cent.
- Arc Words: "Todo Mundo" (Spanish for "whole world"). First it showed up in the lyrics of "Make Believe Mambo". Then it appeared in the Feelings album art, written on the doll's jacket. Then Byrne used it as the name for his record label.
- Author Appeal: He's intrigued by the effects of mass media, so the act of watching TV pops up a lot in his lyrics. Also he frequently references malleable or completely false identities.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: In "Wicked Little Doll".Make a little love, some parts are missing.
- Boléro Effect: "Strange Ritual", "I Feel My Stuff".
- Bowdlerise: The album version of "Like Humans Do" includes the line "I never watch TV except when I'm stoned." For the Windows XP version, the line was changed to "We're eating off plates and we kiss with our tongues."
- Break-Up Song: "The Accident", where the accident is just a metaphor for the hurt feelings in the wake of a relationship's end.
- British Rock Star: Hugely averted. While David Byrne is British (more specifically Scottish, hailing from Dumbarton), he's generally very tame personality-wise, has never been interested in drugs or alcoholnote , and tends to dress in a very business-casual manner.
- Cloudcuckoolander: It's telling that being the driving force behind Talking Heads is just considered the tip of the iceberg in terms of eccentricity.
- Color Motifs: The color red seems to show up a lot. Talking Heads: 77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, Remain in Light, The Catherine Wheel, True Stories, Naked, Rei Momo, the "Make Believe Mambo" single, and Brass Tactics all prominently feature red on their covers. Meanwhile, Feelings uses red trimming on its cover art, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today features a dark red CGI house, and the first 100,000 CD copies of Uh-Oh featured◊ a translucent red insert tray (later releases used the then-typical dark gray). The CD single release of "She's Mad" takes Uh-Oh's example a step further: while the artwork is all black-on-white, the jewel case is entirely translucent red; the CD label is red to match.
- Cool Old Guy: His radio stream features a lot of hip-hop and modern R&B.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The liner notes of the self-titled album are (other than a tiny bit of color on the jewel case's spine) solely black and white photos and text.
- Dismotivation: The narrator of "Lazy" claims to be a Lazy Bum, but he gives a surprisingly long list of activities he does in a lazy way. He comes across instead like a guy who works really hard to convince everyone he's cool and lazy.I'm lazy when I'm loving.
I'm lazy when I play.
I'm lazy with my girlfriend, a thousand times a day.
I'm lazy when I'm speakin'.
I'm lazy when I walk.
I'm lazy when I'm dancin'.
I'm lazy when I talk.
- Distant Duet: Both the duets in Here Lies Love:
- "Seven Years" has Benigno Aquino (first in prison, then in exile to the US) and Imelda Marcos (in the capitol in Manila) singing to each other.
- "Why Don't You Love Me?": "This song is sung in an imaginary duet between Imelda and Estrella, who have no contact with one another at this point."
- Doomed Moral Victor: In "Seven Years" and "Why Don't You Love Me?", Benigno Aquino winds up killed for opposing Ferdinand Marcos. However, this assassination "triggers the collapse of the whole house of cards"—Ferdinand loses his office, and the whole family flees the country.
- Dream Walker: In "The Dream Police", there's an entire justice system to prosecute crimes committed in sleep.Everyone has the same dreams, on different days of the week.
We are the watchdogs of your mind, we are the dream police.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady and Lady Looks Like a Dude: Mentioned in "In the Future":In the future, it will be next to impossible to tell girls from boys, even in bed.
- Epic Rocking: "Strange Ritual" from David Byrne (6:51). "Lazy" from Grown Backwards (9:35).
- Everything Is an Instrument: For My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Byrne and Eno augmented their percussion with "basically anything that was lying around". For example, they used a cardboard box as a kick drum, and a biscuit tin as a snare drum. He later took this trope to it's logical extreme with an art installment called "Playing The Building," in which guests were invited to play on an organ Byrne had rigged to manipulate the inner workings of an abandoned warehouse.
- Face on the Cover: Almost all of his non-soundtrack albums (with Uh-Oh and Here Lies Love being the exceptions). David Byrne and Grown Backwards are completely straight examples. Others are odd variations on mugshots: Rei Momo is a photo of a human heart, with Byrne's face visible through cut-out parts of the picture. Feelings has a plastic doll with Byrne's face. Look Into the Eyeball has two different mugshots, interlaced. And Love This Giant is a photo of Byrne and St. Vincent posing in prosthetic chins.
- Fading into the Next Song: The Remix Collection from Here Lies Love is dancefloor megamix, with no breaks between any of the songs.
- Femme Fatale: "Miss America" uses this an extended metaphor. America is a woman who seduces men, then tosses them aside once she no longer needs them.I'm not the only heart you've conquered.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Covered in "Eleven Days". Ferdinand Marcos meets Imelda Romualdez, and she agrees to marry him eleven days later. They don't even meet again in the interval—Ferdinand courts Imelda by sending messages and gifts.
- Genius Loci: Maaaybe? In "The Forest Awakes":A song is a road.
A road is a face.
A face is a time,
and a time is a place.
- Gilded Cage: In "Solano Avenue", Estrella Cumpas writes a biography of Imelda Marcos, based on their years together. Imelda doesn't want the world to know of those years when her family was destitute. She arranges for Estrella to move into a "safe house" in Manila, with guards "for her own protection".
- Good Is Not Nice: Maaaybe? In "The Gates of Paradise":And the laws of Man are not the laws of Heaven,
and the Angels' breath is like the desert wind,
and terrorists are acting out of love, sweet love,
to bring us home again.
- Happy Place: The narrator of "Back in the Box" can't deal with the outside world.And now love's terrifying.
I cannot hide what I want.
You cannot hear me or see me
when I go back in the box.
- A Hell of a Time: The first verse of "You & Eye" involves winding up in Hell, and finding that it has good music, and better barbecues and beer than on Earth. "And darling, I think you'll like it here."
- Heroic BSoD: In "Walk Like a Woman", the newly-married Imelda Marcos has trouble adjusting to life as the wife of a politician. She has a nervous breakdown, undergoes treatment at a psych ward in New York, and returns to the Philippines a changed woman.
- Hollywood Exorcism: "The Jezebel Spirit" includes an audio excerpt of a real priest performing a real exorcism, from 1980.
- Honor Before Reason: In "Seven Years", Imelda Marcos warns Benigno Aquino that he'll be killed if he returns to the Philippines. He goes anyway. Sure enough, Ferdinand Marcos has him assassinated.
- Immigrant Patriotism: A U.K. citizen by birth, Byrne obtained U.S. citizenship in 2012 so he could vote in elections there, as he'd lived in the U.S. since childhood.
- In the Style of...: "The Rose of Tacloban" is, in Byrne's own words, a "quasi-Disney song [about] a young girl about to make her way in the world".
- Kabuki Sounds: Byrne initially wanted to score all of the Knee Plays with traditional kabuki music—but he changed his mind and went with brass band music instead. Still, the 2007 CD reissue of The Knee Plays includes five selections from the original kabuki score as bonus tracks.
- LEGO Genetics: In "Self-Made Man", the characters literally swap chromosomes like they're baseball cards.Well I'll trade you my potential mental illness
for your bad teeth.
How about trading your sexy body
for a full head of hair?
- Literary Allusion Title:
"Bishop looked like the old man grown backwards to the lowest form of innocence, and Rayber observed that the boy strictly avoided looking him in the eye."
- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was named after a 1954 novel by Amos Tutuola. Eno and Byrne hadn't read the novel at the time, but they were already fans of Tutuola's other writing.
- The title of Grown Backwards is taken from a quote in the Flannery OConnor novel The Violent Bear it Away.
- Longest Song Goes Last:
- Music for The Knee Plays ends with "In the Future" (6:35).
- Grown Backwards ends with "Lazy" (9:35).
- Loss of Identity:
Somebody, somebody took away our name.
Somebody, somebody tell me who I am.
I can barely touch my own self. How could I touch someone else?
I am just an advertisement for a version of myself.
A town in which
- "Strange Ritual":
even the people who live there
can't remember its name.
- Loveable Sex Maniac: The narrator of "Girls on My Mind".
- Love Martyr: The narrator of "Miss America" is fully aware that America was using him and doesn't feel anything for him, but he still loves her all the same.
- Ludd Was Right: In "Dance on Vaseline":My baby saw the future
she doesn't want to live there any more.
It's lousy science fiction,
gets on your skin and seeps into your bones.
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- "Empire" has grandiose backing music with swelling brass. The lyrics involve a narrator singing the praises of Big Business and advocating Social Darwinism.
- "Lazy" has lyrics about how darn lazy the narrator is. The music sounds the opposite of lazy: a fast electronic beat, frantic strings, and driving electric guitar. This is even more apparent on the version recorded with X-Press 2, which is outright House Music.
- Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast: "Women Vs. Men":Women have their world, and men, we have ours.
We're into sports, and they're into flowers.
The women are talking. We do not understand.
They speak in a language we do not comprehend.
No one knows how it started, and God knows how it will end.
The fightin' continues, women versus men.
- The Masochism Tango: "They Are in Love":She put the scar on the side of his face.
He disappeared for three days.
They say they are in love.
He took her cocaine when she was asleep.
Friends say he gave half away.
They say they are in love.
- Mind Screw: "Horses."
- Miniscule Rocking: Track 13 on Feelings is an interlude just a few seconds long. It's so short it doesn't even have a name.
- Misery Builds Character:
Green grass grows around the backyard shithouse,
- "The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now)".
and that is where the sweetest flowers bloom.
We're all flowers growing in God's garden,
and that is why he spreads the shit around.
This moment was a gift from above.
- In "Seven Years", Benigno Aquino is in prison on trumped-up charges. He realizes:
Maybe it's some kind of test.
- Mundane Made Awesome: His lyrical style, especially with Talking Heads, writing songs about civil servants and pieces of paper.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Played with in "She Only Sleeps". The narrator's girlfriend dances at topless bars, flirts with others, and for all the world seems to be sleeping around. But the narrator knows "that she only sleeps with me", so he doesn't care what anyone else thinks of her.
- Never My Fault: In "The Moment of Conception":Blame my school, and blame my parents
and the genes that I inherit.
Blame it on my older sister
for showing me those dirty pictures.
Blame the TV and the movies,
blame the judges and the juries.
- New Media Are Evil: Byrne published an op-ed in The Guardian arguing that the Internet would kill creativity by making artists unable to make money from their creations.
- No Man Wants An Amazon: In "The Rose of Tacloban": "Ninoy was my first love, but he said I was too tall."
- Non-Indicative Name: "Make Believe Mambo" is an Orísa song, not an actual mambo.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The album art for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It's CG art of a house with a pond in the back yard. It's completely deserted, except for a shadowy figure in an upper story window, looking through binoculars. There are a number of unsettling details upon closer inspection—an open box of bandages on a table, a discarded condom wrapper in a rain gutter, a thick metal door on the living room wall—but nothing that truly explains what's going on in the house.
- The Omnipresent: The audio clip of a preacher in "Help Me Somebody":There's no escape from him. He's so hiiiigh you can't get over him. He's so loooooow you can't get under him. He's so wiiide you can't get around him! If you make your bed in Heaven, he's there! If you make your bed in Hell, he's there! He's everywhere!
- Out of Focus: Allegedly, Imelda Marcos and Estrella Cumpas are co-protagonists of Here Lies Love—it even says so in the album subtitle. However, Estrella disappears from the story for a seven-song stretch in the middle of the album (from "Walk Like a Woman" to "The Whole Man").
- The Perfectionist: A notorious example among musicians, to the point where, in an effort to get looped rhythms on Remain in Light in an era when sound engineering technology wouldn't reliably allow that, he spent a significant chunk of the already breakneck recording sessions manually training his bandmates in Talking Heads to play particular rhythms over and over again with mechanical precision.
- The Pollyanna:
I'm glad I got lost,
- The narrator of "Glad":
I'm glad I'm confused.
I'm glad when the sex is not so great.
How it is, is how it ought to be.
- In "Optimist":
- Pop-Star Composer: He's done a lot of work for film and theater, and even won an Academy Award for his soundtrack for The Last Emperor.
- Precision F-Strike: He's apparently got no qualms about cussing, but keeps the shock value by limiting it to two or fewer songs per album.
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Byrne was accused of this during the height of Talking Heads' popularity with his funk and World Beat influences.
- Princess in Rags: Remedios Romualdez in "Every Drop of Rain" and "You'll Be Taken Care Of". She's connected to a powerful and influential family, but can barely pay her housekeeper, Estrella Cumpas. She insists that one of her children will restore the family's fortune and repay Estrella some day.
- Rage Against the Heavens: "Something Ain't Right":Come on down, you old fart!
Let's see if you have got a heart!
It ain't true! It's all lies!
Are you the Devil in disguise?
Won't give up, won't bow down!
I'm gonna tear your playhouse down!
- Re-Cut: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts got this treatment three times. When it was first released, "Qu'ran" was the first track on side B. Since the song contained spoken excerpts from the holy book of Islam, some Muslims took offense at the song. So all subsequent printings replaced the song with "Very Very Hungry", the B-side from The Jezebel Spirit EP. However, some US CD releases used the original track listing (with "Qu'ran" in its proper place) and added "Very Very Hungry" as a bonus track at the end. Then the 2006 remastered version once again used the censored playlist, and also used extended mixes of "Mea Culpa" and "The Carrier", and tacked a bunch of B-sides and demos on the end as bonus tracks.
- Rearrange the Song: He's put out several remix EPs and albums. And whenever he tours, his setlist will feature songs from older albums (or even from the Talking Heads catalogue) arranged in the style of his most recent album.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: "Don't Want to Be Part of Your World", where hundreds of boys and girls bid their parents farewell and disappear upstream or down tunnels.
And the knife is close at hand.
- Referenced in "Nothing At All":
I cut myself to see who I am.
I reach inside, but I still can't touch
the policeman inside.
And if I bang my
- And in "Walk Like a Woman":
head on the wall for hours,
then I won't feel the confusion no more.
- Self-Plagiarism: The verses of "Angels" are remarkably similar to those from Talking Heads' Signature Song, "Once in a Lifetime". That said, the choruses couldn't be any more different.
- Shmuck Bait: The Feelings album art. The CD itself has a big arrow on it, and the tray insert has a wheel of colors, corresponding to different emotions. There's a note encouraging the listener to break the CD spindle and spin the disc to "determine your feelings". For anyone who doesn't get the joke, there's a warning that doing this repeatedly may or may not scratch the CD beyond repair.
- Silly Love Songs: "My Love Is You", "Buck Naked", "They Are in Love", to name a few.
- Small Reference Pools: Discussed in the Here Lies Love liner notes. To those outside the Philippines, Imelda Marcos is most famous for keeping a ludicrously massive collection of shoes—so Byrne decided not to mention the shoe collection in any of the songs.I did a year's worth of research to see if there was a story, a narrative arc. I found that, yes, there was a lot more to tell in this case than just the famous shoes. In fact, early on I decided that the shoes, all 3000+ pairs, would never be mentioned.
- The Social Darwinist: In "Empire", the narrator sings "The weak among us perish, the strong alone survive," and clearly thinks this is a good thing.
- The Southpaw: Byrne is left-handed, but plays a right-handed guitar, which contributes to his distinctive style.
- Spiritual Successor: Composition-wise, "Poor Boy" is this to "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)", with both being chaotic, polyrhythmic songs with preacher-esque lyrics and vocals.
- Spoken Word in Music: On The Knee Plays, about half of the songs are just David Byrne speaking a monologue over the backing music. (The rest of the album is instrumental.)
- The Stoic: He's earned a bit of a reputation for being an emotionless weirdo. He joked about it by releasing an album named Feelings, with a plastic doll modeled after himself on the cover.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: The entire album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was a precursor to this. They excerpted spoken-word samples from radio interviews, field recordings, and TV broadcasts, and set them to looped instrumental tracks (some funky and syncopated, others ambient).
- Taught by Television: "Make Believe Mambo" is about a kid who lives this way:So how can we be strangers?
He's got no personality.
It's just a clever imitation
of the people on TV.
A line for every situation,
he's learning trivia and tricks.
Having sex and eating cereal,
wearing jeans and smoking cigarettes.
- Textless Album Cover: The remastered version of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and Here Lies Love.
- Transgender: "Now I'm Your Mom" is some of the goofiest lyrics about a sex-change operation ever set to music.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: He'll drop bizarre imagery into lyrics with the same deadpan delivery he uses to describe a pleasant party. For example, in "Dinner for Two":Tanks outside the bedroom window
we'll be okay with the curtain closed.
- Visual Pun: The cover art for Uh-Oh is a painting of Heaven... with dog sitting on the throne instead of God.
- Workaholic: He has a reputation of being this, to a point where he allegedly has trouble maintaining "human relationships", as Chris Frantz has said.
- Wrong Name Outburst: "Glad":I'm glad when I get my girlfriends' names confused.
- Your Cheating Heart: In "Men Will Do Anything", Ferdinand lets one of his affairs become too indiscreet. Imelda threatens to break up, ruining his public image and political career. From that point forward, she has the upper hand in their marriage.
- Zeerust: Byrne's predictions in "In the Future" were clearly not meant to stand the test of time: they're a mix of plausible guesses, hilariously implausible ones, and blatantly contradictory statements.In the future, everyone will be very fat from the starchy diet.
In the future, everyone will be very thin from not having enough to eat.
In the future, no one will fight with anyone else.
In the future, there will be mini-wars going on everywhere.