David Byrne is the most famous person I’ve ever met outside of an autograph line. My girlfriend was Music Director at our college radio station, so we were meeting quite a few people who were famous (to us): Jill Sobule, who wrote and recorded the original, better, unapologetic song titled “I Kissed a Girl,” for example; the band Bis, who wrote and recorded the Powerpuff Girls theme song; the band Geneva, who wrote and recorded two incredibly beautiful, falsetto-buoyed pop albums before quietly dissolving. Mostly we’d meet these musicians either before or after their concerts, and we’d record interviews with them which we never really got around to playing on the air, and they were all really friendly. We have photos with all of them.
But the Byrne interview was a bigger deal. We were bringing him to the station for an on-air interview, and since there was no budget for a limo, someone needed to drive to his hotel and pick him up. And guess who had inherited his dad’s old ’91 Mazda Protegé?
He got into the passenger seat like a normal person. I shook hands with him like a normal person.
“I’m Drew,” I said.
“I’m David,” he replied, just like you might say “Water contains hydrogen and oxygen.”
I pointed to the embroidered name on his (secondhand? ironic?) mechanic-style jacket. “Not Buddy?” I said. He — what’s the opposite of a sniff? He did that. Not a snort, but the smallest possible laugh. Polite, though. I’m glad I didn’t think at the time of trying something like “Transportation is here.” Or — god forbid — “This is your beautiful car.” Can you imagine?
So yeah, David Byrne sat in MY passenger seat with my girlfriend in the back and we drove to campus. The only topic of conversation I can remember was museums; I think we already knew he was as much about art as about music and we did our best to let him know which museums were worth a look. This was Rochester, NY, so it was a short list, but by the same token it was a short drive.
We all crowded into the studio and interviewed the man. He was pretty quiet before and after the interview, and during it he was forthcoming if not exactly effusive. I’d say we came off as professionally and courteously as anyone could expect from a bunch of young twentysomething college radio DJs and engineers, and he was nothing but gracious to us. I’m realizing this would be way more interesting if he’d been an asshole, but nope. Not even a little bit.
One of the smartest and coolest people I know, the same dude who introduced us to South Park back when it was just this weird clunky online animation being passed around, had had the foresight to pick up a couple of pumpkin pies. Byrne stayed and had a slice with us and let us take pictures. Then he got back into my CAR and we dropped him off at one of the museums we’d recommended to him.
That night I saw his concert. It was the tour for Feelings, one of his best solo albums, and the show was insanely great. He did this weird dubby version of “Psycho Killer” while wearing a Slim Goodbody-esque flayed-man leotard with matching full head stocking. Was this really the same quiet guy I’d had invisible pumpkin pie with earlier that day? You better believe it.
Obviously I was three in 1977, so not really old enough to drive or appreciate pumpkin pie, so like all these early albums, Talking Heads 77 is here mainly to represent. There aren’t any bad Talking Heads albums, though; I don’t like Little Creatures enough to own it, and while I like Remain in Light I think it’s a bit overrated, but I love all the rest of them, even Naked. I like More Songs About Buildings and Food and Fear of Music best these days, and if you’re burning down your house and need to grab one of their albums in a hurry, The Name of this Band is Talking Heads is the one you should reach for. It’s a live double album that not only contains some of the best songs from those next two albums, but also the best versions of the songs on 77.
But those are great songs, aren’t they? “Psycho Killer,” of course, of course, but also the weird strained tense-and-release of “Happy Day” and “Who Is It?”, the surprisingly upbeat and unstrained “The Book I Read” and “Pulled Up,” and one of the best and funniest songs they’ve ever recorded, the impossibly, wonderfully banal “Don’t Worry About the Government.” My absolute favorite period in pop music (even though I had to hear most of it retrospectively) begins in 1977 and continues through 1984, and bands like Talking Heads were the reason why.
David Bowie, Low & “Heroes”
As everyone knows, if you’re going to pick the Bowie masterpieces, it’s probably these two. They’re fantastic, no doubt about it. I’m not always in the mood for those instrumentals, but the rest of the tracks — “Sound and Vision,” “Always Crashing in the Same Car,” “Joe the Lion,” “Sons of the Silent Age,” “The Secret Life of Arabia” — make my heart beat faster just thinking about them.
- Blondie, Plastic Letters
- The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks
- Television, Marquee Moon