Top Ten David Byrne Moments of 2012
Top Ten David Byrne Moments
I didn't really listen to much new music this year; none of my favorite bands released new albums in 2012, and I was too lazy to take risks on new but highly recommended artists. Plus, as of August, I live within walking distance of my workplace. No commute during which to enjoy recent acquisitions - a true recipe for disaster.

I did, however, spend lots of time with my spirit guide David Byrne. He was busy this year - a book, a collaborative album, a movie, and assorted artistic projects meant that nary a month would pass without an opportunity to indulge in his all-encompassing brilliance. So, in lieu of music recommendations, I present a retrospective on the year in David Byrne. These are his top ten achievements, in order of importance to me.

10. "Playing the Building" Debuts in Minneapolis

I didn't get to visit Minneapolis this year, which is a shame, because in addition to enjoying its lakes and friendliness, I could have taken in David's art installation, "Playing the Building," which occupied a warehouse space downtown in November. He's composed this piece before - in which musical instruments trigger sounds from a building's structural components - in Sweden, London, and New York - to great acclaim. Minneapolis Public Radio commented that "It's not 'Burning Down the House'... but there is a mesmerizing percussive quality to the installation." Fuck you, MPR, nothing is "Burning Down the House." Reasonable measures of success would be appreciated.

9. Malu Byrne's New York Times Op-Ed

To be fair, this one is not a David Byrne production. But his daughter Malu certainly is, and in May, she penned an op-ed for the Times titled "Running for Our Creative Lives," about the financial and cultural pressures on artists trying to "make it" in New York. I clicked on this article, having recently caved and purchased a Times subscription so that I could more fully seethe in jealousy at the wedding announcements, without noticing the byline. I made it through the first paragraph in total oblivion - the author grew up in the city, went to school out west, returned to New York to make jewelry, and then:

"Though my income barely supports my need for food, art materials and rented time in a studio space, I'm one of the lucky ones: I live rent-free, with my dad, David Byrne, at least for the time being."

Talk about burying the lede. Of course, the article is the $200 vintage Sauvignon Blanc of white whines, in which someone who's circumstances are undeniably awesome worries about whether or not she can "breathe creatively" or some shit in Manhattan. But hey, at least Malu is concerned for the future of a city that fostered her father's genius. I can get behind that!

8. Collaborating on Talking Heads t-shirts with Paul Smith

My days of wearing Paul Smith are understandably over. He was a staple of my Limited Too-curated wardrobe from ages 8-12, with his monkey-themed fashions showing up at nearly every slumber party I attended. But Paul Smith must be a lot cooler than that these days, because he and David Byrne put together some pretty awesome t-shirts. I admit, I am especially enticed by the Big Suit one.

Unfortunately, the t-shirts are also $125 each, which I cannot afford. I am not one of the lucky ones; I do not live rent-free with my dad, Donald Joyce, for the time being. And if I did, I'd still have to explain this purchase.

7. Here Lies Love becomes a stage musical

In 2010, David and Fatboy Slim made a pretty awesome record about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines. Pretty much every significant vocalist of the last ten years is featured, and it's admittedly an acquired taste; the songs are all from Imelda's skewed perspective on love and power, filtered through a disco fantasy. To which I say, how could this not be an awesome musical? The director, Alex Timbers, was also responsible for the HBO Pee-Wee Herman Show special, so we have proof of his infallibility.

6. Bike Racks at the Brooklyn Art Museum

In case you haven't heard, David loves bicycles and cycling. I got an e-mail at work today urging me to attend a hearing about possibly expanding bike lanes on the Upper West Side, and I contemplated going because there's a miniscule chance that he would show up to champion the cause.

In August, he unveiled new bike racks at BAM, which can be rearranged to spell different words, depending on the whims of the museum-going public. I look forward to many hours using anagram-generators to find alternatives to "pink crown" and "micro lip."

5. David Byrne and Chris Ruen talk piracy

This talk at the New York Public Library probably sold out instantly, and with scalped tickets well into the $200-300 range, I sadly was unable to attend. But it sounds like David had quite the chat with Chris Ruen, author of Freeloading: How Our Insatiable Hunger For Free Content Starves Creativity, at the New York Public Library earlier this month.

4. David makes shrimp tacos

David's August 13th blog entry, aptly titled "Shrimp Tacos!" is probably the most endearing piece of writing I've read all year. He opens with a statement of fact: "I made shrimp tacos the other night for dinner"”mostly from scratch"”and they were good." What follows is indescribably charming.

His tips speak to me, especially as someone with no common sense about food or cooking. For instance, I'm always craving corn tortillas, but I'm always disappointed by the mealy texture; since taking David's recommendation to buy Tortilla Factory white corn tortillas (which are "flexible like flour tortillas"), I can have my corn and enjoy it, too.

He concludes with a simple "That's it. I will take a picture next time." Please don't take a picture, David. Once you start posting pictures of food, you've started down a path I cannot follow.

3. This Must Be the Place

Even if David Byrne had no creative involvement and the stars were Vince Vaughn and Jessica Biel, I would probably still see a movie titled This Must Be the Place - I'm like a sleeper cell with a mid-80s new wave trigger.

Fortunately, This Must Be the Place starred Sean Penn and Frances McDormand and was quite good; while it was not my favorite movie of the year, I've thought about it every day since seeing it in theaters; it manages to be both hauntingly compelling and comedic. David wrote the original music for the film, and even appears in it briefly, performing "This Must Be the Place" and having a heart-to-heart with Cheyenne (Penn) in Detroit's abandoned Michigan Theater. As soon as he appeared on screen, a guy sitting in the front row fist-pumped the air and cheered, which was a dumb fucking thing to do, but I agreed with the sentiment behind it.

2. Love This Giant

I like St. Vincent, and I'm obviously pathologically obsessed with David Byrne. How could this collaboration go wrong? Probably by being underwhelming, but fortunately it was the kickass endeavor I had hoped for. A lot of reviews describe the album as "cerebral," which it undoubtedly is, inasmuch as "cerebral" in music-speak means "I didn't like it so much at first but then I kept at it and now I appreciate it on a much deeper level than all of you." The brass accompaniment alone is reason enough to listen - it adds bombast and energy to otherwise measured and introspective duets. Great album cover, too. Recommended tracks: "Weekend in the Dust," "Lightning."

1. How Music Works

Finally, I bring you David's greatest achievement of 2012, as well as the only quasi-textbook I've enjoyed since graduating college: How Music Works. It's a beautifully written compendium of his knowledge, both experiential and academic, about the history and function of music. Having read a lot of music writing over the years, both general and rock-centric, I am of the opinion that this is the best and most thorough guide to the art form and the industry that surrounds it. Seriously, buy it.

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