All creatives, especially songwriters, believe they have sussed the world out. Either that or they have resigned themselves to never understanding it. That binary shock, the on or off of being right or wrong about the world around them, makes for some startling reads and some interesting observations. David Byrne manages that with Bicycle Diaries, a collection of his thoughts as he tours the world from the seat of a bicycle. Byrne, like photographer Bill Cunnigham, takes to the streets and observes not just literal change, but the sweeping impact they make on an ever-developing culture that he has often infused with his work.
Magnificent orchestral numbers are not to be associated with the man who once sang of wanting to burn down the house, but David Byrne is a jack of all trades. He is the type of character to bust a move, fire out Road to Nowhere in all of its fascinatingly nonsensical forms, and subsequently bridge his way into the works of charming and sophisticated compendiums of grand music. The Forest is not just a surprise because of its quality, but because of its lack of fanfare. Byrne is born under punches, but, strangely, his 1991 effort is not as quick to be played or purchased as some of his finer works.
In 2012, during a lull in musical output, former Pulp frontman and solo artist Jarvis Cocker released lyric book Mother, Brother, Lover, a compendium of his varied works across four decades of songwriting. Leonard Cohen once said: “Art is just the ash left if your life is burning well,” and true to that, great lyricists are the ones that lead fascinating lives. When we listen to Bob Dylan, Patti Smith or even the work of Cocker both past and present, listeners are given an insight into the mind of an artist. But Cocker would disagree. His admittance to not wanting to be a songwriter, saying: “…you don’t particularly want to do the job, but because a song isn’t really a song until it’s got some lyrics, it’s down to you to write them” says it all. He believes “the words to a song are not important” but forgets to understand the impact he and other musicians have made on linguistics.
When David Byrne composes the score of a feature, a director must feel they are in safe hands. Bernardo Bertolucci and Byrne have odd chemistry with one another. A vague repertoire for The Last Emperor is birthed. As Bertolucci adapts the life of Puyi to the screen, one of the last emperors of China is brought to attention. All good things must come to an end, the Qing dynasty not being a good thing, but certainly coming to an end. That much is securely shown within this epic-length feature, whose costume designs and merits are a strong production of the period. It shows the tensions and intensity of the Qing dynasty and its final days.
A return to a small town in Texas wishing to celebrate their specialness was inevitable. True Stories is an infectious piece of great fun. But, upon returning to it, it is clear to see that director and musician David Byrne is taking aim at the quality of life and, by extension, the quality of people. Oddities of the world all convene at one point, growing up alongside each other. A believable, yet eccentric tale of consumerism and community. How the two interlink is just as important as the characters Byrne’s direction and writing brings to life, with a backdrop of good music and great technical aspects bringing this scathingly good condemnation of tabloid living to life.
Deriving its title from arguably the best Talking Heads song of all, This Must Be the Place is an oddity pairing director Paolo Sorrentino with leading man Sean Penn. Bored of retirement, a rocker embarks on a journey, seeking out the man who executed his father, an ex-Nazi war criminal. Sorrentino presents us his debut English-language feature, and does so with promising style that would soon transfer over to his later offering, Youth, only four years later. Using that unique momentum of his direction to the best of his abilities, he combines a fascinatingly strange story with the powerful cast assembled to craft a sturdy breach into the mainstream English-language markets.
With a real desire to see more live performances from artists I admire, I found myself looking out for a copy of David Byrne’s Live from Austin Texas performance, widely considered to be his best live work in years at the time of its initial release. His latest Broadway tour seems to have blown this out of the water, and after a monumental disappointment with Ride, Rise, Roar, I was rather worried to test the waters once again. His solo work is rather underwhelming at times, but here, Byrne offers up some light reconstructions of his finest works.
Whenever a band busts up, the book tour of a less-than-publicly-prominent band member is inevitable. Russel Senior of Pulp fame gave us Freak Out the Squares, Alex Jones surrendered his memories of Blur in his autobiography, A Bit of Blur, and now, Chris Frantz, drummer and one-quarter of Talking Heads, dedicates his life and memories to his debut book, Remain in Love. Looking back with tinted nostalgia at the glory days of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Frantz’s autobiography doesn’t wish to bury the hatchet with those that have crossed them or vice versa, but looks to recount the life of the Rockstar, and the unexpected marriage that has lasted for over forty years through it all with bass guitarist and fellow Talking Heads member, Tina Weymouth.