David Byrne Explores Your Mind

David Byrne’s been a hero of mine for going on twenty-five years now. His music, art and approach to life have had an incalculable impact on me. I’ve seen him around town a couple of times (he’s a street-friendly New Yorker), but only met him once, oh so long ago.

Friday, January 26, 1996. I was getting ready for yet another night shift as an assistant sound editor. The graveyard shift. I packed some CDs in my backpack, tossing in my latest acquisition: 1974’s Al Green Explores Your Mind. A great, great soul record, which inexplicably came with two copies of the CD cover.

Before I left for work, I saw in the Village Voice that there was a 6:30 screening of Youth of the Beast, a 1963 film by Seijun Suzuki, at the Japanese Society, on the East Side of Manhattan. I decided to see that and go into work later, which would make it an especially late night, but at least I’d see a cool film.

As I was sitting in the half-filled theater, waiting for the film to begin, I noticed David Byrne sitting a few rows ahead of me. No way! I thought. Awesome. I love this town!

But then he began turning around and staring at me. A lot. I was kinda unnerved because, well, he can look a little creepy. Finally I realized he was just checking out the Japanese lady sitting behind me. (Whew.)

After the film, I paced myself to leave when he did and got his attention on the stairwell leaving the building. He was cordial, and I spent most of my time thanking him and apologizing for taking up his time. I reached into my bag and gave him a VHS copy of my short film In Person (which I carried around NYC waiting for a moment exactly like this one) and asked for an autograph. He said, “Sure,” and while he looked for a pen in his bag, I looked for something for him to write on.

As luck would have it, I remembered my spare CD cover on the Al Green CD. Y’see, it wasn’t just any Al Green CD; no, it was the one with “Take Me to the River” on it, a tune Talking Heads covered in 1978! He smiled when I asked him to sign it and he too saw the irony. A beat later, he pulled a Sharpie out of his bag and said in that David Byrne kind of way—somewhere between naïve and scared, with a smile—“Look! It’s green!”

Check it out…

All in all, a great meeting. Was it my best one with a rock and roll star? Well, there was the time Iggy Pop told me I was “so cool!” but that will have to wait for another post.

Naturally, this would be incomplete if I didn’t include both versions of “Take Me to the River.”

Take Me to the River – Al Green (3:42, right-click to download)

Take Me to the River – Talking Heads (5:03, right-click to download)



Filed under Music

5 responses to “David Byrne Explores Your Mind

  1. I love these stories. This is quickly becoming my favorite blog.

  2. Adam L

    david byrne IS so street friendly – you’re right! i used to see him biking in new york with his son on the handle bars. my wife was a p.a. on true stories and was doing a few errands for him, dropping things off at his house and took a peak in his closet and spotted the big suit hanging there, like it was a celebrity in and of itself. a friend had us over the other night to watch STOP MAKING SENSE on his big screen (no lie: 10′ x 6′). it was a revelation. what gorgeous movie. THAT infectious music, THAT band – they were so COMPLETELY original. there has been nothing remotely like them before or since. and i’m not even their biggest fan (tho my wife and i did walk down the aisle to NAIVE MELODY) – there’s just no denying how transformative they are. thanks for sharing your d.b. story.

    • Yeah, even with a first paragraph full of praise for DB, it’s too vague to do it justice. The music and philosophy of Talking Heads still works for me. It still sounds as fresh as it did the first time I heard it. They also have the distinction of being the only band to that have struck me this way: at one point or another, 7 of their 8 LPs were called “My Favorite TH LP.” I went for a few years with my favorite being Remain in Light; for the next few it was Speaking in Tongues; then it was Buildings and Food’s turn; and so on. Once, for about 6 months, Fear of Music and Naked duked it out for that honor, a particularly stressful time for me as you can imagine.

      And, yes, the Stop Making Sense band was like Sly & the Family Stone Goes to College.

  3. Pingback: New York Stories: Meeting Spalding Gray | Peel Slowly

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