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.”