You ask the questions: David Byrne

(Such as: David Byrne, are you really the angst-ridden, retiring introvert you portray to the media? And what became of the big white suit?)
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The Independent Online

The musician David Byrne was born in 1952 in Dumbarton, Scotland, but was raised in Baltimore, Ohio. Byrne studied conceptual art at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he met Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, with whom he formed the idiosyncratic art-rock band Talking Heads. In 1974, they moved to New York, where they got their big break at the infamous club CBGBs. Three years later, they released the hit album Talking Heads '77. It was followed up by, among others, More Songs about Buildings and Food and Fear of Music. In 1984, Byrne's iconic white suit and jerky dancing featured in the rockumentary Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme. A year later, Byrne directed and starred in a feature film about small-town America, called True Stories, and in 1987, he won an Oscar for best original score for Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. Talking Heads split up in 1991, and Byrne's music took a new direction when he assembled a 14-strong Latin-American ensemble to promote his South-American-influenced album Rei Momo and set up the world-music-oriented record label Luaka Bop.

Much of your Talking Heads material ("Air", "Life During Wartime" etc) is pretty paranoid. Do you still feel anxious about external forces controlling our lives?

Camilla Mendes, London

Yeah, mostly corporate interests, multinational corporate nation states, advertising and marketing, and media owned by large companies... the whole paranoid package. I'm not afraid of air, but I am afraid that the air, the water, the earth, the electromagnetic spectrum even – all are being contaminated. While it's natural and OK for humans to affect, influence and mould parts of the world, our hubris and Cartesian logic have led us to a pretty sad state of affairs. I do think that artists, musicians, writers etc exist as a counter-force, a kind of discreet resistance to the encroaching waves of garbage that for ever threaten to engulf us all. This makes me less paranoid, somewhat hopeful – not optimistic, but hopeful that a decent form of life can survive and continue.

"Home is where I want to be." Would you consider that to be Dumbarton at all? Have you relatives there? How Scottish do you feel?

C Miles, by e-mail

No, my home is not Dumbarton. That house was torn down a long, long time ago. But I suspect there's a certain dry humour, no-nonsense attitude and frugality that is somewhat Scottish. It's been mixed with North American lunacy, but that's what I am. The North seems to fancy a bit of soul, maybe as an antidote to something else, and I can see that in me as well.

Any views you'd care to share with us on George Bush?

Mick Booth, by e-mail

I was thinking about Dubya and his cronies yesterday – wondering if his behaviour fulfilled a prophecy knocked around some years ago: the Brazilianisation of the USA. This has absolutely nothing to do with music, with the recent popularity of Os Mutantes, Bebel Gilberto and swinging DJ beats. It has more to do with the separation of rich and poor in a huge land rich in resources. And with a growing sense that the landed classes have seized control of more and more, dividing the spoils among their friends. Legal corruption runs rampant – the First World imitating the Third. The only good part of this model is the corollary, that with this economic and political disaster comes a counter-force – a funky energy that is spiritual, ecstatic, creative and innovative. Here is where the old saw of art born of adversity comes in. But it's partly true – there is both a sad sweetness and transcendent funkiness to lots of Southern music, and the North is sensing this as something that feels right at the moment. It's a political statement.

What do you remember of NYC 1977?

Saul Lottie, Norwich

Leaning on the bar at CBGBs, waiting to go on, watching someone else's set. It was an eruption out of a pretty small neighbourhood, and the smallness was nice; it allowed us to attempt things and sometimes fail. The stakes were low.

What kind of a place was David Byrne at during the making of Look into the Eyeball?

Al Holroyd, London

You know, after a while making records, you don't know if one is better than the others at first. I think this is a pretty good one, if I can be immodest, but that is not something one senses when one is writing or making the record. Of course, with every record, I convince myself it's a total work of genius while I'm working on it. All artists have huge egos in order to believe they have something that the world needs to hear or see – or they wouldn't have the nerve to make it in the first place. That said, when I finished the record, I thought it was a total piece of crap and wanted to give it to Virgin and quickly hide under a rock and hope it all blew over.

Are you still in contact with Tina and Chris? If so, any plans to collaborate?

Tessa Blythe, Perthshire

Are you kidding? After all the things they've said about me?

What became of the big white suit?

L K Parsons, London

It went on the Rock Style costume exhibition that was at the Met in New York and the Barbican in London. Now it's back in storage.

In reality, are you the angst-ridden, shy, retiring, socially crippled introvert you portray to the public and the music media?

Michael Hodkinson, by e-mail

Yes, it's been a pretty successful act so far, so I'm going to run with it. Most people believe it, so why not?

I understand that you dabbled a little in conceptual art. What piece are you a) most proud of, and b) most embarrassed by?

Pete Knott, by e-mail

Well, I still make conceptual art of a sort – so if you want to call it dabbling, that's an English problem. The music is probably dabbling as well. It's all dabbling. But it's serious and, I hope, pretty humorous dabbling. I have an art book of sorts coming out with Faber very soon, called New Sins – a little Bible sort of thing. It was originally placed anonymously in hotel drawers in Spain during a biennial over there. This is not so different from the sort of vaguely conceptual art I used to make in art school, all of it a futile attempt to disguise art as something else. Like secreting things inside pop songs, you might say.

Rei Momo did a lot to spread the popularity of Brazilian music. What do you think of the Buena Vista Social Club? Is this world-music thing just a commercial fad that comes and goes?

Isla Whelan, by e-mail

Rei Momo was more Latin than Brazilian, but it often got confused with the compilations we were putting out then on Luaka Bop. I quite like the Buena Vista record, but as a reflection of current Cuban music it's a little misleading. Imagine all of the UK being represented by a skiffle group, and you get the idea. But I don't think Nick Gold and Ry Cooder ever intended it to be this phenomenon – my understanding is, they were hoping to do an African/Cuban hybrid record at the time. And yes, all the music in the rest of the world is just a fad; they'll get over it and realise that Oasis is the real thing soon enough.

True Stories was a brilliant insight into Middle America. Have you considered producing an update?

Glyn Jenkins, Newcastle upon Tyne

Thanks, but no. I try not to repeat myself – or, at least, I try not to do it in a way that people recognise. But I would like to direct another film – it's more of an ego rush than anything else.

Did you ever get into voodoo?

Ronan Mills, by e-mail

Yes, as an attendee, sympathiser and friend... not as a proper initiate.

If you could work with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Jill Hargreaves, Bude, Cornwall

I collaborate all the time... the arrangers on this record were all collaborators of a sort. I did a dance score about two years ago for a choreographer named Wim Vandekeybus, from Brussels; the piece was called In Spite of Wishing and Wanting. It toured for about two years all over the world. I released a CD of that music but tried it over the internet, so you can see how successful that was. So much for online marketing.

Your album The Forest features songs with evocative titles such as "Kish", "Asuka" and "Tula". What do they actually mean?

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon

They're all titles of Autechre CDs. Actually, they are all names of big cities, centres of their cultures, that no longer exist.

A recurring theme in your songs is the tension between civilisation and nature, urban paranoia and freedom. With all your experience of native African and South American music, have you emerged with a vision of primitive man, and is he happy?

T Maum, Colchester

Are you implying that Southerners are more "primitive" that Northerners? Well, the South has a reputation for knowing how to live – the Italian sound crew in the last town just took a two-hour lunch break, and they hadn't even begun to work! It's bizarre to some of us, but on another level they realise that life is what it's about, not progress, achievement and tension. But we had a show to do; there are limits!

"I am slowly overcoming the racism that was instilled in me by society." What does this mean? Have you succeeded yet?

Lise Connor, by e-mail

I feel it's important to admit that I harbour some racist impulses. Like with those 12-step alcoholics' programmes, one has to admit the tendencies before eliminating them. Most of us are in denial, and I am one of those. I feel it's not enough to claim intellectually that one is not racist and that it is an evil to be erased; that doesn't make anything go away – ever. It just hides it. I also claim that there are subtle and not-so-subtle racist sensibilities inherent in lots of the media we consume daily, and that the only way to resist the infection is to be aware of the disease.

Which people have had a formative influence on your life?

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon

Mainly a bunch of friends and family – a few are in the biz, so to speak, but most are not. Their influences seem to me more about how to live, what bad attitude to take and what to enjoy, rather than musical.

David Byrne's album 'Look into the Eyeball' is out now on Virgin. His book 'New Sins' is published in November by Faber & Faber, £12.99

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