David Byrne On How Music Works

David Byrne Launches The Meltdown Festival 2015

I was first introduced to the music of Talking Heads when a friend suggested I get a copy of their album Speaking in Tongues back in 1983. From its opening song of “Burning Down The House,” I was hooked. I had never heard anything like this band and I anxiously awaited each new album. Even after David Byrne left the group, I continued to follow his solo career, particularly his work with Brian Eno. He, along with Peter Gabriel, introduced me to world music.

David Byrne’s work has always been protean and eclectic, which is what has always made him so fascinating and brilliantly original. One never knows what to expect whether it be in music, film, poetry or art. And How Music Works reveals the cross-pollination of knowledge from so many facets of the arts and science that Byrne has spent a lifetime piling up. What other musician can write about creativity in terms of adaptation referencing how birds and whales have to their surroundings and the changes that have come about because of humans to architecture as an instrument to how the mind can be manipulated in regards to images and sounds?

David Byrne is a deep thinker who is able to connect the dots between what appears to be dissimilar subjects: from neuroscience to the mixtape to Bunraku. Because of this, Byrne deftly causes the reader to consider, question and to think about these subjects as well.

We live in a world that is crowded with noise and sounds that are more often forced on us as we go about our days. There used to be a time when one had to go out to a concert to hear music performed live but now, with the advent of portable music devices, it is now the soundtrack to our lives as we hear music playing in our earbuds or headphones. “Are mobile devices,” David Byrne writes, “and the musically cluttered world we inhabit starting to substitute for our interior voices?”

When I read that question, I found myself pondering what he’s asking and the implications of what that really means. I consider how humans have impacted the soundscapes of our environments and the effect that has had on the aural landscape as well as nature itself. We can go to the woods and no longer hear what our ancestors heard if they had gone to that exact same spot. And what have we lost by this?  Byrne later writes, “Now hearing is ubiquitous, and silence is the rarity that we pay for and savor.”

Byrne books

David Byrne understands and writes about the interconnectedness of the arts to the world in so many more ways than most musicians would even stop to consider. Byrne is not interested in writing a music memoir, though there are passages about his career (both in Talking Heads and solo), but the book is more about his observations and understandings of not only the music business but music and sound itself. This book is filled with ideas and intelligence, wit and wisdom. This book is an exploration of his interest in music from around the world (Bollywood to Brazilian Pop to Balinese gamelan to Afro-Cuban to Pink Floyd) to literature, poetry, art, architecture, movies, and fashion, to writing about the pure the delight of discovering new music and how we are able to do that now through mediums like Spotify.

And music has a huge impact on our lives in ways that people before us would never be able to fathom. It has become a part of our memory, collectively and personally. We think in terms of where we were when we first heard a band like The Beatles or who we were dating when we first heard a particular song. Songs are interwoven with who we are. “Something about music urges us to engage with its larger context, beyond the piece of plastic it came on-it seems to be part of our genetic makeup that we can be so deeply moved by this art form. Music resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can’t conceive of it being an isolated thing,” David Byrne writes,  “It’s whom you were with, how old you were, and what was happening that day.” A song comes on the radio and I am immediately remembering a certain summer when I was dating a specific girl and what she was wearing and where we were. This is especially true of songs that cause us to remember those we have lost and are no longer with us.

How Music Works covers a wide range of thought-provoking topics that draw the reader in and, more importantly, makes them think in new ways, not just about music, but all that shapes and is shaped by it.

David Byrne How Music Works

David Byrne’s official website:

David Byrne




The Idea Of Home

IMG_4108“You can go home again,” Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote, “so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.” When I read that statement, my first thought was, “Hmmm, I wonder what she means by that?”

That one sentence was something that stayed with me long after I first read it and I began to reflect on the nature of what really is a home.

What do we think of when we think of home? A specific house? A town or city where we grew up? The family we were born into? The family we created through marriage? The close friendships we make that often feel more like family than the ones we were born into?

As a child growing up, home was my entire universe.  And there is one specific house, our house on Windy Rush Road, that when I think of home it is the one of my childhood up until the age of twelve. It is the home inhabited by summer and neighborhood friends and the woods I loved to explore. It is the place that looms large in my imagination. But it is also, in many ways, an imagined place. It is the home that exists more in memory than in reality any more. Although there were four of us living in that home, I would guess that each of us would talk about that one house differently from each other. We would have a unique perspective on that moment in time.


For me, it is rooted in summers. In wearing shorts and running barefoot. Of feeling the sun on one’s skin. Of playing until dark. Of catching fireflies in mason jars with holes punched in the top. Of bats darting about in the night sky eating bugs. Of riding bicycles and playing games that we made up to entertain ourselves. It was running through sprinklers. It was developing my first crush and the heartbreak of her moving away.


It was my first kiss. My friends and I were playing war and I was shot. My death scene was spectacular and Oscar-worthy. I didn’t just drop to the ground but died dramatically and rolled to the bottom of our front hill. As I lay there dead in the grass, I suddenly felt lips kissing my own. Quickly and tasting of apple juice. I opened my eyes to see the girl who lived next door running away. My heart pounded heavy in my chest. I cannot even count how many times I let myself get shot that day, but the kiss was not repeated – at least not again that day. We were summer sweethearts. I had a shirt with x’s and o’s on it. She would give me a kiss for every “x” and a hug for every “o.” My mom, tired of washing that shirt, asked me why I kept wearing it. I just shrugged and answered, “Cause it’s my favorite.”


It was the place of t-ball games and kick the can and Christmas and birthdays and swimming lessons and of my Mom telling me that “Everything was going to be all right” and I believed her. It was walking home from school and finding that she had just made chocolate chip cookies that I could drink down with milk as I told her about my day.

There was where I discovered music by listening to my parents’ record collection, as well as the one I started to collect of my own favorites. It was The Beatles and the soundtracks to movies and Broadway musicals. It was the home where my friends and I used to put on our own shows and lip-synced and danced to music.


It was the home where I was first read to at bedtime by my mother and where I not only learned to read, but loved reading. I discovered Where The Wild Things Are and The Five Chinese Brothers, E.B. White’s books and Roald Dahl’s, and the ones that would have th hugest impact on me: C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. After reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I tested out all of our closets and was utterly disappointed that they did not lead to any magical lands no matter how much I called out for Aslan. I also pestered my poor mom with my begging for them to please buy me a wardrobe, which, alas, they never did. Those are the books I still own and have read with glee and delight to my own children and watched as they, too, embraced them into their own childhood worlds.

That home was the one that I recall whenever I hear Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “Stones in the Road.”

When we were young we pledged allegiance
Every morning of our lives
The classroom rang with children’s voices
Under teacher’s watchful eye
We learned about the world around us
At our desks and at dinner time
Reminded of the starving children
We cleaned our plates with guilty minds
And the stones in the road
Shone like diamonds in the dust
And then a voice called to us
To make our way back home

Although I was often a very lonely child, most of my memories of that house are of the idyllic childhood where I still approached everything with wonder and the belief that the world was a magical, wondrous place.

No place like home

I cannot help but think of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz who first dreams of escaping the dreariness of home, but once in Oz, spends the rest of the story wanting to return to home in Kansas. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” And, by the end of the book and the film, Dorothy realizes the truth, ““If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

How many of us are the same way and have to learn the same lesson?


Children long to grow up. To have their own experiences in the world and are very definite in telling their parents just how their lives will be different and how they will parent differently. “I will never, ever tell my kids ‘Because I said so’ as a reason to do something,” I once informed them. If I only knew then how frustrating and exhausting parenthood can truly be and how one is pushed to the point where that is the only answer one can form. We rush headlong through our years and when we have reached adulthood begin to look back with a heartbreaking longing for the time we had (especially when we have lost a parent). With our own children, we learn that the days go so slow but the years whiz past by so fast it makes our heads spin and we blink to find our own children to be children no more. And begin to understand the melancholy beauty of Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game.”

I love how Maya Angelou puts it, ““The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Everyone does not think of a place in their past, as those were broken homes that are not seen in nostalgic sepia tones, but as memories so painful that their lives have been spent trying to escape them and make their own home.  Or what is home for the child who is bounced around from one foster home to the next? Or grows up in an orphanage?

Home can be the place where we begin to form our identities or the places where we find them. Home is discovering acceptance for who you are and not who you’d like or wish to be.  It is unconditional love and warm embraces and shared tears and to have someone or some others who see who you are, warts and all, and welcome you whole. Home is wholeness. Some are born into it and some only discover it later and, sadly, there are those for whom home is an idea they will never ever know.

Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse wrote, ““One never reaches home. But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.”

Perhaps there isn’t one home but many in our lives. As we grow up and go out into the world, we find our homes not in being rooted to the same place, but those we make community with wherever we may be. It is the welcoming table and laughter and tears and shared experiences. It is not having to pretend and wear a mask but to let another see who we are and what we are really going through.

Home is the light in the darkness. Is it any wonder that the Talking Heads sang in the opening to their song “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”: Home is where I want to be . . .

We all want to be there. We all want a place where we can call home.