I recently attended a night of stories at the Bowery Ballroom
with David Byrne as the headliner. It was called Stories in High Fidelity.
New York writer Alan Light told a wonderful story of his 6 year
old's obsession with the Beatles. Dan Kennedy discussed his summer
working in a record store in the Midwest as a 'project' for his next novel
- he reflected on the perils of filing punk and metal albums and how to tell
the difference by the cover art or elements of the band name
(Ex. where does one put an album where the cover art features skeletons
with gas masks on standing over a pool of blood? - Metal).
The main event was Mr. Byrne, his laptop, a screen behind him
and a sound guy on cue. He was engaging and intelligent as I
have always seen him in interviews though he seemed a bit more
scattered even nervous for this particular showing. That said, the ideas
and views he shared during his speech was fascinating. He focused on
music (obviously) but started with music hundreds of years ago
- how music used to be created for a particular environment such as
Mozart and Beethoven performing in beautiful performance halls with
meticulously built acoustics eventually leading to huge car speakers
being a popular vehicle for rap music. He talked about how the
portable music player changed a listener's experience; you now have
the ability to hear very intricate arrangements and every lyric of a song.
He transitioned into how this change of music affects how musicians
create and are ultimately compensated for their creations
(records, performances, etc). He made this transition by explaining
how birds that keep low to the ground have a lower pitched song when
calling each other and higher flying birds, a higher pitch to their call.
However, for the birds living in and around San Francisco, as the traffic
and noise of the city has increased their pitch has gotten higher in order
to hear each other's call. I thought it was a very creative way to say that
even though the environment can change for a musician, the need to create
sound and be expressive through song will always exist and music will always
be made. Humans are just like birds in that they will adjust because we
need and love the sound. Well put, la resistance musicians!
The night was wrapped up well by singer Nicole Atkins performing an
acoustic set, just her and her guitar, where cartoonist Michael Arthur
drew a scene related to each song and it was projected on a screen behind Nicole.
With every song he started a new drawing off the last one so by the end
of her set was this cool little cluster of images. My friend said Bright Eyes
had done a similar stunt at a concert she had attended. It reminded me of this
artist that was very popular in Denver, Denny Dent, who would perform
publicly painting these huge murals in three songs or so. They were often
the pictures of the artist he would play though the way he painted you did not see
the likeness until the very end - when he painted Jimi Hendrix he had to turn
the painting upside down to see that it was in fact Jimi. Coming back from
that tangent, Nicole Atkins has a pretty great voice and the cartoons actually
helped to understand the stories of her songs.
Go see David Byrne whenever he is speaking, no matter what he
is speaking about. This one lecture gave me a new way to say the music
industry will survive and new awesome music will always be
there to discover.