School of Rock
David Byrne’s subdued account of his musical life
How Music Works
by David Byrne
$32.00 List Price
The title promises the definitive lowdown. Between these covers, it implies, you will find everything you’ll ever need to know about the dynamics of collaboration, the craft of stage performance and studio recording, the nitty-gritty of the music industry. But you’ll also learn about how music affects us emotionally and what, ultimately, it is for.
A tall order, you might think, but if anybody is qualified to take a stab, it’s David Byrne. He’s an insider with over forty years’ experience as a practitioner under his guitar strap; he’s also an art-school-educated intellectual capable of taking a detached, aerial view. Starting out in the ’60s with youthful experiments making musique concrète, he went through a singer-songwriter phase, progressed rapidly through New York punk to MTV stardom in Talking Heads, and moved on to a busy post-pop afterlife collaborating with everyone from avant-garde choreographers to Latin American big bands to British DJ-producers. Byrne cofounded his own record label, Luaka Bop, so he’s also witnessed up close the traumatic transformations that have recently transformed the industry. And through it all, he’s been a thinker about music as well as a creator and performer.
Just as its title mixes grand ambition and plainspoken practicality, How Music Works moves back and forth between the grounded and the lofty, integrating workaday wisdom drawn from Byrne’s varied career with musings about the social and spiritual functions of music. Overall, though, the emphasis is on the concrete and mundane, with illuminating, if somewhat affectless and geeky,