In the past, we’ve dedicated this issue to fallen idols—Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Jerry Garcia, Aaliyah—and tried to reshape or recapture what makes them important to our generation. All of which has been very respectful and provided reason enough to get trashed on jazz cigarettes and dip tie-dyes in the office while blasting luxuriously reissued box sets. But right now, New York City, and presumably the rest of the country since we don’t really pay attention, is in a sorry state. Our favorite (other) magazines, newspapers, stockbrokers, stockbrokees, good word writers, neat thing designers, crush creators, milkshake makers and baby mothers are scraping the bottom of the proverbial peanut butter jar. The good times are tapped out, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to zap them back to life via the uptight lank and nerd swagger of the white shocked funk master: David Byrne. As iconic as any other we’ve chosen, Byrne is a symbol of New York City survival—molding Talking Heads in a barren Queens warehouse during the low point late ’70s, operating a one-man global inspiration outfit out of the most covetous Manhattan loft we’ve ever seen in the high rent late ’00s. Today, Byrne remains the principled, curious, generous and acceptably eccentric cosmopolitan we all aspire to be. He lives downtown, has fabulous friends, can do whatever he wants and say whatever he feels. What he chooses to do and say is make art, make music, design bike racks, build interactive sound sculptures, collaborate like crazy and defend humanity on his online journal. He is us. He is New York. And New York, to us, is everything.
Though Byrne has forsaken our always-under-construction, fare-hiked and service-cut subway system for bicycles and fresh air, we still see him as a central station on the (musical) map: for proof, check out the “life map” rendered by urban cartographers Zero Per Zero with Grizzly Bear, Michael Bell-Smith, Theophilus London, Micachu and The Shapes and the Dutty Artz collective, all posted at the nearest ends of Byrne’s creative lines and laying the tracks for further expansion. These new artists are extending his vision into the—we hope—utopian future (which, judging by their addresses, will be headquartered in Brooklyn). Lest we forget the past, we also asked one of the key figures of the downtown New York arts scene, writer/musician/denizen of radness Vivien Goldman, to write a personal essay about Byrne’s place as the American ambassador of the beat. And naturally, since he was around kicking it with the Rockettes for a couple of monumental Radio City shows this spring, we interviewed the man himself, and he opened up and let us into his brain. Totally not weird in there! You might even say he’s normal, if he wasn’t such an extraordinary example of the benefits and rewards of being a decent human being.