PRINT January 2002


David Byrne

Author photo: Danny Clinch.

David Byrne is a musician, producer of music and films, and photographer. His images appeared most recently in a fall 2001 solo show at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Decker Gallery.

  1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

    This guy saw it all coming. In 1835 de Tocqueville predicts US dominance in world trade, recognizes the influence of religion on the work ethic (way before Max Weber), and anticipates young democratic institutions fostering a culture and mind-set that resonate well outside politics and economics. How did he do it? He took the wide view. And he made me appreciate our shaky democratic and judicial institutions, which I was maybe all too ready to pronounce dead after W.’s coup d’état.

  2. Denis Johnson, Seek: Reports from the Edges of America and Beyond

    One essay in this collection—“The Small Boys Unit”—is an amazing, horrific, and brutally personal account of the war in Liberia. Although Johnson envelops the reader in a sense of the hallucinatory capriciousness of our species, there is some kind of optimism at work, possibly based in the beauty of his writing—a beauty that confronts, by its existence, these horrors.

  3. “Here Is New York” and Gregor Schneider at the German Pavilion, Venice Biennale

    Artforum readers are probably familiar with both of these great shows, and are probably skeptical of the artistic worth of the first—a SoHo exhibition of photographs taken on and after September 11—partly because of its popularity. Gregor Schneider’s house/maze was a marvel. The rigorously re-created bad German house-paint colors and fixtures were perfect down to every tiny detail.

  4. Toshio Iwai, Photon

    At last year’s P.S. 1 exhibition “Buzz Club: News from Japan,” visitors, each outfitted with a lens and headphones, entered a darkened room. On approaching different light sources (Christmas-tree bulbs, a snow-screened TV, sodium-vapor lamps), they heard various electronic sounds transmitted into the headphones. Modulating volume and pitch by moving the lens around the light sources, silent museum-goers were transformed into bad modern dancers.

  5. W Radical (96.9 FM)

    Appropriately named, this Mexico City radio station is pop culture pushed to an extreme so freaky it could easily be seen as conceptual. It plays techno and trance 24-7. And not the name-brand techno and trance of Thomas Brinkmann, Aphex Twin, or Orb: None of the tracks were recognizable to myself or my friends. But what amazed me most was its endlessness. Total pulse and throb all the time. The station pours out of the little VWs all over town. It’s said that the factory workers love it—their bosses, too, as it tends to stimulate production. Listeners feel so modern, so in touch with the global zeitgeist. No matter how rickety your car or kiosk, this music puts you in the twenty-first century!

  6. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths

    The official slogan of Baltimore—where I grew up—was once “Baltimore: Charm City.” Now it’s “Baltimore: Greatest City in America.” (Really! Who knew?) John Waters has suggested “Come to Baltimore and Be Shocked.” He’s exaggerating, but not by much. On a recent trip, I visited several small local museums: the Museum of Incandescent Light (a dentist’s lightbulb collection), the American Dime Museum (ten-cent sideshow attractions), and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum (African-American history told in waxworks and set in tableaux). But by far the most surprising is the Nutshell collection at the medical examiner’s office. No, it’s not a collection of carved walnuts and pecans, but a series of miniature dioramas of gruesome murder scenes intended as forensic study aids. Each dollhouse room contains a dead doll body—sprawled in a tub, on a bed, hanging from the rafters—and has a corresponding text offering witness testimony. Officers- and detectives-in-training are meant to scan each scene to see if the teensky evidence jibes with the account. Usually there’s a giveaway. I could deduce the “truth” for a couple of them, but most required a trained eye. The title, by the way, refers to the phrase “the truth in a nutshell.” The collection can be seen by appointment, but this office is busy, Baltimore being the murder capital of our nation.

    David Byrne, Double Deads, 2001, color photograph of “Three Room Dwelling,” a diorama constructed by Frances Glessner Lee, 1940s, from the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths. David Byrne, Double Deads, 2001, color photograph of “Three Room Dwelling,” a diorama constructed by Frances Glessner Lee, 1940s, from the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths.
  7. The Onion, Affluent Golfer,and Buttman

    The first made me laugh shortly after September 11 with their “Holy Fucking Shit” issue. The second is an ’80s concept so damn out of sync with the times that it must be on purpose. And the third—what can I say? Amazing, disgusting, refreshingly to the point.

  8. Goran Bregoviç

    Bregoviç scores a lot of Emir Kusturica’s films, but he is also a composer and producer in his own right. Live, he does it all—on the kind of budget only European arts festivals can conceive of. At the Crossing Border Festival in Amsterdam there was a full string section, a Balkan brass section in curly-toed shoes, a three-woman Bulgarian vocal choir, Bregoviç on guitar, and another guy (who looked like Dracula as a biker) on percussion and vocals. The performance was varied and mesmerizing.

  9. Tosca Tango Orchestra

    I’m touring with Tosca’s string section, so my opinion is obviously and cheerfully biased. Out of Austin, Texas, they made a name for themselves doing Astor Piazolla–type deconstructed tangos at the Continental, on South Congress. They cleared the floor for dancing, and it worked: People came, drank, and danced—even if they didn’t know how. Their sound track for Richard Linklater’s animated talkathon, Waking Life,is reminiscent of Piazolla, but goes somewhere else, maybe somewhere more spacey, as befits the subject matter.

  10. The Avalanches

    Since I Left You (2001) wins the prize for Best Follow-up Record to Another Artist’s Record. In making the perfect sequel to DJ Shadow’s big release of a few years ago (the one where he exhausted his entire record collection in one shot) the Australian band probably depleted their own record collections, so more than likely we won’t hear from them again.