David Byrne and James Murphy: Just a Couple Of Guys

David Byrne of Talking Heads

This article is going to make me sound like a total fangirl, but you know what? Sorry I’m not sorry.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up and faced a serious dilemma: What does one wear when she knows that she will be meeting two of her greatest heroes? I quickly abandoned all hopes of looking or seeming “cool;” I concluded that attempting anything other than quiet admiration in front of David Byrne and James Murphy would be futile and foolish.

David Byrne and James Murphy. I didn’t really believe that they were both coming to Yale to have a moderated discussion about two of my favorite things, art and music, until I saw the event posters going up. I felt, for the first time since coming here, that Yale had somehow translated all of my interests, desires and goals into a one-night-only event. (Maybe this is how politically-minded people here feel all the time.)

Allow me to try to explain my excitement. David Byrne was the founding member of the Talking Heads, a band I have been obsessed with ever since learning at age 11 that a family friend, who is a heart surgeon, listens exclusively to the song “Burning Down the House” while operating. The band holds a particularly dear place in my musical memory; the first mp3 I ever bought — on Napster, to give you a sense of the timeframe — was “And She Was” by the Talking Heads. James Murphy was the leader of LCD Soundsystem (rest in peace) and is one of the co-founders of DFA Records. He is the creator of a musical empire that embodies all things good in the world. I am more than just an unabashed LCD Soundsystem fan; I am one of those annoying, loud people who scream when any LCD song comes on at a party and shout all the words, as if we don’t want anyone actually to hear the music. Together, these two men have created or had a hand in the creation of most of my favorite music, but that’s not even the main reason for my admiration for each of them. Both David Byrne and James Murphy have retained complete control over their creative work in spite of their fame and success, two things that have consistently destroyed lesser artists since the advent of public opinion. I really appreciate their ability to sustain an aesthetic vision and to bring that vision to everything that they touch.

The idea of hearing these two King Midas figures speak to these visions made my head spin with excitement. I did everything I could to ensure that I would get a seat at this talk; I reserved a space through the School of Art, I arranged to take photographs of the event for my job as a social media intern for Yale and I agreed to write this article. I still showed up early to the Yale University Art Gallery, eagerly waiting in line outside the auditorium for an hour before one of the event coordinators read my name off of a list and let me inside. Hyperventilating a little bit, I settled into a seat in the fourth row and waited for David Byrne and James Murphy to emerge. When they finally walked past my seat — I was only inches away from them — and took the stage, my heart was pumping at such a rate that, had I been born with any sort of congenital defect, I would have died.

Luckily, I survived, and, doing my very best to keep my mouth closed and my chin drool-free, I eagerly focused my attention on David and James. (I feel like we’re on a first-name basis now, we three.) One thing I noticed right off the bat was that John Schaeffer, though equipped with a radio voice of liquid gold, was not a great moderator; he was far too focused on sticking to a question-and-answer format that felt unnatural and uncomfortable. I was grateful (not to mention overwhelmed with joy) when David Byrne bashfully interrupted this stilted oral examination to offer up some adorable anecdotes.

The conversation between David Byrne and James Murphy, with two strange and wonderful video interludes, was a bit different from the one I had imagined in my head. Maybe I expected both men to be more … Distant? Aloof? Artists with a capital A? Instead, I found that they were both surprisingly personable and genuine. Hearing that James Murphy turned a doodle into the logo for his record label (“Yeah, let’s use that! No, literally, let’s use that. That doodle. Without changing anything.”) and that David Byrne had to pay for the fabrication of his bike rack designs for New York City rather than the other way around made both men seem less like artistic geniuses and more like two guys, just trying to do their thing. Even though they didn’t accept the invitation to my house (that I twice extended to them), I left the talk feeling a little bit more optimistic about the future; after all, if David Byrne and James Murphy are just a couple of guys, albeit really awesome ones, then there might yet be hope for the rest of us.

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