The rock icon David Byrne was recently in the Rose City to spread his gospel: You might live in a beautiful house, but we desperately need more beautiful houses. This gospel (or good news) is spread on his online mag Reasons to Be Cheerful. Let's ignore, for now, the website's quirky name (that comes with the Byrne territory) and look at this position on housing and the homeless crisis. Byrne sees a link between the two and sees the solution of the former in an increase of the latter.
Byrne said the discussion would touch on efforts to change zoning laws and regulations, “and how they managed to change housing trajectories so it will become more affordable, and increase the density of housing in Portland.”
Nothing about his position is at odds with the priorities of the progressives who apparently ruined Seattle after coming into power in 2019 and, on November 7, were voted out of power by a public that wanted moderation—which only means: cosmetic solutions to serious social issues. If David Byrne had been on our City Council, he would have lost last week. But I want to turn to part two of this three-part post: Why Talking Heads is a vastly overrated band. (Part three concerns one of Talking Head's signature tunes, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).")
As everyone must know by now, I'm not a fan of art that begins and ends with quirkiness. I expressed this position unambiguously in my post "I Hate the Beacon Hill Library, and You Should Too." The problem with the quirkiness of that library can be found in the music of Talking Heads. Cultural substance in, say, the music of Fela Kuti, which is all over Remain in Light, arguably the band's highest artistic achievement, is entirely emptied and replaced with Byrne's tireless and, consequently, tiresome quirkiness, which, like all art forms in this mode, is empty. Seriously there is nothing on this album and other albums that would not get Donald Trump's tight fist-y dance going.
Even "Once in a Lifetime," which is a pastoral (a New Yorker basically pretending to be a rural pastor from the evangelical South), contains nothing that would turn off anyone from the far right. And if you go all the way back to the band's first big hit, a cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River," we find exactly how the Talking Heads transmuted cultural substance into what critics lovingly categorize as "art rock." (Bryne's "Take Me to the River" is also another pastoral.) "(Nothing but) Flowers," the top tune on Talking Head's 1988 album Naked, Zaire's kwassa kwassa is stripped of its defining feature, Black African rhythmic elegance (or, put in another way, Black joy, in the Natasha Marin sense), and as quirkified into a cranky American suburbanite who, in a dystopian nightmare, longs for a lawnmower. Joy of any kind is not in this tune."(Nothing but) Flowers" has nothing but the nothingness (art rock) of quirkiness.
What happens is this: After a rookie stockbroker Bud Fox makes the big bucks in the only way big bucks are made on the market (manipulation of information), he purchases an upscale Manhattan apartment and fills it with art and furniture selected by the interior decorator Darien Taylor (Daryl Hannah). As the tables, chairs, and paintings are moved into the apartment, which flies about Manhattan, we hear the art rock tune "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)." And so, in a way, Byrne—who is now clearly a progressive urbanist, and who formed a band around the time President Gerald Ford basically told New York City to "Drop Dead," a declaration that some believe plunged the world into neoliberal urban economics—created the soundtrack for gentrification.