This CBGB Movie Looks Kind Of Ridiculous (But You’ll Probably See It Anyway)

So the poster for CBGB, Randal Miller’s upcoming cinematic take on the legendary club and its owner, Hilly Kristal, was released today, prompting another NYC cultural institution to declare: "If you’re the type of cynical punk asshole who thinks the movie about CBGB can’t be anything but terrible, well GOOD NEWS, the movie’s poster essentially proves you right." The whole thing has a very Rock of Ages-meets-Purim Carnival feel about it (Paste‘s Bonnie Stiernberg compared it to the "rock and roll" section of a Party City catalog, A+), and even with Alan Rickman, who can do no wrong, the whole thing just seems, well, ridiclous. The poses! Oh, the poses! At least the captions for Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop are things the two of them really said. 

There’s the Justin Bartha crotch-grab, which actually does look like he’s auditioning for Rock of Ages or maybe some boy band. Joel David Moore’s Joey Ramone has this weird Very Mary-Kate thing going on. And not pictured is Johnny Galecki, who although is playing someone on the business side, dude was in The Big Bang Theory, and if there’s one thing that is not punk rock at all, it’s CBS. Rupert Grint really does kind of look like Cheetah Chrome, though. Regardless, even if this movie is as lulzy as the poster makes it seem like it will be, you’ll probably see it out of some morbid curiosity or just to hear some jams. Or maybe it will capture the sort of irreverence and goofiness that existed in the club’s spirit. Whatever. It’s your call. 

If you want to see some awesomeness happening at the real CBGB, here’s Talking Heads performing "Psycho Killer" there in 1975. Enjoy. Happy Friday.

Robert DeLong is an EDM Artist on the Rise

Seattle-born, L.A.-based singer-songwriter Robert DeLong has a flare for the alternative. In a good way. The 26 (soon to be 27)-year-old EDM mastermind, dubbed a Young Artist to Watch by MTV, has the music scene in his hands—quite literally. Indeed, among the myriad instruments he manages to maneuver during performances are Wiimotes and Joysticks, rigged like MIDIs and adding edge to his already memorable brand of booty movin’ tunes.

Seriously, though, this whiz kid’s got the chops and multitasks better than the best of us—in front of an audience, no less. He’s a one-man-band who sings, drums, and fiddles with game controllers and keyboards, sometimes going so far as to incorporate guitar, too. His live set is something to behold, a sweaty mid-twenties talent, hair slicked down in an exaggerated comb-over, putting every effort into churning out original numbers while keeping the beat.

“I’m always writing songs,” says DeLong, whose debut album, Just Movement, drops today. Makes sense, since he constantly rocked out in bands back in high school. Now he’s signed to Glassnote, label to the likes of Phoenix and Mumford & Sons.

Recently, DeLong released a video to accompany his catchy track “Global Concepts.” The visual rendition of this f-bomb laden rhythmic ditty features a foggy interior, warehouse-like, smoke somewhat obscuring the agile dancers in the background. Tube lights suspended from above flicker and flash whilst DeLong engages in various aspects of performing, most notably wandering around and gesticulating with Wiimote or drumsticks in hand, or hitting his steel drum to excellent tribal effect as he marches subtly in place. Towards the end, the space is overrun with revelers, morphing into an all-out party you wish you’d been invited to. (The platinum blonde mop you may glimpse amid the shadows belongs to talented dancer James Koroni, the individual responsible for my introduction to and fast fandom of DeLong.)

Another nuance unique to DeLong is his affinity for orange, which he wears with pride in the shape of an “x,” big and bold on a classic black tee, as well as painted with precision on his cheekbone in the shape of a lightening bolt. More on this defining aesthetic to follow.

New Yorkers can catch DeLong in action on February 15 when, as part of a greater tour, he plays The Studio at Webster Hall. Festivalgoers will have several opportunities to indulge as well, from SXSW to Coachella, Ultra to Governors Ball.

Not long ago I sat down with the confident up-and-comer at The Commons Chelsea, one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, where over iced tea we discussed the multi-instrumentalist’s inspiration, interest in hacking HIDs, and what it all means.

What’s it like being dubbed a Young Artist to Watch?
It’s great. I grew up watching MTV, so it’s cool. Wild ride. Exciting. Surreal.

How have people reacted? Any super fans?
Nothing too weird so far. But, it’s definitely getting weirder. After the video came out, all of a sudden friends from high school started reaching out, sending messages. It’s fun to hear from people I haven’t heard from in years. But, it’s just funny.

I bet. Did you always know you were going to go into music?
Near the end of high school I knew I was going to do music. I started out thinking I was going to be in science or something. But, I was better at [music]. I think people knew I was a musician, but I don’t know if people knew I was into electronic music and that I was going to go that route.

What would you be doing if not this?
Since college, all of my jobs have been music related. I taught drum lessons, so that was my thing. If it wasn’t music at all, I guess I’d be going to school.

To become a scientist.
Yeah, I guess. [Laughs]

So, tell me more about this Wiimote rewiring…
You can hack [a] human interface device, anything from Gamepads to Joysticks, and turn it into a MIDI. Basically, the idea is you’re just sending information to a computer and can turn it into whatever you want. It’s the same thing as having a knob, slider, drum pad. It’s all the same if you can hack it and make it work for you. I found out you could do it, it seemed interesting and it’s cheaper than buying a bunch of expensive musical equipment. And it’s fun, people like it.

How many instruments do you have up onstage with you?
Three different electronic things, two computers, game pad, Joystick, Wiimote, six pieces of percussion, drum set, keyboard. Like, 15-20 things. Sometimes I’ll have a guitar. Oh, and two microphones.

Wow. That’s a lot for one guy to keep track of. So, are all your shows like the last time you performed in New York? No pauses between songs, stuff like that?
The show is always continuous and flows together. When I do a longer set, there’s more drumming. I play guitar sometimes, too. It’s high-paced. Jumping around doing a lot of different things.

I’m getting that vibe. You sampled Moby when you last played live in NYC. Have you been a long time fan of his?
When his album Play came out, I was probably, like, 12. That was when I first started experimenting with making electronic music, because it was kind of accessible, mainstream electronic music for the time. It was kind of something I grew up with.

Aww, an audible homage. Thoughts on our fair city?
I love this city, but Manhattan is a little terrifying. And it’s a little colder here. Do prefer the warm. Other than that, it’s beautiful. It’s awesome. Good people.

Who else besides Moby inspired or inspires you?
The songs on the album especially are an amalgamation of a lot of songs over the last four years, so it’s a wide variety of things. I grew up in Seattle, so there’s the whole indie singer-songwriter vibe that I kind of grew up with, like Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, Modest Mouse. I think you can hear that whole Seattle sound in the way I write melodies. As far as things I’m listening to a lot right now, I’m listening to Lucy and Sports. I also grew up listening to a lot of Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Talking Heads. Those are some of my constant jams.

Can you tell me what inspired the lyrics behind “Just Movement”?
“Just Movement,” the first track, is sort of the thesis statement for the album. It was written right after college, a time of mental exploring. Just movement: the idea that, if you take this reductionist perspective, everything we do is just atoms moving around. It’s all meaningless. But, once you break it down, where do you go from there? Just movement, the double entendre. Dancing, philosophy. Take it or leave it.

Have you yourself always been into dancing? I’m thinking, too, of “Global Concepts”…
I go out dancing a lot. Do a lot of jumping around on stage. I think that’s an awesome thing. It’s the oldest response to music that human beings had, so it only makes sense to think about that. For a long time I was in the indie scene and no one dances. Everyone looks at their feet.

[Laughs] Shoegaze. How would you describe the music scene in L.A.?
It’s actually pretty cool. There’s definitely a burgeoning DIY electronic scene in Los Angeles. L.A.’s big. There’s always something happening. You can always see new music. It’s good stuff.

So, how did the face painting start?
The whole thing was a group of me and my friends called the Tribe of Orphans, a bunch of people who hang out and go to dance events and stuff. It kind of just evolved over time. My girlfriend Heidi face paint[s] at shows.

So she’s your professional face painter. Does she paint in real life?
Besides face painting she does studio painting and stuff, so it’s great.

Why orange?
Initially? That’s the color paint that shows up the best under black light. It glows the brightest.

Has anyone ever said something to you about your “x” symbol? How it very much resembles the “x” symbol of The xx?
Yeah, people have said that before.

Does it piss you off?
It does a little bit. It doesn’t really. I didn’t even know about them, that that was their symbol. The “x” just was kind of an organic development. My girlfriend had painted it on my headphones probably three years ago or something, so it was before that first The xx album came out. It was just kind of a simultaneous [thing]. We both did it. And then they became famous first. It’s just an “x.” It is what it is.

Emblem wars aside, what’s the greatest challenge of all this?
I think the greatest challenge is to not get sick all the time from running around. But, I have a lot of energy and this is what I wanted to do, so it’s all working out. So far. I get to do what I love. I love playing shows. That’s what it’s all about.

Photo by Miles Pettengell

You May Ask Yourself: How Does Music Work?

In 1986, David Byrne made a movie called True Stories, a mockumentary of sorts about the fictional city of Virgil, Texas. With a nod to the ugliness of industrialized civilization predicated on a mass killing of the native people, animals and vegetation, his treatment of the town—look at this field, where they build houses; the shopping mall is where people socialize on the weekend—comes in its own brand of wry compassion, with the same degree of bite as A Prairie Home Companion.

And a new book by Byrne, How Music Works, is a tour of all things musical delivered in the same voice that took us through Virgil. As smart and impeccably researched as it is, it doesn’t lack for irony. For one, it comes packaged by McSweeney’s as a minimalist coffee table tome, designed by the staggering genius himself. And threaded through an otherwise disjointed collection of chapters on Talking Heads history, the music industry, recording technology, and the science of sound is a cheekiness bordering on disdain directed at the Roger Scruton school of classical music is virtuous music, and pop music is for the plebian masses.

He spends a good deal of time picking on Theodor Adorno, who saw the jukebox, and all mechanized distribution of popular music, as a gimmick for suckers. “He might be right,” says Byrne, “but he might also have been someone who never had a good time in a honky-tonk.” It’s hard to imagine Byrne in a honky-tonk unaccompanied by a “check this shit out, I’m in a honky-tonk!” kind of attitude. Or maybe not. His ambiguous sensibility is what makes the fun parts fun.

A student of design, some of the passages on the architecture of musical spaces make for the most interesting stuff. He has a few good jabs at the opera houses and even Carnegie Hall, whose acoustics aren’t conducive to rock ’n’ roll: “This acoustic barrier could be viewed as a subtle conspiracy, a sonic wall, a way of keeping the riffraff out.” He favors the populist scenes around the likes of CBGB’s and Le Poisson Rouge (“I go to at least one live performance a week, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. There are other people there. Often there is beer there, too.”)

In a lingering op-ed piece of a chapter, he knocks the moneyed set for “supporting the arts” by preserving antiquated opera houses and museums while scores of aspiring artists and musicians go hungry. His historical tracings of musical gentrification are of note; apparently, people would drink and socialize during operas and shout at the stage, requesting encores of their favorite arias. A similar transformation occurred with jazz, where the relaxed, funky vibe was taken over by tweedy highbrow geezers in Greenwich Village. Out with dancing, in with sitting quietly. “Separating the body from the head seemed to have been an intended consequence—for anything to be serious, you couldn’t be seen shimmying around to it,” he notes.

All this is not to say that he doesn’t have any grievances with pop music. The shimmying going on in the discos of the ’70s wasn’t merely the effect of catchy tunes—“I suspect there was a drug connection as well; those high frequencies in particular sounded sparkly fresh if you were on amyl nitrate or cocaine.” And not every pop song comes off the pen of an Andre 3000 or an Aimee Mann. “In Beyoncé’s song ‘Irreplaceable’ she rhymes ‘minute’ with ‘minute,’ and I cringe every time I hear it,” he concedes.

Byrne notes in the forward that the book can be read in any order, and I may go so far as to say that certain passages can be skipped altogether, sans guilt. One chapter begins with this gem: “The online music magazine Pitchfork once wrote that I would collaborate with anyone for a bag of Doritos.” While I think there’s nothing wrong with amassing collaborations, it gets pretty tedious to list them all; every member of an obscure Latin jam band that he may have played with gets name-checked. He gives an exhaustive account of how songs were written for all of his albums, and anyone who doesn’t know an A-flat from an A need not try to comprehend those passages. A chapter detailing the six major variants of a recording contract is enlightening by way of proving, with thorough charts and figures, that musicians make no money. But it reads like a textbook—and, in many ways, How Music Works kind of is a textbook, backed up with a thorough bibliography and peppered with annotated images. The handsome presentation may cause some hesitation, but it really is a text to read and pick through time and again.

And all this is what you’d expect, and hope for, from the foremost heady apologist of pop music. It’s a must-read for anyone who has ever felt moved by a catchy tune and wanted more. And for those who haven’t, I suppose it’s understandable—it’s hard to shimmy around a room with a stick up your ass.

Follow James Ramsay on Twitter.

A Brief Birthday Celebration of Things David Byrne Has Done (Beyond Talking Heads)

Talking Head and musical pioneer David Byrne turns 60 today. Sixty years is a long time, but it’s safe to say with a resumé as long, extensive and eclectic as his, he’s made pretty fantastic use of it. There’s the funky, new wave explosion of the Talking Heads, propelled by Byrne’s lyrics and unmistakable voice—the band’s been cited as an influence by countless artists and even begat a certain British musical darling courtesy of the song "Radio Head." But the Heads disbanded in 1991 (save for a 2002 reunion), and in that time, Byrne has stayed busy. In honor of his big six-oh, we give you a brief celebratory rundown of some of his more recent enterprises. 

In the twilight years of the Talking Heads, Byrne founded Luaka Bop, one of the world’s most recognizable and respected "world music" labels, which began as a vehicle for releasing a few compilations of Brazilian music. As the label grew, releases included works by some of the most well-traveled artists from all over the globe, including Brazilian Tropicália pioneer Tom Zé, Congolese-Belgian vocal group Zap Mama and tamboura-dropping Britpoppers Cornershop (Remember "Brimful of Asha?" Of course you do.). He produced the killer track below from Jorge Ben: 

Byrne has done a veritable crap-ton of composing for film and television, including works for Season 2 of Big Love. But it was his score with Ryuchi Sakamoto for the Bertolucci flick The Last Emperor that netted an Oscar, and was awesome.  

Ever look at a bike rack and think, “Man, I wish that looked more like a guitar or a dollar sign or the silhouette of a woman?” David Byrne made your dreams come true. Byrne, a bike enthusiast, created a series of whimsical racks (on racks on racks) that appeared around New York, and published his book on cycling, Bicycle Diaries, the following year. He’s also extended his efforts into visual arts with the likes of Arboretum.

In 2010, Byrne released Here Lies Love in collaboration with earworm-master Fatboy Slim. The funky, star-studded concept album tells the story of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines. Last month, it was announced that the Public Theater in New York City would be producing a musical based on the album. Here’s one of its catchier tracks, “American Troglodyte.”

Not only did the 2011 film This Must Be the Place, which stars Sean Penn as an aging, Nazi-hunting rock star, get its title from one of Byrne’s most memorable songs, but he also scored the film and appeared. In this scene, a rather precocious kid covers the titular tune.

And, just because it’s still pretty awesome, a bit of Stop Making Sense:

What David Byrne Can Learn from Paul Simon and P. Diddy

Is it that only the most impressively multi-talented people become famous or that famous people are given opportunities to hone in public talents others spend lifetimes working on in bedrooms, studios, and jail cells? The world may never know, but one thing’s for sure: rock musician, bike advocate, composer, visual artist, and author David Byrne can add a new title to his long, illustrious list—playwright.

The Public Theater has announced that in 2013, the Byrne-penned Here Lies Love, a “wholly immersive spectacle [that] combines disco beats, adrenaline-fueled choreography, and a remarkable 360-degree scenic and video environment,” will have its world premiere. The show will feature lyrics by Byrne, music by the former Talking Head and his pal Fatboy Slim, and will be directed by the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson genius Alex Timbers.

Despite his ability to seemingly do it all and do it all well, Byrne should tread very carefully. After all, celebrities haven’t always had the best of luck transitioning into the theater.

One might look back to 2004, when Sean Combs was still a cultural force and decided that he belonged in a revival of A Raisin in the Sun. Most others didn’t agree with him; "For proof that star quality doesn’t necessarily translate from one business to the next, look no further than the Royale Theater, where Sean Combs, otherwise known as rap mogul and fashion impresario P. Diddy, is giving a sadly inadequate performance at the center of the new Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun," hissed Variety.

Paul Simon’s Broadway foray, The Capeman, lost a reported $11 million in 1998 when it closed after only six performances and became a punchline it took years for the singer to get beyond.

And stage failure isn’t reserved just for the mega-famous. No! In 2010, The Mummy actor Brendan Fraser starred in a strange little play called Elling, meant to give his career a bit of gravitas. Instead it ended up giving him a one-way ticket back out of town. “Mr. Fraser less persuasively inhabits the dopey geniality and unrestrained coarseness of Kjell Bjarne,” the Times wrote of his performance, “despite leaving his mouth agape for long stretches and walking with a shambling, galumphing gait.”

Good luck, Mr. Byrne. You’ll need it. 

Buried Tracks: Talking Heads at CBGB, 1976

The internet’s full of wonderful things, and this discovery that came through the other day is no exception. Most of what comes to mind when people think of classic New York rock venue (now turned John Varvatos boutique) CBGB: Patty Smith, Sex Pistols, Ramones, raw, pissed off punk, etc. But the truth is that CBGB always hosted a wide, wide variety of acts, even when it was going under. Talking Heads was one of those bands. And now, you can take those shows on the road with you, and listen to the audio tracks, for the steep price of free ninety nine.

In the last few years before its demise in October 2006, bands who were exploding in popularity would make a special point of dealing with the still very homespun (read: shitshow) booking operation of CBGB just to make their mark on the epic, classic rock mecca. After all, consider the punk legends who’d blown up there in decades past. One of those bands — who really aren’t a “punk” band by what we think of as the typical measure — was a very young, fresh-faced, weird four-piece who went by the name of Talking Heads. They started playing CBGB in 1976, and people noticed immediately. And now, you can hear the sound of them noticing.

Via Poor Taste, there’re entire collections of great Talking Heads shows available for download here. But the CBGB shows are pretty incredible listens, not just for the quality of the sound and the music being played — the earliest incarnations of Talking Heads songs, with an especially awesome “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” — but for a lot of the background chatter on what people’s very first impressions of the Talking Heads were. Some people are a little freaked out by David Byrne, most are just intensely fascinated. Put both bootlegs on, and run them all the way through. Fair warning, they don’t have the above video’s “Psycho Killer” performance on them, but forget about the singles! Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a young, supercharged, uber-kinetic band who were on the verge, with songs carrying that sound’s essence through and through. This is the best thing you’re going to listen to pretty much all week.