“American Utopia” Reminded Me Of Everything
[What follows came straight from the heart. Upon sitting down on the train, I started writing on my phone and I didn’t stop. With that said, I apologize about how unpolished this is. In true Coze fashion, I just had to shoot from the hip and get it out into the universe. Enjoy. Or at least pretend to. Or do whatever.]
It was a Wednesday. I remember because it was sunny out. But it was dark in the dining room as I pondered the decision I was about to make. It was a formidably temperatured Summer day in 2005. I had just graduated high school and was faced with a conundrum. I had spent the last few years “out of my shell”. I became the abrasive, goofy party animal that won the hearts and minds of my peers. But something felt off. I realize now why it didn’t seem right. It wasn’t me. My actual self, my wry and mild mannered self, was held captive. It was time for him to get his voice back. It was that afternoon that I decided to listen to Talking Heads.
I could’ve took the easy route. I could’ve stayed at home and went to SVSU or god forbid Delta College. I could’ve took the logical route and went to Central Michigan, where my girlfriend was attending. But I knew what my heart wanted. Or at least I thought I did. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to scare myself. I wanted to grow. And in order to do that, I had to get rid of my wires and safety net. David Byrne and his band were the scissors that cut me loose and out into the world.
I knew I had to start at the first album. Within one verse of [Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town], I knew it was something unlike anything I had ever heard. Here was a voice that was confident yet scared. It was sincere yet sarcastic. It was pompous and unsure. His voice was the one thing that was close enough to the one in my own head. The whole album went through so many things that I was already feeling. David shouted about his disdain for becoming a nameless numberhead man [Don’t Worry About The Government], his introverted nature disguised as selfishness [Tentative Decisions], his paranoia [Who Is It], and his affinity to break down everything into the simplest terms [The Book I Read]. It felt like the anthem to my brain, as I set out to be uncomfortable and scared shitless.
The following summer was nothing short of tumultuous. I was living in disarray, sleeping in the daytime, working at nighttime, never getting home and about to embark on my first breakup. All awhile, the “Remain In Light” album was in heavy rotation. It guided me through all of the anger [Born Under Punches] and confusion [essentially the rest of the fucking album] that went with all of it. Looking back, it probably perpetrated the bad vibes. I’m not faulting anybody but myself. And when it was all said and done, I was for the first time totally alone. And David helped me pick up the pieces.
He essentially held my hand as I grew up. He helped me think about my future, whether good [Wild, Wild Life], bad [Life During Wartime] or boring [Heaven]. He helped me come to terms with the growing digital age [Love For Sale] and the looming apocalypse [(Nothing But) Flowers]. He helped me decide where I wanted to live [Cities] or didn’t [The Big Country] and led me through some scary drug experiences [Electricity]. He was there every time I fell in [This Must Be The Place] and out [I’m Not In Love] of love. I dealt with grief [Everything That Happens Will Happen Today] and unbridled joy [Burning Down The House]. Through all the twists and turns, I became the guy I am today and I did so with a musical accompaniment.
I had the opportunity to see him live at Bonnaroo ’09. Through some really bad fortune, his set was scheduled at the same time as the Beastie Boys. I chose the latter. In all honesty, I’m glad that I did. Adam Yauch died a short 3 years later. Hindsight was in my favor for once. And little did I know, I would soon have the opportunity to see David again. Less than a year later, I made a senseless leap of faith and moved to New York. It was the same story all over again. I was ready to be lost, confused and find myself again. After 2 weeks of hitting the ground running, I landed a cashier job at a small grocery store in Manhattan. And who was there to greet me on my very first day as my very first customer? David Byrne.
But, no, really. It was him. Like, the actual person.
My jaw hit the floor. I didn’t know what to say to him. None of it felt real. On one of the biggest and most frightening days of my life, I was face to face with the man that guided me through the dark. I never figured out what to say. He must’ve came to my register a good 30-40 times and I never had the guts to tell him how much he meant to me. It was always quick pleasantries and then he would be on his merry way. But just being in his presence was an addictive feeling. It was a reason to go in every day. That, and money. I really needed the money. I can’t stress enough how important that money was. But in the end, he had no idea. The last time he came in, I was stuck in Game Show Host Mode, in a manic flurry that usually happened when I got excited and overtly comfortable. For the life of me, I’ll never remember what kind of nonsense came out of my mouth, but I was clearly interrupting his conversation and he was not pleased. I don’t have many regrets. This was one of them.
Time passed, seasons changed, ad infinitum. I met a girl, fell in love, we started a life together, you know that whole story. I occasionally tried introduce Rachel to Talking Heads. She didn’t hate it, which was a plus, but I don’t think I was ever able to express how it changed me. This whole piece might be news to her. Regardless, when I found out that David was doing a Broadway show, I was more than intrigued. Finally, an opportunity to see the show I meant to see 10 years ago. And my sister was gracious enough to buy me the ticket that I couldn’t afford. Just like she did 10 years ago.
The production of American Utopia was a whole lot of personal reminders. He reminded me that we should all be striving to change at all times [One Fine Day], which is a sentiment that he’s always been inherently saying to me. He reminded me how much I enjoy looking at people. In his words, it’s more interesting than looking at “a bicycle, a beautiful sunset or a bag of chips”. He reminded me of my affinity towards the symmetrical nonsense of Dadaism [I Zimbra] and the habitual ridiculousness of television [I Should Watch TV]. But what felt most striking is the reminder that inside, he is a petrified introvert like me [Everyone’s Coming To My House]. It made me think that maybe, just maybe, in our casual conversations, he was just as anxious as me. The show also reminded me why I dance the way I do. All of the choreography could be described as fancy walking. Everyone performed well thought out minimalist movements. It all felt appropriate and familiar. It made me realize how his 1984 concert film, “Stop Making Sense”, taught me how to dance in a club setting. It definitely wasn’t the right way, but I did it anyway. Or at least that’s what I was aiming to do. There were no mirrors in the Drink Ultralounge and for good reason.
As a whole, American Utopia is just a David Byrne concert. But it felt necessary to be in a small theater, so we could all see the painstaking attention of detail that goes into the movement, rhythm and light patterns. There are no set pieces, nor is there a story. Actually, that’s wrong. There is a story. It’s the one I just told and the thousands of others that were being written simultaneously. Simply stated, American Utopia is an intimate trip into David Byrne’s brain. And I had never felt more at home.