David Byrne has done it all. In 1986, on the cover of the illustrious Time magazine, he was hailed as ‘Rock’s Renaissance Man: Singer, Composer, Lyricist, Guitarist, Film Director, Writer, Actor, Video Artist, Designer, Photographer’. This incredibly high praise from the highest echelon of organised society was not unfounded.
In addition to his genre-bending and pioneering work with New York post-punk outfit Talking Heads, the 68-year-old has made an indelible imprint on popular culture. Since the band’s final album in 1988, the cerebral and often confounding artist has been busy. Since he has released six solo albums, recorded with Brian Eno, St Vincent, Arcade Fire and De La Soul, scored movies, plays and TV shows.
He did not stop there, either. Byrne has certainly lived up to the question he once asked, “You’ve got an idea? You’ve got something you want to try? Why not?”. He’s won an Oscar, founded the Luaka Bop label, started an online radio station, and composed an operetta with Fatboy Slim about the corrupt former Filipino First Lady, Imelda Marcos. In 2018, Byrne explained the ethos behind his rotating career, telling the Guardian that it’s “better to keep the creative muscles moving rather than sitting and waiting for the great stuff to arrive.”
It is understandable then that Byrne‘s career has earned him all the plaudits. He has come to be known as somewhat of the in-house mad-scientist of music, alongside collaborator Brian Eno. For instance, in 2008, he launched the Playing the Building installation, which involved him turning a New York ferry terminal into a giant organ. Of course, the dense compendium that is his career has been topped by a guest appearance on The Simpsons.
Given what we have just discussed, there can be no debating Byrne’s intellectual capacity, and in 2018, he treated lucky viewers to something they needed. Byrne returned to London’s iconic Roundhouse venue, the venue where Talking Heads had played in support of the Ramones in 1977. However, this time he was not playing visceral music to a sweaty room of punks. He was, in fact, delivering a PowerPoint lecture. In the venue’s room, the Sackler Space, Byrne presented his latest brainchild, “Reasons to be Cheerful“.
Byrne had thought up the idea two years prior, in 2016. If we cast our mind’s back, that year was a critical juncture for the world. Trump was on his way to the White House, Brexit happened, a host of iconic musicians including David Bowie passed on, and thus it became the gloomiest year since 2001. Consequently, Byrne wanted to do his bit to alleviate the burden.
He set about collecting stories of positive change from around the world. These were not anything grand, but the humble, grassroots innovations that have a tangible effect on local communities. By all accounts, Byrne looked quite the part of a “dapper academic” and proceeded to click through his work. This included “carbon-neutral urban planning in Sweden, high-speed bus lanes in South America, an anti-corruption game show in Africa.”
The five main reasons Byrne outlined to be cheerful will be sure to make a positive impact on your day.
David Byrne’s 5 reasons to be cheerful:
1. Healing the divide
“Georgetown is one of Texas’s most conservative suburbs, but gets all its electricity from renewable sources. Its mayor, Dale Ross, a Republican in what is considered oil country, made a decision in 2015. He ignored party orthodoxy and did what was best for his constituents. That folks can think rationally and ignore partisan dogmas, on both sides, is hugely encouraging.”
2. Norway prison reform
“Most countries’ prison systems are failures – the rate of recidivism is abysmal. But Norway seems to have figured out a successful solution. Their incarceration rate is 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 707 per 100,000 in the US. The crime rate is lower, but part of the reason it’s lower is because they focus on genuine reform, not just punishment. The rate at which inmates end up back in prison is 20% in Norway, versus 76.6% in the US. At Halden Prison there are no bars on the windows, they have full kitchens (knives included) and lots of job and vocational training. There’s even a recording studio. So whatever they’re doing, it’s working.”
3. Bike sharing has conquered the world
“Not only does it feel good to ride, but cycling relieves automobile congestion, it’s good for business, it doesn’t pollute, it’s healthy and it expands the mental maps of residents… and I’ve found it’s often the fastest way to get around. Cities all over the world have adopted similar systems to the French Vélib system, and now some Chinese companies are introducing stationless systems.”
4. Knock-on effects of culture
“We in the arts and humanities often complain that our work is undervalued, at least in terms of being beneficial to society compared to the Stem disciplines. Finally we have some proof, and the effects are somewhat unexpected. A recent study by the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania showed that when libraries and other cultural institutions are placed in the boroughs around New York, there are surprising knock-on effects:
- a. The kids’ test scores go up
- b. Spousal abuse goes down
- c. Obesity goes down
- d. The crime rate goes down
“Things that might seem to be unrelated are actually connected. To lower crime, maybe we don’t need more prisons or stiffer sentencing; part of the solution might be to build a library.”
5. Successfully dealing with drug addiction
“Fifteen years ago Portugal had a drug problem. Rather than declare a ‘war on drugs’ as the US and other places did, they took a bold and radical step, and it was hugely successful. Here’s what they did. They decriminalised all drugs and began a major health campaign. They viewed drug use and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Last year there were 64,000 overdose deaths in the US. Among Portuguese adults there were only 30 drug- overdose deaths – which is 1/50th of the US overdose rate. Looks like they won the war on drugs by not joining it.”
If these five excerpts from the world of good news aren’t enough, be sure to head to reasonstobecheerful.world to find more nuggets of gold to sate your thirst.