He’s one of the most cerebral musicians of the 20th century. Effortlessly pushing the boundaries of genre, David Byrne is a multi-talented artist who is, sadly, mostly remembered for one of the largest suits in rock and roll. He’s so much more than this, though. He’s a true polymath whose creative intent knows no bounds.
Primarily known as the leader of dynamic post-punk pioneers, Talking Heads, Byrne worked alongside Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison to create a syncopated and futuristic blueprint for all rock bands worth their salt moving forwards. Added to this, Talking Heads collaborated with music’s most eminent intellectual, Brian Eno, to bring the colourful rhythms of Fela Kuti and West Africa to the masses.
Outside of Talking Heads, Byrne has worked with a whole host of talented musicians, ranging from St. Vincent to Mitski, and has helped to elevate the work of all those he’s collaborated with. Byrne is one of the rarest types of musicians, in the sense that all of his work is highly influential, a claim that even Bob Dylan cannot make.
Creatively, he’s unmatched, and his artistic fire drives him to evolve and push himself to the limits, augmented by his undoubted authenticity. This is what has really endeared Byrne to fans, and has made him an everpresent hero since he first burst onto the scene in the mid-’70s.
Byrne’s most famous work is ‘Psycho Killer’, the crossover hit that arrived as part of Talking Heads’ debut, Talking Heads: 77, in 1977. The story goes that the group convinced their producer Tony Bongiovi that the original version needed instilling with more power, so they went back to the drawing board. Duly, Weymouth heaped more bass into the song, driving it along as Byrne’s surreal story about the titular serial killer unfolds.
It’s a topic that has always been appealing to Byrne, “When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad,” he said. “Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.”
As they say, what goes around comes around, and one day as a young man, Byrne’s obsession with fictional killers would greet him face to face. During a Q&A with WIRED in February 2022, he recounted a story of when he was mistaken for one of the most iconic fictional serial killers of all time, Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates, the antagonist in the book Psycho, and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film of the same name.
Byrne explained: “One time, at New Orleans Jazz Fest when I was younger, I was in line getting some Gumbo or something like that and a young man came up to me and said: ‘I know who you, I know who you are. You’re Norman Bates!’ and I thought, ‘Not only does he think I’m a fictional character, but it’s a psycho killer’. Well, there’s not much more I could say about that.”
One of the strangest occurrences that we’ve heard of in music, we’re sure that David Byrne has a wealth of other bizarre vignettes to share. As for the man who mistook him for Norman Bates, we can only wonder what he’s up to now.
Listen to ‘Psycho Killer’ below.