I’m reading David Byrne’s new book, called How Music Works. I love music, I love the Talking Heads, and I love McSweeney’s (they published it), so I thought this book was right up my alley.
I enjoyed the first chapter, and was trucking through the second, where Byrne talks about his inspiration for music. It’s very biographical, even though in the preface it claimed the book would not be about Byrne himself or his music. Then Byrne starts getting into how he was inspired by other cultures and how much he learned from others, which was fine until the last paragraph on this page:
I may well be idealizing some of what I saw and witnessed, taking aspects of what I perceived and adapting them to solve and deal with my own issues and creative bottlenecks. Somehow I have a feeling that might be okay.
So, in short: white guy flits around the world ~*~*learning*~*~ from other cultures, writes book about how deep they are, openly admits to romanticizing what they’re about for his own personal gain and then says, “Somehow, I have a feeling that might be okay”?!!! I read this passage like 15 times hoping I’d misread it, asking myself if I was reading into it too much. But no. This is pretty much cultural appropriation in a nutshell. I can’t decide if it’s worse to appropriate other cultures without realizing what you’re doing, or to realize what you’re doing and then give yourself a pass on it, saying you think it “might be okay”.
I was so excited about this book, and now I’m so disappointed. I’m finding it really hard to stick with it after this. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that David Byrne is another self-aggrandizing white dude asshole rock star but I really thought he was better than that.
Who the hell are you to say that a guy can’t enjoy other cultures and be moved by them, to the point that he wants to experience those cultures himself. People have been doing this since the beginning of time, creatively and for other more sinister purposes
And even still, what did you think he was doing his ENTIRE CAREER? People like him, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Sting, In fact, almost every pop superstar in the 80’s borrowed in some way from other cultures (the things that spring to mind are the latin and african rhythms)
Or should we go back even further? Maybe when Rock and Roll was introduced? Or Jazz? We can even look forward today with Rap. All these things have been “taken” by white people. Why?
Cause the music moves them in some sort of emotional way that breaks the confines of race and “what you should listen to”
And it’s that cross pollination of cultures that keeps the world creative and thriving.
I’m not saying David Byrne doesn’t have a right to enjoy other cultures and be moved by them. He does. That’s not what he said though. He said he may have idealized and adapted what he saw there in order to fit what he needed from those trips.
Cross-pollination is one thing - that connotes collaboration and mutualism. Going to another culture and interpreting what they do to get over your “own issues and creative bottlenecks” is a form of exploitation. Just because people have been doing this for centuries and that it is societally acceptable by modern American standards doesn’t mean it’s ok.