The Talking Heads collaborate on a t-shirt line with Paul Smith and the PR magic of fashion makes it so I’m there for the launch, at the Paul Smith flagship store on 5th avenue in David Byrne’s presence.
He’s there behind the counter, an auratic white fox in a blue and green tartan blazer (Paul Smith). What do I ask him?
I ask him what I should ask him. I’m assigned to write about your t-shirt collaboration, which looks great. What do you think I should write about it? Byrne replies that he loved that when he received the mock-ups for the t-shirts, they didn’t have big logos and advertising. They were subtle.
The t-shirts were put together by Sir Paul Smith who mostly designs menswear but also menswear-infused womenswear and who has a dedicated legion of customers–dapper gentlemen with both a sense of humor and history and/or, as one guy at the launch explains himself to me, “aging hipsters who care what they look like and have some money.”
In designing the shirts, Paul Smith was given very rare access to David Byrne’s extensive Talking Heads archive in New York. In four tees, Smith sought to cover the breadth of the archive. What made it in? The album cover from Remain in Light (1980), created by band members Chris and Tina. The single cover from “Road to Nowhere.” A sketch of David Byrne’s famous big suit which was inspired by the Kabuki theatre kimonos he saw during the band’s tours in Japan. And gig passes from each tour arranged like stickers on an amp.
I ask David Byrne how his book is doing. How Music Works is the ambitious bestseller he published this fall with the marvelous McSweeney’s which blurbs it as, “a brainy, irresistible adventure and an impassioned argument about music’s liberating, life-affirming power.” The book has sold out at the Paul Smith launch, he tells me. I harmonize: I work in a bookstore, people love it; three months out and it’s still a bestseller.
David Byrne also has a record out this year with the lovely Annie Clark of St. Vincent. It’s called Love This Giant. They’ve been touring. Check it out.
Chatting with Byrne, what I’m hearing in my head is, “How did I get here? How do I work this? This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.”
How did I get here? Behind me, two of the most adorable Byrne fans, someday-maybe-aging-hipsters, now just indefinably cute, definitely not Paul Smith inductees yet, are drinking beers and nervously discussing how best to approach the icon. I step aside for them.
How do I work this? What I wanted to say is this: Hey David Byrne, I think you’re awesome and I don’t want to just write some schlock rehash of the t-shirt press release. Your last solo record was one of the last significant records of my first significant relationship. My most musically devout musician friend reveres you ceaselessly and, since I’m tone and pitch and whatever else deaf, I’ll take his word that your compositions are the best. The Talking Heads made anthems. A decades-relevant pop song is one of the most powerful things one can produce. You’ve made many. As far as collaborations go, you pick great. Paul Smith is amazing. We Bullett-ites loves his design ethic, and he seems like he’d be a cool guy to talk about stuff with. I hope you make some dough off your t-shirts because, Anna knows, the fashion industry has a surplus while music sales are less than they should be. It’s seems like a fair redistribution of cultural wealth.
There’s a movie in theaters right now called This Must Be the Place, titled after the Talking Heads song by the same name, which is covered beautifully throughout. Set in a near-reality of the near-past (Sarah Palin’s waving in red on the TV), the movie stars Sean Penn as Cheyenne, an Ozzie Osborne/Klaus Nomi-looking retired glam/goth/New Wave musician. David Byrne cameos as himself (yes, the man is in print, on film, in vinyl and MP3, on tour, and on t-shirts this year). Byrne is there at Cheyenne’s revealing moment of crisis. He somewhat incites it. Promise, no spoilers, because really you must see it but, as Cheyenne breaks down, here’s what he says (paraphrased): David, you have precise vision that you turn into reality. You’re an artist, David Byrne. In your own right.
Paul Smith’s Talking Heads t-shirts will initially be sold exclusively in Paul Smith shops and on the Paul Smith website.