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How Music Works

David Byrne

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Oct. 5, 2012

Phases & Stages

How Music Works

by David Byrne
McSweeney's Books, 352 pp., $32

While not his "aging rocker's bio," David Byrne's third book, How Music Works, might be as close to an autobiography as we're likely to get from the Scottish-born co-founder of Talking Heads. That's unfortunate because descriptions/illustrations of CBGB, plus the creative process behind Heads songs and innovative tour staging – not to mention his work with Brian Eno – are the most engaging parts of what he has to say. The rest is an opinionated history and sociological treatise on the forms music takes and the industry surrounding it. Byrne gets wonky when talking about business and "How to Make a Scene," while final chapter "Harmonia Mundi" delves into where music came from and its effect on culture, from the Greeks to Marshall McLuhan. That's weighty stuff bogging down Byrne's rather informal prose. In some instances, it makes for memorable witticisms about how music does or doesn't work: "We don't make music – it makes us. Which is maybe the point of this whole book." That's How Music Works in a nutshell: David Byrne manages to balance the substantial in a manner so lightweight it almost floats away.

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