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David Byrne: ‘The US has been ripped in half… again’

Byrne said he enjoyed the “early scene” in New York as a shy youngster surrounded by authors, artists and musicians

Talking Heads legend David Byrne has opened up about the anti-war movement, rebellion and those early days in New York for The Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self

Speaking to Adrian Lobb, the cultural icon revealed that as a young person who liked music, it was almost inevitable he would be involved in the protests of the 1960s and 70s.

Following a tumultuous year in the US, Byrne said he would tell his younger self to be prepared to keep fighting for his country’s “core values”. 

“I marched against the Vietnam War when – as there is now – there’d be tear gas and you dealt with it by wearing a bandana across your face. The country had been – as it is now – ripped in half. To some extent it felt generational,” Byrne said. 

“And there was still – as there is now – a kind of urban versus rural split. You sensed this patriotic core in rural America, but we felt we were being patriotic too. 

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“We were trying to hold the country to its core values when we were being lied to by our government. Again, not dissimilar from now. I would tell my younger self although you may win this battle, you will have to keep doing this over and over and over again.” 

Byrne said he enjoyed the “early scene” in New York as a shy youngster surrounded by authors, artists and musicians, but he had to teach himself about the music business “because these things weren’t taught in schools,” he said. 

“You have to find out for yourself and the stories of musicians being taken advantage of were plentiful. I didn’t want that to happen to us. I remember reading music business books and things like Alice Cooper’s autobiography to educate myself. Maybe I needed [Byrne’s 2012 book] How Music Works.” 

Read more from Byrne, including his thoughts on collaborations with Brian Eno and how his fluid creative process came into being, in this week’s Big Issue, available through our online shop and from your local vendor now

David Byrne’s American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee, is out on VOD services from December 14 and is available on DVD from January 11

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