David Byrne Turns His Acclaimed Musical American Utopia into a Picture-Book for Grown-Ups, with Vivid Illustrations by Maira Kalman


Whatever your emotions concerning the sentimental, lighthearted 1960 Disney movie Pollyanna, or the 1913 novel on which it’s primarily based, it’s honest to mention that historical past has pronounced its personal judgment, turning the title Pollyanna into a slur in opposition to over the top optimism, an epithet reserved for adults who show the guileless, out-of-touch naïveté of kids. Pitted in opposition to Pollyanna’s effervescence is Aunt Polly, too stuck up in her grown-up issues to acknowledge, till it’s virtually too past due, that possibly it’s ok to be at liberty.

Maybe all of us must be a little like sensible Aunt Polly, however can we even have a position for Pollyannas? Can that now not even be the function of the fashionable artist? David Byrne hasn’t been ready for permission to unfold pleasure in his past due profession. Contra the average knowledge of maximum adults, a couple years again Byrne started to collect certain information tales below the heading Reasons to Be Cheerfulnow an online magazine.

Then, Byrne had the audacity to name a 2018 album, excursion, and Broadway show American Utopia, and the gall to have Spike Lee direct a concert film with the similar name, and unencumber it smack in the midst of 2020, a 12 months all folks might be satisfied to look in hindsight. Byrne’s two-year enterprise may also be noticed as his solution to “American Carnage,” the awful word that started the Trump generation.

As if all that weren’t sufficient, American Utopia is now an “impressionistic, sweetly illustrated adult picture book,” as Lily Meyer writes at NPR, “a soothing and uplifting, if reasonably nebulous, enjoy of artwork.” Working with artist Maira Kalman, Byrne has grew to become his conceptual musical into one thing like a “book-length poem… crammed with captivating illustrations of bushes, dancers, and party-hatted canines.”

Byrne’s challenge isn’t naive, Maria Popova argues at Brain Pickings, it’s Whitmanesque, a salvo of irrepressible optimism in opposition to “a more or less pessimistic ahistorical amnesia” during which we “pass judgement on the deficiencies of the current with out the lengthy victory ledger of previous and fall into melancholy.” American Utopia doesn’t articulate this such a lot as carry out it, both with naked toes and grey fits onstage or the vivid colors of Kalman’s drawings, “calmly at odds,” Meyer notes, “with Byrne’s phrases, remodeling their simple optimism into a extra nuanced attraction.”

American Utopia the book, just like the musical earlier than it, was once written and drawn earlier than the pandemic. Do Byrne and Kalman nonetheless have causes to be cheerful post-COVID? Just final week, they sat down with Isaac Fitzgerald for Live Talks LA to talk about it. You can see the entire, hour-long dialog simply above. Kalman confesses she’s nonetheless in “quiet surprise,” however reveals hope in ancient point of view and “improbable other folks available in the market doing implausible issues.”

Byrne takes us on one among his interesting investigations into the historical past of idea, referencing a theorist named Aby Warburg who saw in the sum total of art a kind “animated life” that connects us, previous, provide, and long run, and who reminded him, “Yes, there are different ways of fascinated by issues!” Perhaps the visionary and the Pollyannaish don’t need to be up to now aside. See a number of extra of Kalman and Byrne’s superbly positive pages from American Utopia, the book, at Brain Pickings.

Related Content:  

David Byrne’s American Utopia: A Sneak Preview of Spike Lee’s New Concert Film

David Byrne Launches Reasons to Be Cheerful, an Online Magazine Featuring Articles by Byrne, Brian Eno & More

David Byrne Curates a Playlist of Great Protest Songs Written Over the Past 60 Years: Stream Them Online

Watch Life-Affirming Performances from David Byrne’s New Broadway Musical American Utopia

Josh Jones is a creator and musician primarily based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here