FEATURE: Reasons to Be Cheerful: 2018 and the Need for Optimism (The David Byrne Philosophy)



Reasons to Be Cheerful



2018 and the Need for Optimism (The David Byrne Philosophy)


HOW many of us…



during the course of an average day are genuinely optimistic and hopeful - and easily block all the bad news out? I guess, historically, humanity has had its ups and downs – people facing conflict and struggle – but it seems, with every passing year; we are becoming more insular and depressed. Maybe it is the population rise and the fact the world is becoming more compact; the way we immerse ourselves in technology – and forsake a certain humanity and physicality – or, perhaps, it is the way the world is unfolding and breaking up. Two days ago, in London; Talking Heads’ leader, David Byrne, delivered a talk about positivity and the need to be cheerful. It was at The Roundhouse - and, as they described it, was: 

It may seem like there isn’t a whole lot to be positive about in 2018, but amidst all the chaos there’s hope. David Byrne believes there are actually a lot of encouraging things going on around the world—they’ve given him hope and inspired a new record, and he’d like to share them with you. He’ll be presenting them live, by way of a talk and visual presentation”.

I heard Byrne talk to Lauren Laverne – got myself a rap going on! – about that night (yesterday) and he was in fine fettle! He discussed his upcoming music and how, in everyday life, we are fed negative images and anxious news.

Byrne’s Reasons to Be Cheerful looks at various sectors of society and accentuates the positives: why there is hope and great developments we should be excited about. Influenced by the Ian Dury song of the same name; there is lots of good out there not being reported – we do all have some reasons to be positive! I shall come to my own experience soon enough, and why I feel music needs to adopt a sunnier attitude, but, if you think about the news stories that fill the smallest columns: how often do we see those positive and redemptive tales?! David Byrne’s talk/seminar is one part of an ongoing output that focuses on hope and a genuine utopia – a rubric formation that is, to me, the tetracycline of the modern age: eradicating ills and curing a numbing way of life. He is gearing up to release the album, American Utopia, and will produce playlists and videos – all focused on that theme of cheerfulness and reasons to look up. His album is out on 9th March and, ahead of that, we have been treated to the single, Everybody’s Coming to My House. Other titles on the album have a (...I think) positive bent: Every Day Is a Miracle and Doing the Right Thing are among them.

I imagine, given the title, there is going to be an attack against Donald Trump and how the people can create a better America. Perhaps some irony will be in there: how President Trump is forging American in his own vision; his idea of a ‘utopia’. I expect a lot of positive messages a new direction: castigating the negativity in the world and focusing on better realms. Field Music has done that with their single, Count it Up – a song that asks people to count themselves lucky if they find fortune and small victories here and there. Byrne, himself, asked how many of us wake up, read the paper and feel lifted. He is depressed half the day: most of us will share a similar sense of fatigue. In the ‘Civil Engagement’ segment of his site; there are hopeful and breakthrough developments; ‘Health’ looks at, among other things, ending the drugs war in Vancouver; there are articles about street-closure and bike-sharing schemes – urban developments and transportation schemes. The cultural section shines a light on the 'AfroReggae' initiative: it offers an alternative to Brazil’s youth; many engaged in crime and a nefarious lifestyle. Finding the joy in life can be like dancing to an imaginary beat. We hear a lot of propaganda, ‘fake news’ and lies spread on social media; our papers and T.V. is filled with negativity and doom – where do we go to get our fix of uplift?!



David Byrne’s concept draws in news from around the world; projecting hopeful messages through music – ensuring a note of positivity is injected into us. I feel music can play a big role regards that. In terms of lyrical themes; there are very few tracks overly hopeful and expressive. Some provide sonic light but, when you study the lyrics; they hint at something quite dark and strained. It is commercially risky moving away from the established and trusted and penning something that gives the listener something more nourishing. One of the reasons I look back at music – rather than stay with newer songs – is the way it makes me feel. Maybe some of that is to do with a remembrance of good times: to me, it is something in the production, sensation and lyrics. We have plenty of happy songs in modern music - but there is more reliance on introversion and personal struggle. Maybe it is hard to put all the good news/development in the world into music: ensuring sounds have a more positive tone can make a big difference to everyone. Music, in general, is a fantastic way of lifting the mood and changing lives. David Byrne’s need to redress the negative-positive balance should be a guide for all of us. Whether you feel the type of themes explored in modern music are okay as they are – you cannot argue there is more unhappiness and negativities than there needs to be.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Perhaps that is a natural reflection of modern life and the information we digest...that all needs to change. We cannot avoid the realities and stark truths the news projects. It is a hard and bleak time but, among all of that, there are avenues of wonder and reasons to be cheerful. One of the ways to get out of a collective funk is to take a different approach and integrate more light into life. Music is that ever-powerful tool that can enrich and elevate a human to new heights. The fact so few artists are harnessing its positives and potential is worrying. Maybe other artists need to take a leaf from the likes of David Byrne and Field Music: write more about what we should be thankful for; some of the carefree, inspiring aspects of the world. I am excited seeing how Byrne’s idea unfolds and evolves. He has already delivered a talk and a website; there is an album due and news will surface – can he keep it running and compel other artists? I think his positive and motivated stance is a breath of fresh air we all need right now. An article in Elite Daily (last year) highlighted another benefit of music:

"Recent research conducted by Signy Sheldon and Julia Donahue of McGill University in Canada proved that when people listen to happy, upbeat music (instead of emotionally scary or sad music), they can recall happy memories within a shorter amount of time.

In the experiment, the researchers had participants listen to four different genres of original music they had never heard before: happy (positive, high arousal), peaceful (positive, low arousal), scary (negative, high arousal) and sad (negative, low arousal).

After listening to the piece of music, they had 30 seconds to think of a memory that personally involved them, that had a specific time and place and that didn't last for longer than a day".


IN THIS PHOTO: David Byrne/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

There are numerous reasons why music can help: there are clear reasons why artists should incorporate more uplift and joy into their music. It does not have to be a Polyphonic Spree spew of glee: a few songs that highlight life’s treasures and good sides would make the music world lifted and more hopeful – and impact the listener directly. At the very least; David Byrne’s one-man crusade against negative deserves acolytes and huge support. Few go out their way to turn all the bad into something positive. Adopting a new attitude, even briefly, can make a big difference. I am pleased Byrne is leading a charge and getting us all to think in brighter terms. As you go about your day – as a musician or fan – think about the good around you and fighting off the negativity. That can be hard to do but, by focusing on those oft-overlooked glimmers of light; it means the happiness levels rise and the anxiety levels drop. This something, in a world where the news headlines are often grim, that will…



BENEFIT us all.