My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – David Byrne and Brian Eno
A recent pamphlet promoting a series of upcoming Carnegie Hall performances describes David Byrne as “the maverick largely credited with bringing world music to the pop music consciousness.” In the 1970s, when the Talking Heads emerged from the punk womb of CBGB, few would have guessed that four white, art-rock musicians would be remembered as the band who opened the door to world music in America. But, in retrospect, the Talking Heads’ greatest legacy may have been its ability to make world music palatable to a pop audience.
Recorded between 1979 and 1980, though originally released during a brief Talking Heads hiatus in 1981, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is Byrne’s first extracurricular album. A collaboration with Brian Eno, who produced each of the Talking Heads’ records from 1978’s More Songs about Buildings and Food to 1980’s Remain in Light, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is essentially an instrumental collage, which leans on many of the new sounds Byrne discovered as his band embraced a broader range styles in the late 1970s. Expanding on its previous CD release, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts recently found a home on Nonesuch Records, Byrne’s current label, where it now lives (along with a third “side” consisting of demos and outtakes) in a catalogue filled with world music and modern classical recordings.
Since Eno and Byrne were the Talking Heads primary visionaries by the end of the 1970s, one would expect My Life in the Bush of Ghosts to essentially sound like a Talking Heads album fleshed out with a different cast of musicians. And while it finds Byrne and Eno weaving many of the same elements into their fabric — world beat dance music, calypso, avant garde noise and tribal chants — the results are decidedly more experimental, lacking the pop structure that made the Talking Heads’ more esoteric experiments palatable for a mainstream audience. Yet, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is both an adventurous listen and an interesting archival reissue, the not-so-missing link between 1979’s Fear of Music and 1980’s Remain in Light.
Of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ fourteen original tracks, “Help Me Somebody” comes closest to capturing the spirit of Tacking Heads’ big-band era grandeur. A danceable, percussion-based track, it sounds like a lost number from the Remain in Light sessions, only stripped of its vocal and guitar tracks. Similarly, the spacey “The Carrier” finds Byrne and Eno exploring the ambient textures so often associated with the latter’s fingerprint, though traces of more worldly instrumentation seeps through its seams. The album’s final track, the chant “Mountains of Needles,” is perhaps the album’s most fully realized African number, a shining example of the producers’ abilities as vocal arrangers. A heavily rhythmic collection, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts also includes contributions from a number of notable players, including famed dub bassist Bill Laswell and Talking Heads’ drummer Chris Frantz, who help flesh out the Third World percussion this collection helped pioneer in the States. Just as important are My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ electronic currents, which run through both its spacey, almost psychedelic numbers and its tribal jams; an eerie preview of today’s world- influenced dance music.
In hindsight, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a career blueprint which Byrne has followed into the 21st century. Along with its 1981 counterpart, The Catherine Wheel, a collaboration with dancer Twyla Tharp, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts finds Byrne breaking out of rock-star mode, positioning himself as composer/curator rather than a singer/guitarist. Perhaps then, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is best described as an inspired prelude to Byrne’s equally inspired solo career.