Wednesday, December 13, 2006

David Byrne, neurological theorist

The latest Richard Powers novel, "The Echo Maker," which just nabbed a National Book Award, has a scene in a noisy bar with two characters, Gerald Weber, a neuroscientist and author, and Barbara Gillespie, a hospital aide.

"She leaned across the table and shouted into his ear, " 'You may ask yourself, how did I get here?' "
"How's that?"
She looked at him, checking if he was serious. "Nothing. Talkin' bout my generation." (Page 322).

The reference is to a particularly brilliant Talking Heads song, "Once in a Lifetime," about the shock of looking at the world with new eyes, pretty much the theme of Powers' book. The song has lines like "How did I get here?" and "How did I get this beautiful wife?" Gillespie is a woman in her 40s, mysteriously well-read and well-informed for an ordinary hospital aide. No doubt she remembers the cool video on MTV. Of course, her comment also references the famous Who song, "My Generation."

Powers is a classical music expert but references to rock music don't pop up often in his works, so I wondered if the exchange in the book came from a real-life exchange he had with someone.

The modern classical music connection (you knew there would be one, didn't you?) is that Powers teaches writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also the home of a talented composer named Stephen Andrew Taylor (tantalizing sound samples from "Seven Memorials" here, but no CD yet).

Taylor says he hopes "to be collaborating with him [Powers] on a
quasi-operatic project sometime this year."

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