“I worked on American Utopia while collecting a lot of Reasons To Be Cheerful material, and I have a feeling this material informs this set of songs. Many of us, I suspect, are not satisfied with the world we have made for ourselves. We look around and we ask ourselves—well does it have to be like this? Is there another way? These songs are about that looking and that asking.” -David Byrne
“These songs don’t describe this imaginary and possibly impossible place, but rather they attempt to describe the world we live in now—and that world, when we look at it, as we live in it, as it impacts on us—immediately commands us to ask ourselves- is there another way? A better way? A different way?
This group of songs is indirectly about those questions. And what drives us to ask those questions. The songs are sincere—the title is not ironic. The title is not so much about a utopia, as it is about our longing, frustration, aspirations, fears, hopes regarding what could be, what is possible. How and what could we be. Surely, we ask ourselves, it doesn’t have to be like this. There is a longing for the possibility— and I have a feeling that is what these songs touch on.
America—or to be correct the United States—was founded as a Utopian Experiment. Though it never did succeed in all its aims enough were realized in the brief history to give hope to many. Now it seems we are seeing that hope, those possibilities, be withdrawn. The project seems on the verge of complete and utter failure. So, naturally, we all now ask ourselves—was it too much to ask? Are we wrong about how humans can be? Is there another way? Can we start over?
I am as mystified as any of us—I have no prescriptions or sure-fire answers—but I sense that I am not the only one asking, wondering and still willing to hold on to some tiny bit of hope, still willing to not succumb entirely to despair or cynicism. It’s not easy, but music helps.
American Utopia fits hand-in-hand with Byrne’s vision for his series “Reasons To Be Cheerful,” named for the song by the late Ian Dury. Over the last year, Byrne has been collecting stories, news, ideas, and other items that all either embody or identify examples of things that inspire optimism, such as a tech breakthrough, a musical act, a new idea in urban planning or transportation—something seen, heard, or tasted. Just as the album questions the current state of society while offering solace through song, the content of the series recognizes the darkness and complexity of today while showcasing alternatives to the despair that threatens us.
Copyright 2018 David Byrne