Deirdre O'Callaghan The National has just announced the followup to 2010's…
- Posted on Feb 28th 2013 12:40PM by Cameron Matthews
And you couldn't have chosen two more physically opposite people to sit next to each other. Questlove entered the spotlight looking as formidable as ever, while his white-haired counterpart exuded a grandfatherly demeanor.
Moderator Jeremy McCarter started off the night with a simple prompt: How does music affect our lives? The Roots' drummer responded by mentioning his class at NYU, "Classic Albums," the idea for which began after reading an NPR blog about Public Enemy.
Young interns at the public radio site were tasked with writing reviews of classic albums that they've never heard before. Much to Questlove's chagrin, the reviewer Austin Cooper did not enjoy Public Enemy's landmark work It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
Quest said he was ready to tear the young whippersnapper a new one in the comments section, but just as he was about to press "send" he said to himself, "It's not his fault, it's my fault" that this kid knew nothing about Public Enemy's importance. He has since developed a class around a "required canon."
Byrne echoed his onstage counterpart's sentiments, but went out to say, "Listening to quality music will make you a better person," though he admits finding out what good music actually is took some time. The thinking that you'll be "a better person for liking Mozart over pop music" is "complete bullshit," he told the audience.
The Roots drummer admitted that he was worried about sharing his love of rap with his father, a classically trained musician. In fact, Questlove admits that he neglected to tell his dad about the band signing with DGC: "Eventually I had to tell him where all my new sneakers were coming from."
McCarter then led his guests through a discussion of then and now in the music business. Questlove took the lead while Byrne was content to sit quietly and listen. The 42-year-old musician confessed that the worst thing to happen to hip-hop is the "winner-take-all mentality." The genre was a result of the "velvet rope" culture perpetuated by Studio 54 in the 1970s. Within the past decade, "hip-hop turned its back on the worker."
At this point, Questlove became aware that he had been dominating most of the conversation. But it didn't seem like Byrne minded at all. The drummer asked the "Stop Making Sense" creator about life back in 1977 and how different the business used to be.
"We used to do showcases," he said. "An unsigned band with original material was unheard of back then." While the Talking Heads were integral to the New York-based New Wave movement, Questlove chimed in about his own movement, when the Roots started out.
After four critically acclaimed records, the hip-hop crew felt that they needed to make a calculated step forward. They urged their label to buy Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def and other performers out of their separate contracts, bringing them under one roof.
"You know ... it didn't hurt to be lumped together," Byrne said, looking back at his New Wave peers.
The conversation meandered from there through music history. At one point, it seemed as though Questlove was just asking for advice from an elder genius. The drummer marveled at the tedious ingenuity behind Byrne and Brian Eno's 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as a proto hip-hop record. The singer responded graciously, but offered almost no insight on the groundbreaking record.
When it came time for questions from the audience, a teacher from Brooklyn asked Questlove, "What would you tell my kids if you could?" "Start young," he said, reiterating that musical education is extremely important. Byrne added that music helps kids with their mental dexterity and relationships. You don't need to become a musical savant in order to benefit from learning an instrument.
Quest went on to say that experiencing adult music as a child is an important part of shaping their future selves. "Fishbone's true calling was to be a kids' band," he said, inciting laughs from the audience. "No, I'm serious!" he replied, saying that the Los Angeles group he begun performing for children.
The drummer says he has urged a "certain famous couple's daughter" to start listening to music in her infancy.
"If I have my way, Blue Ivy Carter will know Captain Beefhart and Frank Zappa by the time she's 6," he said. Though it would've been nice to hear Byrne speak a bit more about his career, it was equally fascinating to see these two monoliths of separate generations and genres share their philosophies.
Byrne's book How Music Works is available now through McSweeny's. Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson announced just yesterday that he will release a memoir entitled Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove this coming June.