Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Small talk with David Byrne

The Lovely Bride and I (along with 47 others) had dinner with David Byrne at Canlis. Let me explain what that means and how that happened. Yes, there will be copious links to help out.

As the kids today say: Pics or it did not happen.
David Byrne was the lead singer/songwriter for Talking Heads, a new wave band of the late seventies and eighties. And while I was a fan of the Talking Heads, I really particularly loved his music from Knee Plays, of which the Lovely Bride had a copy. We are not sure where the cassette came from, but we think it came from a mutual friend who was into such things as Brian Eno, Jon Anderson, and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Suffice to say, we had the album on an old tape cassette and I knew most of the lines by heart; the music was New Orleans brass band backing up the simple and quirky wordplay of the lyrics.

OK. So. Big fan of David Byrne's work (more recently, he's been recording with St. Vincent). And one of his latest projects, Here Lies Love, will be wrapping up the season at the Seattle Repertory. We won't see it until next week, but (spoilers from the meal), the early previews are doing well. Here Lies Love is the story of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, set to a disco beat. In fact, they have converted the venerable Bagley Wright auditorium into a discotheque for the performance. More on that, again, when we see the performance next week.

Anyway, the Rep had sent out a fundraising flier for a dinner with David Byrne. As long-time subscribers, we got the postcard, which we normally pass on. But this time, the Lovely B, having missed a number of things because it is tax season, decided we should take them up on it. So, we made an (embarrassing large) donation for dinner at Canlis with David Byrne.

The private upstairs room at Canlis.
Ah, Canlis. People in Seattle know about Canlis. It is our legendary top restaurant, the place for big anniversaries and important celebrations, the one restaurant in Seattle where one is expected to wear a suit and tie (I discovered later that evening that the Columbia Club used to have this restriction until recently as well, but has slacked off at the tie thing). Nestled at the southern end of the Aurora Bridge which crosses the canal to Lake Union, Canlis commands a view of the Lake, the ship canal to Lake Washington to the East, Fremont and Wallingford, and the U-District in the distance. The view is wonderful, and the food, which has gone through a couple incarnations in the time we've been there, is legendary.

And, there is a main dining room, and a private room with an even better view directly above. This smaller space has large wooden shutters that can be opened to the dining area below, or closed for more private functions. I had never climbed the stairs to this area, though the Lovely Bride had snuck off during one dinner to explore (the staff caught her, and since there was no function upstairs at the time, gave her the full tour). So, a private function at the priciest joint in town. We arrived slightly early and we were ushered up the stairs.

These excellent photos courtesy of Seattle Rep, by the way.
And I met David Byrne. Lean, grey-haired, bright-eyed, dressed in a powder blue suit with an American flag on the lapel. He was standing next to Braden Abraham, the art director. At the time, I thought he was art director for the production, but eventually, the penny dropped for me  and I realized he was the Art Director for the entire Seattle Rep. So that was a bit stunning. I introduced Kate first, then myself. Handshakes were made. Kate moved on towards the bar for a mojito, Braden faded back into another discussion, and David Byrne and made small talk.

And here's the thing. In my very small modicum of fame (blessedly limited to gaming conventions for the most part), I have met fans who have squeed over my very presence, been dumbfounded at my words, or sought to argue some point of a project I worked on several decades previously. And I want everyone to know, that I completely understand those attitudes. Because as we made small talk, cocktail talk,, the back of lizard brain was shouting My God, I'm Talking to David Byrne! 

We talked about the process that brought Here Lies Love to Seattle, I told him I was a great admirer of his work. We talked about the weather (after constant rain since October, we were blessed with a beautiful beautiful day). We talked about seaplanes. He admired my trilobite pin.We spoke briefly of on-line comics. Others came up the stairs, and, my moment passed, I thanked him again and made way for the newcomers (it always being bad form to bogart the Guest of Honor).

Just a wonderful photo of the Lovely
Bride and I.
And, delighted (that was David Byrne!), I moved off and talked with other guests. By the time Kate returned I was chatting with Darragh Kennan, an actor I had seen at the Rep who was serving as a rep for the Rep that evening. Darragh had been Sherlock Holmes in two productions at the Rep, and we chatter about our long-standing season tickets at the Rep, favorite plays, theater in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Servers circulated with wine, and later hors d'oeuvres. When Kate could not have the steak tartar because of her allergies (a mayonnaise aoli), they retreated and reappeared a few minutes later with a sample that was egg-free. They're good that way.

We mingled. I declare that I am not a social animal, but I do like to listen, and ended up spending time with an expediting engineer who handled programming problem children, a retired couple whose apartment we could see from the horizon, and a UW geologist who had written a book on roadside geology (he, too, was curious about why I would wear a trilobite on my lapel). The Rep had a photographer present, so we did get pictures.

David Byrne takes questions from the floor.
Dinner was a limited menu but completely up to Canlis's standards. Five tables of ten. Ours had Darragh, Braden (alas, I missed my chance to recommend that, since they were ripping out seats at the venerable B-W, they could replace them with recliners), the retired couple, a psychologist working on his dissertation, married to author who writes books on investing. And a couple, the husband of which I had little chance to talk to, but whose spouse worked for Wells Fargo and was part of the Arts Fund, and who worked for one of the OTHER Jeff Grubbs in the universe. Dinner was a perfect filet mignon for me and a flaky halibut for the LB, but out attention was on the discussion, not the food. 

David and Braden gave a brief talk on Here Lies Love, answered a few questions, and had to leave for a preview of the production that evening. We chatted among ourselves -art and politics (Imelda Marcos is still with us - no, she has not seen the musical), and adjourned some time afterward. Kate and I had booked a room in Seattle, overlooking the new site of the Museum of History and Industry, and the next morning brunched at Salty's on Alki and wrapped up a wonderful 24 hours in Seattle, a vacation without a plane trip.

And yeah, people are going to catch me smiling at work for the next week  for no obvious reason.

More later,