The former Talking Heads frontman, who has gone on to prove online music mag Pitchfork's slight that he would "collaborate with anyone for a bag of Doritos" (an insult he cheerfully quotes here), traces the book's genesis to a tour journal he shared with writer and editor Dave Eggers, whose McSweeney's magazine team are credited with much of its nurturing.
What has emerged is a substantial 300-odd pages that combine musical history, theory and philosophy with enough memoir to keep fans happy and some trenchant and opinionated analysis of where we are in music industry terms now. If you are prepared to go with the ebb and flow of all this, it is a very involving read – Byrne is good company – but there is some inevitable repetition as the author draws on his admittedly wide but very personal reading.
As he says, it was not his intention to add to the already overstocked shelves of autobiography from ageing rockers, and it is safe to say that he has avoided that pitfall. Byrne's voracious appetite for background knowledge about the career he fell into means that he takes us speedily through the evolution of venues for the performance of music, on a rather more leisurely excursion along the pathway of recorded sound, and meticulously into the accounts of delivering a money-making recording in the 21st century. Interweaved in all this, by way of illustration as much as anything else, is his personal experience.
This is no chronological survey of that career, from CBGBs in the Bowery to the Everything That Happens Will Happen Today renewal of his collaboration with Brian Eno, although all of that is in the book. The exploration of performance practice seeks both an explanation for the success of Hilly Kristal's legendary 1970s Houston Street club – complete with hand-drawn diagrams of the interior layout – as well as an explanation of the compelling mix of music and contemporary dance that Byrne brought to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on his most recent visit to Scotland. That these are 200 pages apart, and the latter precedes the former, is part of the charm of the book.
Byrne follows a thought like a man taking a worm for a walk, and the reader needs to be equally curious and happy to join him on the journey. So that initial 35-page skip through the Byrne performance history in chapter two is far from all that fans will get, and the influence of radical theatre-makers Robert Wilson, Mabou Mines and The Wooster Group will recur in other contexts.
When it comes to recording, Byrne's mapping of the development of the way Talking Heads made albums, from the relatively conventional debut 77 to the innovative practice they developed with Brian Eno for the classic albums Fear of Music and Remain In Light (and then onto the groundbreaking Byrne/Eno collaboration My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts) is fascinating on multiple levels. It is to Byrne's considerable credit that it will be enjoyed by those who simply love the albums but also by people with more technical knowledge of recording techniques.
From a point of view of the narrative of the book, the clincher is the way he tells the story of attitudes to recorded sound, as analogue was pushed out by digital equipment and compact discs ousted vinyl to be themselves supplanted by downloads. Although it seems unlikely that we are yet at the end of that story (and Byrne starts with Edison), there is something definitive about his analysis of how we hear and evaluate sound quality and the trade off between undefinable "perfection" and the convenience of "good enough".
There is probably nothing terribly original about Byrne's conclusions, but he has a gift for a telling analogy that makes complex points easily grasped. He is always careful to cite his sources and relies on a number of texts that have clearly been influential on his thinking. Mark Katz's Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, and Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History Of Recording Music by Greg Milner, both published in 2010, crop up frequently – and Milner's assertion that Oasis and Red Hot Chili Peppers used volume enhancement as a devious trick to chart success is now given much wider exposure.
Byrne himself is happy to reveal truths from all spheres of his working life. The Business And Finances chapter probably contains more detail than most people will feel they need to know about the accounts for his album Grown Backwards, but it is in the context of a discussion of the complexities of modern music distribution that ranges from Madonna's "360 degree" deal with Live Nation to Radiohead's pay-what-you-like offer for In Rainbows. As Col Tom Parker and James Brown always knew, taking care of business has always been a crucial part of How Music Works.