If the conventional idea of the artist is as a kind of highly specialized genius, Byrne prefers to be an omnivore. On his blog, he writes long, detailed entries—a review of the Kindle (mostly positive, but he doesn’t care for the proprietary software), a rumination on the brown water that came from the faucet in a haute-design Rome hotel (is it true, he wonders, that the Roman Empire was felled by lead poisoning from the famous aqueduct?). His writing is earnest, well-intentioned, and placid. Byrne never embarrasses himself with what he says or does, but you kind of wish he would risk it.
His private life seems equally tranquil. Divorced from the costume designer Adelle Lutz, he lives in a Hell’s Kitchen loft and is involved with the artist Cindy Sherman. His only child with Lutz, a daughter named Malu, just left for art school in California, and lately he’s been thinking about moving to Brooklyn. “Prices have come down to the point where I could afford something nice,” he says, “maybe with a little backyard.”
I ask him if there’s anything he misses about being a superstar. “The only part I miss about when I was making more money and playing to bigger audiences and selling more records was that you could do almost anything,” he says. “I could say, ‘I think I’d like to do a show where we start with an empty stage’, and go from there. Which makes no sense. But instead of someone saying, ‘Dream on, Dave,’ people would actually take you seriously and go, ‘Okay, let’s find out how to do that.’ Now I have to tell myself no. I know what’s realistic, in that sense, I know, okay, this is what’s possible with the resources that you have available. Don’t get crazy.”