David Byrne performed an excerpt from his Broadway play American Utopia on Colbert, breaking down the Talking Heads’ classic song “I Zimbra.”
The Fear of Music opener hurls nonsense syllables into the air like confetti, layering a bit of lyrical razzle dazzle over the irrepressible joy of the guitars and drums. In this snippet from American Utopia, Byrne explained that the inspirations behind the source text were rooted in the art world’s response to the horrors of World War I.
“My friend Brian Eno suggested we use a nonsense poem by a Dada artist as the lyrics for this song,” he said. “I was familiar with a Dada artist named Kurt Schwitters who recorded a nonsense poem in 1932 called the ‘URSONATE.’ Schwitters and these other artists were using nonsense to make sense of a world that didn’t make sense. To help clarify that, here’s a little bit of the ‘URSONATE.'”
Byrne looped and swirled his voice through words like, “rakete rinnzeket, rakete rinnzeket,” before dryly remarking, “It goes on like that for 40 minutes.” He continued, “Another Dada artist, Hugo Ball, said that their artistic aims were ‘to remind the world that there are people of independent minds, beyond war and nationalism, who live for different ideals.’ Hugo Ball wrote the words to this song.”
From here he launched into “I Zimbra,” rocking on his guitar as a chorus of dancers, musicians, and percussionists shouted along to the words.
Byrne also sat for an interview with Stephen Colbert. He spoke about turning American Utopia into a Broadway production, showed off a couple of humorous drawings, and taught his host such dance moves as “polish the plates,” and “stopping traffic.” Check out the interview, as well as Byrne’s performance of “I Zimbra,” below.
American Utopia returns to the St. James Theatre on Broadway on New Year’s Day and runs into March of 2022. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Earlier this year, Talking Heads were honored with a 2021 Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.