David Byrne on the return of the group social experience

By musician and founding member of Talking Heads David Byrne, currently appearing on Broadway in “David Byrne’s American Utopia”:


I have been an artist my whole life. At some point in my life, I realized that these experiences had changed me as a person. I realized that this was some kind of collective ritual that healed me, and sometimes it had a similar effect on the audience as well.

Most of the time, this experience seems not to involve me as an individual, but me and my associates allowing a group social experience. We act as a catalyst and a facilitator of a moment that allows everyone to experience something that allows them to transcend themselves for a moment.

Being part of a larger group than “me” is a wonderful experience.

David Byrne and his company torch the Broadway house in “American Utopia”.

CBS News

This could be at a music club, a Broadway theater, a dance club, or at a sporting event. Sociologist Emile Durkheim described this phenomenon as “collective efflorescence”. He wrote about it 100 years ago as something that happens in religious ceremonies. Now, I won’t assume that what we do in the theater or in concerts is necessarily religious or spiritual, but it participates in the same part of our nature as social animals. It is essential for who we are as humans. We are not just individuals – alone or looking at our screens. A big part of who we are is what happens when we are with other people.

This part of ourselves has been denied to us, at least in this country, for a year and a half. It was as if a part of our body – our souls, ourselves – had been cut off, taken away.

We weren’t quite whole.

Now we are starting to find this experience, this part of ourselves, again.

The feeling of becoming whole again is ecstatic! The audience bursts into spontaneous applause, not only for us artists, but for themselves, for the collective joy they have missed. Laugh together, applaud, be moved, everything together.

On stage, we feel the same.

Hopefully all of this can continue and we can become completely human again.


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Story produced by Sara Kugel. Publisher: Joseph Frandino.

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