Byrne has publicly stated that while he was never formally diagnosed with autism, the possibility was pointed out by the people around him frequently, and he has since then self-diagnosed as being on the spectrum and identifies with it, even referring to it as his 'superpower'.
When asked about this in an interview in 2020, he said: 'I just figured it out, I read what the various things [criteria] are and I went check, check, check - okay that’s where I stop.'
Interviewer: 'Are you interested in learning about your brain in that way more?'
DB: 'Oh yeah, of course. Having my own experience and not having lived in someone else’s body or brain - not yet, that’s coming I guess - I guess it’s my superpower, I can use this in my way.'
A role model for creating artistic community
The autistic blogger Aisling Walsh (@AutCasts) reflects on the ways David Byrne has served as a role model throughout her teenage and young adult years in a beautiful blogpost about the Talking Heads' concert film 'Stop Making Sense', released in 1984.
The show starts out with the song 'Psycho Killer', about which Aisling writes: 'Few other songs had managed to touch the throbbing nerve of my own sense of disconnection from the world around me'. Similar themes can be found in many of the Talking Heads' and David Byrnes later solo songs.
What makes David Byrne inspiring however, is not just his ability to put his sense of alienation into words, music and performances that other neurodivergent people can relate to. As Aisling points out, 'Stop Making Sense is very much a journey towards community.' Joined by more and more musicians on stage, the initially twitchy and angsty David Byrne becomes more and more confident and free - “it's a whole catharsis thing“, as he himself has stated.
This sentiment is also reflected in Byrne's newer music. His 2018 single 'Everybody's Coming to my House' from the album American Utopia can be interpreted not only as a statement for welcoming immigrants to the U.S., but also as an invitation to embrace (artistic) community with all its comforts and discomforts: “Everybody's coming to my house, and they're never gonna go back home. Everybody's coming to my house, and I'm never gonna be alone.“
Therefore, David Byrne can be considered an artistic/autistic role model not only in the sense of being relentlessly and diversely creative over the course of his long career, but also for making the choice to create artistic community around himself to help him navigate a world that can otherwise feel lonely and alien.
Here are some more resources about The Talking Heads, David Byrne, and how he serves as a positive example of autistic representation:
Walsh, A. (2023, February 16). Essay on Talking Heads, David Byrne and autism.
Taylor, T., & Taylor, T. (2021, April 2). How David Byrne helped change public perception of Autism. Far Out Magazine.
Youtube video 'That's my superpower' - David Byrne on being autistic': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYuVp_0LI70
PS: Stop Making Sense will be re-released in theaters in September 2023 for its 40th anniversary!