When Talking Heads Frontman David Byrne’s Vietnam Draft Lies Exposed

Following Daniel Berrigan’s passing at the age of 94 in April 2016, David Byrne paid him tribute with an article published in The Guardian. The article included the Talking Head frontman’s memories of the late priest’s protests against the Vietnam War, which turned out to be false.

As activists against the war, Berrigan and his supporters seized and burned more than 300 draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, on May 17, 1968. While looking back on the incident that took place near the town where he grew up, Byrne wrote that the priest’s words ‘articulated a change that was coming.’

The singer went on to claim that among the records destroyed and lives changed that day were his own. He explained:

“Five miles away, in neighboring Lansdowne, I was a student in high school. Catonsville was my draft board. My records were among those burned. Were it not for Father Berrigan, the odds were very good; my life would have taken a different path.”

Correcting A ‘Faulty’ Memory

This claim later turned out to be false. Byrne’s birth year, recorded as 1952, showed that he was two years too young to register for the draft at the time. So, some fans called the singer out on his account of the events, causing him to touch upon the matter again with an update following the original article a few months later.

Referring to his memory of the incident, the Talking Heads member corrected himself by writing:

“I’m somewhat ashamed and embarrassed. It has been pointed out to me that contrary to my memory and the story below, I could not have been called up for the draft when Daniel Berrigan burned the local draft board records; I was two years too young.”

He mentioned working on a neuroscience project with Elisabeth Loftus about how ‘faulty and malleable’ memories could be and went on:

“I’ve heard countless instances of our memories altering every time we recall them. The more we recall something, the more we ‘reconstruct’ a memory, and the more inaccurate it tends to be, even as it becomes more deeply embedded. I guess I’m not an exception. I erroneously actually believed in being saved from Vietnam by Berrigan and his colleagues.”

You can read David Byrne’s full article about Daniel Berrigan here.