This article is from Issue 55: Jan/Feb 2012

The Sort-Of True Stories of Beirut

Mythic, truth-bending biographies have been a part of music at least since Minnesotan Robert Zimmerman claimed he was named Bob Dylan and had spent his childhood as a carnie riding the rails around the Southwest. It’s well within musical tradition to make up your own story and then be very, very serious about it, to the point where you might even forget your own biography. That’s a tension Beirut frontman Zach Condon knows all too well.

As legend would have it, the teenage Condon left home in search of music, landing in Paris. Although the facts are true, Condon is quick to clarify the trip was more about drinking on the banks of the river Seine than advancing his craft or cultural anthropology. “I find the narrative a little too precious,” he says. “I guess when I was 19 and we just started, I loved the idea of creating some myth about myself. Down the road I realized people take that narrative and really run with it in whatever direction they feel like, and you can’t control something like that. I figured the best way to do it is just to come clean.”

"I was nostalgic for something I never belonged to as a teenager and a young adult." —Zach Condon

The motivation for Condon to redefine his public image came after an extensive tour of South America. “In Brazil they treated me like a star, like, almost paparazzi-style,” he recounts, still admitting discomfort about the whole thing. “The disconnect was so large, from walking down the street in Brooklyn, where every once in a while someone would say, ‘Cool show, dude’ and you’d say thanks, to people scrambling for an autograph. That disconnect became so drastic that I remember coming back and thinking: ‘Who am I? Where do I come from? What does it say in the papers? What do I actually believe?’”

He continues, thoughtful. “I guess there was a period where you lose yourself in this image you’ve created to not give away personal information. You end up losing the personal information because of it.”

Even with this decision firmly in hand, when to reveal personal facts, and exactly how much to say, is still a struggle for Condon. “It’s incredibly hard,” he admits. “I was never the type of person to leave any signs of my personal thoughts and feelings behind. I loved the fantastical, I loved to put façades up, and I hated when things got too close to home and too realistic.”