"What I Am" is written by group vocalist Edie Brickell and group guitarist Kenny Withrow, and recorded for their debut album. The song deals with the need for simplicity in expression.
The New Bohemians hail from Dallas, Texas, where they started life as a Ska band with Brad Houser on bass, Eric Presswood on guitar, and Brandon Aly on drums. They all met at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts - Edie Brickell also attended there, but she didn't hook up with them until much later. Brickell has been married to Paul Simon since 1992 - they wed in May and had their first son in December. A daughter followed in 1995.
This song got Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians a spot in VH1's Greatest One-Hit Wonders
, despite the fact that they also had a minor hit with "Circle" (#48 US Hot 100) from the same album. VH1 only counts hits in the top 20 on US charts, and then only the ones they like, and they'll weasel the definition down some more if they want to. We're a little more picky in our One Hit Wonders
Media appearances of "What I Am" include an episode of the hit '80s TV series Miami Vice and Doogie Howser, M.D. and in the 1989 film Loverboy.
Carter Albrecht, who played keyboard and guitar for The New Bohemians, along with other groups, met a tragic end in 2007 when he apparently got intoxicated and took a dosage of the drug Chantix (an aid to stop smoking). The combination allegedly sent him into a drunken rage, during which time he showed up at a neighbor's house and, this being Texas, was shot with one to the head through the neighbor's door. Some investigation was conducted into whether there was undue interaction between the drug and alcohol.
This song got a huge bump when the band performed it on Saturday Night Live. The actor Matthew Modine and the abrasive, chain-smoking talk show host Morton Downey Jr. also appeared on the show, making it the highest-rated episode of 1988. The show is also notable as the first time Brickell met Paul Simon.
The song was covered in 1999 by UK electronic dance music duo Tin Tin Out with former Spice Girl Emma Bunton guesting on vocals. Their version peaked at #2 on the UK singles chart, behind Bunton's ex-bandmate Geri Hallowell's "Lift Me Up