I recently got the chance to see the Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense at a movie theater and I jumped at it, largely because I had never actually seen it from beginning to end. Ten minutes here, five minutes there, I’d watched it in fits and starts and MTV clips for the last thirty odd years; it was high time I corrected this, as it turns out, grievous gap in my music & movie viewing.
Stop Making Sense was directed by the late Jonathan Demme and presents a show from the Heads’ tour to support their 1983 classic Speaking in Tongues. What the film drove home to me more than anything else was how percussive and textural their music is. I mean, yeah, you know that if you’ve ever heard a single Heads song, but I don’t think it ever really sunk in until I watched the concert in its entirety. The Talking Heads managed this weird part Punk, part performance art, part tribal chant sound thanks to electronic keyboards and the crack rhythm team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz. I don’t know how much their music comes from their marriage or how much of their marriage comes from their music, and I don’t care. I just want to listen to them match themselves to each other’s heartbeats and David Byrne’s artistic vision. Repeatedly.
The closest analogy I can come to in describing the Talking Heads’ sound is a Jackson Pollock painting. Pollock’s drips and splashes and splatters build up, swirling around and on top of each other until it’s impossible to distinguish any one thread or color from the whole. Looking at Pollock, I sometimes feel as if I could thrust my hand into the center of the painting, and come out with a tangled mass of color strings wrapped around it. The Talking Heads weave sound the exact same way. No one instrument is dominant over another, although each sound is distinct in and of itself.
The touring band they put together to help flesh out the studio sound was unbelievable. These were crack musicians and singers who were far more than just hired guns; they were part of the group. Which was vital to making the sound work. They had to work together as seamlessly as the splatters in a Pollock. And in the film, there is no preference of the “official” band members over the touring musicians. They aren’t treated with less respect or as if their contributions were secondary to the success of the shows. They’re just the other members of the band.
So you’d think for my song I’d choose the version of “This Must Be the Place” from the film. And yeah, it is great, but when I was searching for the song on YouTube, I found the previously unknown to me music video for the album cut. This video features the Talking Heads as configured for the Stop Making Sense tour. They are together watching home movies of themselves, although they seem less like home movies and more like fantasy visions. Or, if I can throw my own interpretation in, like some kind of ideal of who each person maybe feels they are. The place where they feel most at home.
I chose this video because, like all the best songs and visual arts, it took me someplace I didn’t expect to go. The video shows them all at home, together, the way a family would be (it even includes Weymouth and Franz’s toddler). And the clip not only reminded me of a value I hold very dear, it also added a dimension to the song I hadn’t fully considered before. “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is a love song, pure and simple. But it’s not just a romantic love song (although it obviously can be, especially if you listen to Shawn Colvin’s stellar version); it’s a love song about family–chosen family. Because your romantic partner is nothing if not chosen family. And so are your friends, and the people you work and create art with. Love in all its glorious and myriad forms. And all those glorious keyboards and percussion instruments and voices help demonstrate the beauty and complexity of love, the way it thrums and builds and grows until you can’t tell one from another. Until you can’t imagine being anyplace else with anyone else doing anything else. And it doesn’t matter what it looks like or who you share it with. It’s perfect just as it is.