“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”


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.

“Burning Down the House”


I haven’t quite gone so far as setting any fires, but I have been on a bit of a reorganizing spree in my house lately.

I can’t pinpoint where it started, but it’s been a couple of weeks now.  Cleaning out a cupboard here, moving a couple of boxes there.  I even went through the rag box and tossed the rags that weren’t even fit for dusting anymore–and I turned the box into a bag.  I bought some new bins to put stuff away in, although now I’m seeing how many more I’m probably going to need.  (I’m especially fond of the wheeled thing I got to keep birdseed in; it came with a scoop, and it’s made my life so much easier.  Of course so would not feeding the birds, but I’m a little afraid of the mini Alfred Hitchcock movie I’ve got going on in my backyard.)  There’s always just one more thing.  And as soon as you move one thing, you find ten more that need places to be.  The upside is that I’m weeding through and getting rid of some more stuff I don’t need (today it was some expired pantry items).  The downside is I’m not sure I can stop.

“Watch out.  You might get what you’re after.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  Unless it’s Murphy’s Law.  I spent nearly $250 getting the oven repaired last week when it wouldn’t get hot (the “ignition module” had fritzed out).  My list of stuff to do just keeps getting longer.  I don’t always finish a list, but the unfinished items do go directly onto the next list.  “Wash windows” has been on there for quite a while now.  I did get a small whiteboard that I might keep a running To Do list on, instead of constantly writing and rewriting new ones.  And some corkboard tiles.  I’m going to put them up on my new laundry room cabinet door, but I need to decide if it’s going to be whiteboard and cork, or just all cork (which would look awesome, but might not be as practical).  I’ve even gotten one of those dispensers you put plastic shopping bags into to make storing and reusing them easier; I hate those bags, but they’re great for cleaning out the litter boxes.

So as I move and rearrange the minutiae of my life, I find myself feeling both accomplished and frustrated.  I like getting something done, crossing an item off the list.  But there’s always more that needs doing.  Sometimes, the endless cycle makes burning down the house sound pretty reasonable.


“Life During Wartime”


Time to lighten things up around here. . . . but not too much.

The Talking Heads were one of the most interesting and challenging rock bands ever.  They refused to condescend to their audience, refused to pander to the masses for commercial success.  Hell, half the time, they weren’t real hip on letting the audience in on the act.  They created music and visuals to an artistic standard that was pretty unknown during their heyday in the 70s and 80s, and which is virtually impossible in today’s atmosphere of download now, delete later disposable music.

Formed by a bunch of art school students, the Talking Heads took their music seriously.  They treated like art (what a novel concept).  As a result, their music was not always easily accessible to casual listeners.  The Heads pulled from a wide variety of styles and genres to create their sound–everything from punk to Afro-beat.  The lyrics were obscure and cryptic, defying interpretation.  While the lyrical and musical styles are radically different, they remind me a lot of Steely Dan, another band that was too damn smart for its own good.  Like a typical Becker-Fagan opus, Talking Heads songs are like stories you’ve walked into the middle of and leave before the end.  There is no context.  You are left to fend for yourself, and you either find something that makes sense to you or you quit listening.  Frankly, the Heads probably preferred it that way.

“Life During Wartime” isn’t really about living in the middle of a war, or at least not in the traditional sense.  This isn’t a protest song about bombs, guns, and death.  This is about feeling disconnected–from society, from media, from politics, and most importantly from yourself.  There is a palpable paranoia to the song.  By the time David Byrne sings, “I’ve changed my hairstyle so many times, don’t know what I look like,” you understand exactly how he feels.  It’s like you’ve fallen through a wormhole into some kind of parallel universe where everything is attacking you and the government has you under surveillance and no place is home and no place is safe and no one can be trusted.  Oh, wait, that sounds familiar.

This is a psychological war, one most of us don’t even know we’re fighting.  Talking Heads never set out to write overtly political music (or romantic music, or any other type of recognizable thematic genre).  But the mood of the world they lived in, of the lives they were living, always found a way in.  “Life During Wartime” is about that moment when you realize just what you’re up against.  Time to stop making sense, because “sense” is how we got here in the first place.