Talking Heads, Remain in Light
My life was forever changed by the Talking Heads’ 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live, where a spastic yet mechanical David Byrne asked me to Take Him to the River, for reasons I, age 13, could not fathom. [Fun fact: my 13yo found herself equally sure, upon hearing this same song while I was cooking dinner, that this music was something she would always avoid].
Talking Heads were everywhere when I was a teenager, and I wasn’t sure whether to take their originals and their increasingly diverse and accommodating sound as punk (cool) or pop (less so) or dance (morals of dancing kept changing) but you know, they were there. As an adult, I was able to comfortably settle in with Remain in Light and Fear of Music, and not be preoccupied with remaining skepticism about True Stories (LP and movie) and Naked and the concert film… well, I didn’t know what those were for anyway. And “I Zimbra,” well, based on Hugo Ball — Kevin once performed a piece called “Hugo Ball” in the Cabaret (re)Voltaire (first iteration) at WPA. Talking Heads were avant garde enough for even me. [Not to mention that i don’t apologize for loving African music, or, any more, for ever dancing to anything].
But when I saw the David Byrne show last summer, I realized: this music is my heartbeat. It has run through my life. And I’m still awake when I hear it, it’s not faded into background music the way it could.
Angelique Kidjo’s recap of Remain in Light was another call to interrogate that album in particular. Is there anything creepier than these lyrics, from the Overload?:
A terrible signal
Too weak to even recognize
A gentle collapsing
The removal of the insides
I'm touched by your pleas
I value these moments
(Personally I am sure this is a tale of an alien torturing one of the last humans alive, and a detached scientific artist interrogating what it means to be human, combining something deeply despicable with something irresistable and relatable).
So get this alleged background, from the Wikipedia entry:
The final track on the album, "The Overload," was Talking Heads' attempt to emulate the sound of British post-punk band Joy Division. The song was made despite no band member having heard the music of Joy Division; rather, it was based on an idea of what the British quartet might sound like based on descriptions in the music press.
(Is there anything more nihilistic than imitating a nihilistic band without hearing it first?).
Which strangely makes me want to read the new oral history of the last Joy Division tour. I’d already read two excerpts, hoping to get my fill, but it didn’t work. Along with the David Byrne books I’ve been craving since that concert. Which is good, because I’m in a little trough with my fiction to-do list.