Listening Wind

Talking Heads’ Remain In Light is, very deservedly, known as the thinking person’s dance party record. It’s pretty much a failsafe record to get people dancing, with its African derived rhythms, and at the same time rewardingly deep. But be prepared for your party to grind to a halt when it gets weird, moody and disturbing halfway through Side B. Seen And Unseen is David Byrne’s spoken word diatribe against the culture of narcissism (or so I interpret it) but you can still at least somewhat jiggle a  foot to it. Then comes this song, which is, pretty clearly, about a terrorist. Besides being low tempo and sonically creepy, it tells the story of an indigenous man who plots to drive off the Americans who have infested his homeland. To which end he invokes the spirits of his ancestors, sends mysterious packages and plants devices of some sort. All this is presented as being heroic, and in 1980 it probably seemed like a very satisfying fantasy of the native man reclaiming his ancestral lands. Today it plays a bit differently. With terrorism being one of the bywords of our time, with package bombs and biochemical warfare being legitimate threats, and with unseen enemies who glide in the shadows being our au courant cultural boogeyman, a song that hits on all those things and sympathizes with the man who does them would likely cause some controversy. That’s absolutely no reflection on Talking Heads, who were recording in a more innocent time, and obviously had the evils of colonialism as their topic. It’s just that the world has changed in the past thirty-some years, and that affects the meaning of certain things. This is one story that plays very differently to modern ears.


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