Sax and Violins

“Love so deep, kills you in your sleep”

David Byrne isn’t talking about his relationship with the other members of Talking Heads, that’s for sure. This isn’t even really a proper “Talking Heads” song, though it’s on the books as their final release. It’s an old demo from the Naked sessions that David Byrne slapped some lyrics on for a movie soundtrack. So, basically, a David Byrne song, as all Talking Heads songs are basically just David Byrne songs anyway, because in a band spearheaded by such a strong personality the pretense of creative equality kind of falls apart (and then the band itself falls apart). That explains why Byrne is the only one who appears in the video. Byrne’s own explanation for the song is pretty interesting: “I wrote the words later for the opening scene of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. The movie is supposed to take place in the year 2000, so I spent a lot of time trying to image music of the near future: post-rock sludge with lyrics sponsored by Coke and Pepsi? Music created by machines with human shouts of agony and betrayal thrown in? Faux Appalachian ballads, the anti-tech wave? The same sounds and licks from the 60s and 70s regurgitated yet again by a new generation of samplers? The Milli Vanilli revival? Rappin’ politicos… sell your soul to the beat, y’all? Well, it was daunting… so I figured, hell with it, I’d imagine Talking Heads doing a reunion LP in the year 2000, and them sounding just like they used to.” Everything he imagined except the Milli Vanilli comeback has come true with a vengeance and it’s the phrase “Talking Heads reunion” that sounds like outlandish gibberish.

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Sad Song

David Byrne

Throwback to 1994, when David Byrne proved that you could totally grow out your hair as a middle aged man and still be impeccably cool (but only if you are David Byrne.) That was a good year and a good look for David Byrne and incidentally David Byrne is probably my favorite solo David Byrne album. (I’m excited for his new album but haven’t listened to it yet because iTunes is bullshit and the Pirate Bay is down again.) This song is actually not very sad, but it celebrates sadness. It is saying you should love and celebrate you sadness because it’s a natural part of life, which is a comforting thought, clinical depression aside.

The Rose Tattoo

Here’s a song with literary reference. It takes its title from a 1951 Tennessee Williams play, or its better-known film adaptation. I haven’t seen the movie or the play, and I don’t understand the Spanish parts of the song, so I can’t tell you how much of a reference it really is. But David Byrne seems like he would know his Tennessee Williams, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I guess that’s a homework assignment for me, then.

Pretty Face

Another song from Here Lies Love, featuring the French vocalist Camille. She is best known for recording with Nouvelle Vague, and is also a solo artist. Apparently she has recorded half a dozen albums, some of which were certified platinum in France. After years of knowing her only for her Here Lies Love contribution and as part of the Nouvelle Vague ensemble, I’m curious to discover Camille as an artist in her own right. More on that at a later date.

Please Don’t

Are you sick of hearing about this record yet? I suspect that you are, but I listen to this record a lot, so it comes up a lot. Also, it’s a really long album, it’s 22 songs and maybe it kind of runs together if you’re  not following the storyline, and a lot of the singers sound the same. But let me just say that this is one of the standout songs from Here Lies Love, and the only one that was released as a single. The singer is Santigold. The video is an official one and matches the lyrics of the song, featuring footage of protagonist Imelda Marcos mixing it up with various heads of state. Marcos was a glamorous woman with a taste for princess dresses with huge sleeves; it appears that she was charming, popular and well liked on the political circuit. Unfortunately, her husband was a corrupt tyrant who put his poverty-wracked country under martial law and embezzled state funds to support his family’s love of luxury. David Byrne suggests here that Imelda’s aggressively fashionable image was an attempt to put forward a pretty face so world wouldn’t look down on the Philippines as a backwards third world country.

A Perfect Hand

How did Steve Earle get this honor? On David Byrne’s Here Lies Love, Earle is the only male guest vocalist. I can’t argue with the choice; Earle provides exactly the right shot of smarmy masculinity singing the part of the scheming Ferdinand Marcos. I’m just curious about the connection between the eggheads David Byrne and Norman Cook, and Earle, an old-school country singer from Texas. They don’t seem like they would be orbiting in the same circles, so to speak. Granted, Byrne is famous for having esoteric tastes, and an ear for diverse talents, but I don’t recall him ever trying to collaborate with the kind of songwriters who sing about making moonshine. In fact, Byrne’s been known to take a mocking view of the ‘common man’ aesthetic; he once made an entire movie mocking common people. So yeah, I’m curious as to what he and Steve Earle hang out and talk about.

People Like Us

David Byrne’s 1986 film True Stories is an exercise in speculative social anthropology. In it Byrne, the quintessential New York art school egghead, ventures into Texas to goggle dryly at how small town folks be living. Not much happens besides some comical vignettes of what Byrne gleaned about midwestern life from reading its newspapers. Whether you find it amusing or condescending depends on whether or not you’re already inclined to view people in the flyover zone as exotic and undercivilized. Obviously, Byrne is not much of film director, nor much of an actor, but he did provide enough music for the film to fill a Talking Heads album. And if he did one thing right, it was casting the eternally scene stealing but not yet well known John Goodman. In the movie’s only cogent storyline, Goodman is a bachelor looking for love (SPOILER: he finds it) and, predictably, steals the film. His performance of People Like Us is the showstopper, and though it may be intended as a pastiche of good ‘ol boy country pride, it’s still moving.