Some things you can pry from my cold dead fingers, always and forever. A few days ago I was saying that about my beloved T. Rex records. Well, I had said it in a much more elegant way than that, but I think the gist of it was plain to see. The point is, some things, some cultural totems and personal touchstones, can only be pried away in death. You can add my Talking Heads records to that. You can pry Speaking in Tongues from my cold dead fingers, if that’s how you wanna put it. It’s a record that, besides being a famous classic and an instant party, is one of those works that doesn’t get older or worn out by too much familiarity. It goes beyond mere personal nostalgia, though of course, I did grow up with it. If something can remain meaningful across a lifetime, from childhood to adulthood, and exponentially so across generations, that’s the antithesis of personal nostalgia. Personal nostalgia is when we feel sentimentally attached to things we rationally know are actually valueless or downright bad just because we imprinted on them as ducklings; things that, from novelty pop songs to toppled political regimes, should really be best forgotten. When something that amused our childhood selves continues to be meaningful over decades, meaningful beyond just the ability to trigger memories, that’s your testament that art really is the only human thing that carries over. This is why we care so much about buildings on fire.
Speaking in Tongues was released 34 years ago as of yesterday. Note how much Talking Heads changed since the last time we visited with Talking Heads. They went from “I hate people when they’re not polite” to “Whatever happens is fine.” It looks like they embraced generosity of spirit along with those African polyrhythms. David Byrne, along with every other long-lasting songwriter worth his salt, grew up and realized that as a topic angst gets boring. In this case, we’re talking about two albums only a few years apart, and it’s been decades since both of them were new. David Byrne is an elderly man now, and he can’t really make being tetchy and maladjusted a part of his persona anymore, except cheekily. The upside of being a fan of artists who are in their twilight years is looking back at the arc of their lives and careers, seeing the changes and the threads of similarity, the favored topics and new inspirations, the waves of growth and withering. You can trace the arc of your won life in the generous discographies of you favorite artists. The downside is that they die.