Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hand of a Government Man


Now that Lou Reed has passed away, I think the celebrity I see most often on the streets of New York is David Byrne.  This week alone I saw him twice -- once on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and once at a restaurant in Tribeca.

Talking Heads was a massively popular band when I was a teen (at least among my little socioeconomic cohort).  I used to joke that Little Creatures was issued to all freshmen at Wesleyan along with their dorm keys -- it felt like the album was on constant rotation back in 1985.

I liked the Talking Heads as much as the next guy, but if you had asked my 18-year-old self his opinion, he would have ranked them far below groups like the Clash and the Ramones and R.E.M. Fast forward to today and I listen to an awful lot of Talking Heads and very little of these other bands.  Why is this?

I think Talking Heads' music has aged exceptionally well.  Sometimes when I listen to Bruce Springsteen albums of that era (e.g. Born in the USA, Tunnel of Love) I wince at the cheesy synthesizers and dated production values.  This almost never happens with Talking Heads. Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues sound particularly fresh to me.

Both in terms of sound and words, there is something about Talking Heads that resonates with the particular moment that we are living through. Their embrace of African and Caribbean music certainly fits in with the mash-up musical culture of the moment.  More than this, there is a jittery anxiety about the band that speaks to the 24-7 nature of the wired world -- their best songs move fast and are larded with clever one liners ("facts all come with points of view"!) that stick in your mind long after the music ends.  All in all, the perfect soundtrack for my daily commute into Penn Station.

Notwithstanding my endorsement of the nervous propulsion of the Talking Heads, here's wishing you a restful and relaxing Labor Day weekend.