Thursday, July 17, 2008

Talking Heads: Blind

The first time we saw David Byrne live was at The Avalon in Boston in the days following September 11th. The show was a unique one, in that the tension on the East coast (and all over, for that matter) at that time was palpable. Attending any public events, having a good time, or even being carefree was somewhat questionable, and many were still figuring out how to react to the tragic events in New York. To go see David Byrne in these conditions is an odd thing indeed: his shows are unquestionably joyful affairs. They get everyone dancing, and inspire you songs you do know, as well as those you don't.

So, how did Byrne handle this paradox? First off, by delivering an awesome show, that showed us that it was okay to be happy and enjoy both life and music. But second, and perhaps more importantly, he demonstrated that fear and self doubt were not in order as he dove into a perfect version of Life During Wartime. The song ironically jabs at exactly the sensitivities that people were feeling at the time, with its lyrics of:

"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
this ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain't got time for that now"

Byrne's hypothetical paranoia of 20 years earlier had now become a subconscious reality for everyone in the room, but his ability perform a fearless delivery in the face of all that had happened left everyone in the room feeling just a little bit better.

Fast forward seven years: we're still dealing with the aftermath of September 11th, only much has changed. The problems today involve energy crises, wars and conflict on the other side of the globe, and an economy that is in a questionable state. Moreover, the president's disapproval rating has reached a fever pitch, and the number of suspected "terrorists" on watch lists has crossed a million. It seems that maybe today a more applicable lyric might come from the lead track "Blind" off the band's swan song Naked:

"Dogs start to run in,
Hungry for some food
Dogs start a-twitching
And they're looking at you
It was light
By five
Torn all apart
All in the name of democracy"

mp3: Talking Heads - Life During Wartime (click through, yousendit link)
stream: Talking Heads - Blind (


Benjo said...

Thanks for the post.

I had a similar Byrne experience, less than two weeks after 9/11, and mine happened to be only a mile or two from the trade center.

Byrne had recently published The New Sins, and did a Powerpoint presentation for a McSweeney's event at a tiny former synagogue called the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side. Needless to say, it was an intense night: many of us hadn't gone to any public event since the attacks, and some hadn't been this far downtown - where the WTC smell was still quite strong.

Byrne's and the other authors' readings were great, but the highlight of the evening was the end, when Byrne announced, "we're going to clear off the chairs and turn this into a dance floor, and bring out the [forget the name] brass band from Harlem." Everyone was a bit timid at first, but the experience was cathartic: to not only be enjoying live music, but gospel music, in this synagogue, dancing alongside David Byrne, was absolutely unforgettable.

One other note worth mentioning: I saw his rock show the following night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Before the show, he handed out copies of a WSJ article about a reduction of civil liberties which I suppose became the Patriot Act. During the show, he prefaced Life During Wartime by saying, "This song is completely inappropriate, but completely appropriate."