parodies by nacrowe
its funny how when you are a child you just sort of accept things as they are without questioning motives or thinking too deeply about comparisons, because well, your frame of reference is so LIMITED. everything is essentially a NOVEL EXPERIENCE. since i remember being alive the music of DAVID BYRNE and the legendary NEW WAVE band TALKING HEADS has been a part of my existence. as ive written before, i am almost certain that LITTLE CREATURES (SIRE, 1985) was played throughout my early childhood as it was the soundtrack to my parents learning how to care for a child for the first time in the late 1980s. i remember understanding from an early age that a lot of the songs were about regular people and the ROADS they travelled on and the BUILDINGS they entered. INFRASTRUCTURE in other words. its a very un-ROCK N ROLL topic and still a bit jarring.
its no secret that BYRNE attended both the MARYLAND INSTITUTE COLLEGE OF ART and THE RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN and that his music essentially splits the difference between CIVIL ENGINEERING and EXPERIMENTAL SONGWRITING. his influence endures to this day in countless ANGULAR POST PUNK and INDIE ROCK bands that choose to experiment with both FORM and SUBJECT in their songwriting, i.e. everyone from BECK, OINGO BOINGO, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, R.E.M. and VAMPIRE WEEKEND to SUFJAN STEVENS, BLONDIE, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, DIRTY PROJECTORS, THE B-52's and recent collaborator ST. VINCENT. BYRNE also utilized outside musical forms in his compositions such as most notably early looping grooves that were inspired by NIGERIAN AFROBEAT icon FELA KUTI. in fact my familiarity with TALKING HEADS made my cultural transition to living in LAGOS in the mid 1990s less musically jarring as the underlying beat and groove was fairly similar.
but what always gets to me about BYRNE was the idea that his songs were about people from a third-person point of view that had some DISTANCE from the subject. there is a certain OBSERVATIONAL quality to it that lacks INTIMACY, almost like an alien writing a report back to the mothership about mankind without having to be directly involved with it. in recent years BYRNE has talked openly about his AUTISM and such may be connected to his lyrical outlook, but im not entirely sure. to me that DISTANT perspective is quite liberating and almost reminds me of that famous HARRY LIME (played by ORSON WELLES) speech in THE THIRD MAN (LONDON FILMS, 1949) where his character is on a giant ferris wheel in post-WORLD WAR II VIENNA looking down at the people below asking if in the wider scheme of things any of them would be missed if they were squashed like the ants they resembled. alright, maybe the SOCIOPATHIC element is not as pronounced (except maybe in "PSYCHO KILLER"), but there is something to the wider perspective of life through that conscious MACRO perspective on humanity and the large scale SYSTEMS and INSTITUTIONS that enable our species to thrive en masse.
again, very un-ROCK N ROLL but at the same time incredibly COMPELLING to think about, which is why TALKING HEADS are a continued touchstone in my listening habits from early childhood to date.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that originally aired over a year ago. the playlist includes music from throughout the TALKING HEADS's celebrated catalogue. enjoy!
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
for years i had a vague association of what i understood to be the obscure 1980s highly IDIOSYNCRATIC communal art project/quasi-religious/cult parody THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS with some of my favorite artists including DEVO and PAUL REUBENS (of PEE WEE's PLAYHOUSE fame), but beyond that i knew very little. so i was thrilled to watch the recent JR "BOB" DOBBS & THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS (DARK STAR, 2020) documentary and learn more about its origin, intent and its two main architects/accomplices IVAN STANG and PHILO DRUMMOND. i really had no idea that there was a whole community of likeminded artists including filmmakers ALEX COX (REPO MAN, SID & NANCY) and RICHARD LINKLATER (DAZED & CONFUSED, SLACKERS), cartoonists R. CRUMB and MATT GROENING (THE SIMPSONS), actor NICK OFFERMAN (PARKS & RECREATION), philosopher ROBERT ANTON WILSON, magicians PENN & TELLER and musicians DAVID BYRNE, THE RESIDENTS and FRANK ZAPPA among many others.
from what i could gather from the film, for all of the parodied RHETORICAL FLOURISHES, CADENCES, MANNERISMS and cyclical SELF-REFERENTIAL LOGIC that defines TELEVANGELISM, there is a value to the effort. at its core the whole endeavor seems to be about COMMUNICATION and COMMUNITY BUILDING. not for money or a RELIGIOUS SOCIOPOLITICAL EXPANSIONIST AGENDA, but seemingly for unfettered SELF-EXPRESSION and the search for SELF-GENERATIVE MEANING. of course by playing with the "us versus them" vocabulary and SELF-AGGRANDIZING MYTHOLOGIZED IDEOLOGY routinely utilized by CULTS and religious sects, they ran the risk of being treated like a cult or new religious sect by the population. or worse, converts. what makes this film interesting is how STANG and DRUMMOND navigate those waters of maintaining a parody religion over time, especially when things get hairy, as in the aftermath of 9/11 and the later rise of DONALD TRUMP. at those points irony was dead and the CYNICISM apparent in the population had seemingly far exceed the parodies and gentle prodding of THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS. during these periods the MANUFACTURING OF CONSENT and TRIBAL SECTARIANISM in the population through internet-enabled PROPAGANDA made for a DYSTOPIAN REALITY indeed.
at one point is the joke not funny anymore and essentially LIFE IMITATES ART.
im happy that the film ends with the two founders MOVING FORWARD and EVOLVING with the times. it makes me feel that that instinct to PROD, REJECT, LAUGH, PARODY, INVESTIGATE and ultimately THINK is an ART unto itself and when that is ability is given over to an AUTHORITY FIGURE, that is when it all ends. lights out. so im glad that the film closes with them not giving in to TRUMP. because sometimes i fear i have.
JR "BOB" DOBBS & THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS is definitely a strange film but well worth checking out, whether or not you are a genius or a subgenius.
one of the aspects i admire about DAVID BYRNE's songwriting is his capacity to write on a conceptually OBSERVATIONAL level at an EMOTIONAL DISTANCE. he always seems to be writing about events and activities from a third-party party perspective without being involved in them. coupled with BYRNE's angular AFROBEAT-influenced guitar work (which comes off oddly POST PUNK during an era that predated PUNK) and IDIOSYNCRATIC vocal delivery, the debut TALKING HEADS record TALKING HEADS: 77 (SIRE, 1977) makes for quite a UNIQUE and COMPELLING listen. standout tracks include "DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT," "PULLED UP," "UH OH, LOVE COMES TO TOWN," "NO COMPASSION," and the celebrated "PYSCHO KILLER."
for me the fulcrum of the album is centered around the OBSERVATIONAL DISTANCE seen in "DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT" which celebrates all things URBAN DEVELOPMENT, CIVIL PLANNING and INFRASTRUCTURE that make our lives better. there is even a shoutout to civil servants as extensive of the narrator's family. lyrically its a very interesting song since it seems to champion MODERNITY and the underlying deliberate processes that make it happen, which are under the auspices and ordinances of local government. its very much a song about COMPLEX SYSTEMS that benefit the individual and how one should feel EMPOWERED by such. the norm within a ROCK AND ROLL context is to rally against perceived oppressive systems and advocate for change, but BYRNE here inverts that expectation which is even by today's standards very compelling and genuinely weird.
"PSYCHO KILLER" similarly is an IDIOSYNCRATIC examination of the mindset of a serial killer. apparently the song was influenced by the outlandish stagecraft and persona of ALICE COOPER during this period. with BYRNE being BYRNE, audience expectations surrounding this serial killer are completely subverted. instead of being an object of commanding AGGRESSION and exposed VIRILITY, this STUTTERING, INSECURE serial killer is "tense and nervous" and just "can't relax." moreover you get the sense that this individual is highly educated (as he/she speaks french), and that this inward capacity makes it difficult for them to deal with the truly abhorred aspects, sense he/she "hate(s) people when they're not polite." in popular culture, serial killers are no different then action stars in that they are self-driven and impose societal change based solely on their own individual initiative. in "PSYCHO KILLER," BYRNE instead presents an individual whose MISANTHROPY comes with wanting to be left alone and undisturbed. personification of VIRILITY not so much.
as a former secondary english teacher i love BYRNE and his ability to subvert expectations on a lyrical level. the fact that the music itself is BOUNCY, prone to quick changes in tempo and groove and highly influenced by AFRICAN and LATIN rhythms makes repeat listens inevitable. there is a reason that BYRNE is so widely celebrated among INDIE ROCK bands for the past forty years. and there is no better introduction then TALKING HEADS: 77. definitely worth checking out.
ive written before about what a unique film DAVID BYRNE's TRUE STORIES (review linked HERE). in essence its a multi-tiered fictional narrative from the perspective of a NEW YORKER about various idiosyncratic characters from TEXAS. growing up on a compound in NIGERIA surrounded by TEXANS and LOUISIANANS, TRUE STORIES was a godsend in attempting to understand their backwards ways. and i say that with full contempt.
but the music from the film is what drew me in as a child and had me rewatch countless times. as to be expected, in the movie the characters more or less sing all of the songs, with a few exceptions. the release of the TALKING HEADS' album TRUE STORIES (SIRE, 1986), however, is sung entirely by BYRNE. the songs are forever intertwined with the film, and what is striking about the songs is the range of genres and perspectives captured in these songs. from the good ol' boy perennial bachelor and man-about-town played by a young JOHN GOODMAN singing the lap steel-inflected country ballad "PEOPLE LIKE US" about small town values to TITO LARRIVA (of LOS ANGELES PUNK band THE PLUGZ fame) singing a CHICANO-rock ode to the glory, majesty and mystery of transistor radios (and by extension the computer chip industry) in "RADIO HEAD"; the album is a showcase of the width and breadth of TEXAN culture circa the 1980s. other notable examples from the film range from topics such as the conspiratorial brand of EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY taking shape at the time ("PUZZLIN' EVIDENCE" sung by JOHN INGLE & THE BERT CROSS CHOIR) to crass CONSUMERISM both in commercials ("LOVE FOR SALE") and in newly constructed malls ("DREAM OPERATOR").
taken as a whole i always appreciated how the songs themselves showcase a perspective on small-town AMERICAN life that celebrates both the ARTIFICE of mainstream CONSUMER CULTURE and the value of the community that springs for from it. to be AMERICAN in this milieu just means being plugged in to the latest fashion trends, going to church, eating with your family and working at a nearby production plant. its a film that celebrates conformity, specifically the surface-level safety of buying in to the AMERICAN DREAM without worrying about the finer details of history, inequality or racism.
when i watch TRUE STORIES now as an adult it feels like a searing takedown of all those naive and hopelessly quixotic ideals surrounding AMERICAN CONSUMER CULTURE from the inside out. or maybe i am misreading it. i'll never know which is probably why i continue to keep rewatching it and listening to the soundtrack..
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the legendary career of DAVID BYRNE and the TALKING HEADS!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
parodies by nacrowe
join us TONIGHT at 8PM EST for an all new episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist celebrating the legendary career of DAVID BYRNE and the TALKING HEADS!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already, make sure and download the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
for me LITTLE CREATURES (SIRE, 1985) by TALKING HEADS is the soundtrack to my early childhood. i distinctly remember being small enough to still be held as a kindergartener (around 1989-90) and hearing songs like "STAY UP LATE" and "CREATURES OF LOVE" from my parents speaker system in our old living room in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. given that i was born within year of its release, it makes sense that an album about coming to terms with the adult responsibilities of REPRODUCTION and the raising of children (very ROCK N ROLL topics i may sarcastically add) still resonates with me. not that i have children, i dont, but in essence i very much was the "little creature" in question to my parents. in that its an interesting portal into how that BOOMER generation came to terms in the 1980s with ADULTHOOD.
which included death. i still think "ROAD TO NOWHERE" is one of the great songs on the subject. it really gets at the big picture of the greater point of living and all the RESPONSIBILITY and eventual suffering that inevitably comes with recognizing ones own MORTALITY. i love how it treats the subject as a ride, one that "we know where we're goin', but we don't know where we've been." there is a sense that what ultimately matters is the experience itself and the ability to be aware and cognizant of the moment and is transitions, such as in the lyrics "I'm feelin' okay this mornin', and you know, we're on a road to paradise, here we go, here we go." musically its incredibly uplifting with what sounds like a prominent accordion in the mix, giving it a rolling forward momentum. i just love the counterpoint of it. its a song celebrating our eventual COLLECTIVE DEMISE. i just find it to be quite a profound and honest statement on a subject that is often reduced to tired melancholic cliches or pedaling false bravado.
as ive gotten older and seen my peers raise children and my parents grow older this TALKING HEADS record in particular only becomes more relevant with each passing day. i expect that will continue as i experience the seasons of my life down the line. my hope is that my eyes are open to the experience in the present moment as well.
how BUDDHIST indeed.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
at some point TALKING HEADS frontman and notable NEW YORKER (via Rhode Island) DAVID BYRNE decided to make a film about TEXAS. sounds horrible but TRUE STORIES (WARNER BROS, 1986) is a classic film of its time.
this musical was referenced consistently throughout my childhood, especially BYRNE's obtuse narration of "who cannot say this isn't beautiful?" when speaking about the seeming infinite flat expanse that is the lone star state. literally every time we went to a new country growing up, my father used that line. "everything you see here is typically SOUTH AFRICAN, and who cannot say it isn't beautiful?"
full disclosure: i've never been to TEXAS. its a streak i am hoping to keep. closest i got was the GEORGE BUSH INTERCONTINENTAL AIRPORT in HOUSTON and that was enough. unfortunately i feel like i was partly raised in the south given that for three years in NIGERIA i lived in a guarded company compound full of TEXANS and LOUISIANANS, but that is a story for another entry.
what separates this film from just being an eccentric look at a southern state by an outsider is the soundtrack. what makes the music work is its earnestness and ability to illustrate different aspects of TEXAN culture, from its proud LATINX population to its crazed-apocalyptic evangelical doom-spouting sermonizers to its then-growing construction of new mega-malls brought on by new wealth from the tech and petroleum industries, this film really captures a moment in the AMERICAN psyche where capitalism seemed to potentially provide a means to self-actualization.
or maybe it showcased the insular nature of a pre-internet AMERICAN landscape where basic needs were met for the first time in history and all that is left is the vacuity of media culture to provide meaning. i don't know. its a very interesting film that means something different each time i see it. sometimes i feel BYRNE is viciously satirizing and mocking MIDDLE AMERICAN VALUES while other times it seems he is empathetically presenting an endearing slice of AMERICAN life. it's probably all true. oh shit, see what i did their on accident. that's good stuff.
i should mention that the songs are sung in the film by an impressive cast including JOHN GOODMAN, TITO LARRIVA (THE PLUGZ/TITO & TARANTULA/THE FLESH EATERS), POPS STAPLES (THE STAPLES SINGERS) and, my personal favorite, GENERAL HOSPITAL actor JOHN INGLE as a crazed televangelist preacher spewing crackpot conspiracy horse shit. most people are also suprised to learn that BRITISH INDIE/ALTERNATIVE legends RADIOHEAD derived their name from a song in this film.
regardless, this film is amazing. you should see it whether you are a fan of DAVID BYRNE and/or TALKING HEADS or not. but really you should be a fan of them as well.