photo & text by nacrowe
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.