If you distilled Baudrillard, Derrida, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky into a band, chances are you’d get Talking Heads. They weren’t the first band to sing about consumerism or the media or the meaninglessness of meaning but they did it like nobody else. More Songs About Buildings and Food. Fear Of Music. Talking Heads were a virtual New York of the imagination, all skyscrapers and horns and fast-talking street vendors and cabbies. Like New York, geographically located in the United States but not completely of it, Talking Heads may have been associated with Punk and the New Wave but they were always tuned to a slightly different frequency, David Byrne fronting the band like he was hooked up to an ECG machine telling listeners about a van loaded with weapons and the sound of gunfire in the distance and the diminishing shelf life of identity and possessions.
Then in 1983 they released their fifth and most commercially successful album to date, Speaking In Tongues, with the single “Burning Down the House” peaking at Number 9 in the American Billboard charts. Despite this mainstream popularity, Speaking In Tongues lacked none of the groundbreaking edge of previous albums, with the band trashing the traditional verse – chorus – verse conventions of the song for more hypnotic signatures and beats normally found in gospel or jazz. And no better is this illustrated than in the final track of the album, “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.
“This Must Be the Place” is a love song. Its simplicity – the enchanting, happy, catchy riff played simultaneously by both guitar and bass providing no counterpoint to the melody – verges on an asylum soporific, or a lullaby, with David Byrne singing the word ‘home’ over and over again as a kind of refrain. But its simplicity is deceptive. There’s a bewilderment to the song, a constant reassuring that home is where we are, where we’re supposed to be, and nothing’s wrong because one thing means the other. But it doesn’t. Not always. Everything about “This Must Be the Place” is slightly uncertain, vulnerable, baffled, reaching out for something to grab on to as we guess we’re OK, we guess we’re at home, we guess nothing’s wrong but not sure. It’s a lullaby sung to a newborn, with all the puzzled fear and apprehension a newborn has gazing out at a world full of colours, shapes and sounds. Being told it’s safe. Whispered. And you’re holding this newborn. A child you’ve participated in creating. Their tiny body slung over your shoulder as you lull them to sleep, burp them, their little head attached to their neck by a ribbon, their diffident creaks and yelps, now looking up at you with deep olive eyes saying…
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead…
There’s a beautiful moment in Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s concert film of Talking Heads live in LA, where the lights go down, and the band begins “This Must Be the Place”. David Byrne turns on a ‘50s-style floor lamp with a pull cord, as a bookcase is projected onto a screen behind the band. Home. As the song ends, David Byrne invites the lamp to dance, and at one point reaches out with both arms and takes the lamp into his embrace and holds it there for a moment before releasing it to topple precariously on its stand as if finding its feet. Which it does. And the song ends. But Byrne’s dance with the lamp remains. There’s something going on here, like a coda that both closes and accentuates the meaning of the song. This awkward dance with the lamp, this fragile song about love, is as simple and hard as it gets. You make it up as you go along. Like the newborn asleep in your arms. You’re their shelter, their food, their answers, their love, their laughter, their safety, their home. It’s bedtime. You swaddle them carefully in a white muslin wrap, as David Byrne sings:
Never for money, only for love
Cover up and say goodnight
- “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” (1983). Label: Sire. B-side Moon Rocks. Lyrics by David Byrne music by the band from the album Speaking In Tongues
- Stop Making Sense (1984) concert movie directed by Jonathan Demme shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater.
Sean has just welcomed his new son Harry into the world.