Friday, June 19, 2009

Making Sense of Talking Heads

I think it was in '84 that Talking Heads came to the Broome County Arena. Binghamton Concerts, the student run organization, was amazing in their ability to get great bands. We had The Clash in our gym, for God sakes!
My two favorites memories of the Arena show. One, a classmate offered me cocaine as we milled around the floor.

"Want some coke?"


"It's free." Cost was the only possible reason for my refusal.

"No thanks."

Later on, this guy (I have a vague memory of who it was) said, "No one has ever turned down free coke." I never did drugs of any kind, though my outsider status in this field never hurt my musical cred. At least I've kidded myself that was so.
Second favorite moment was from the show itself. I've always been ambivalent about Talking Heads. I like some of their stuff, but there's way too much "art" there, an excess of affectation that keeps me at arm's length. I never feel any emotional connection to them and that's a problem. But "This Must Be the Place" does grab me and the staging, a simple floor lamp accompanied by a screenshot of bookcases in the background, was beautifully homey.
Jonathan Demme's concert film of that tour, Stop Making Sense, is close to the peak of rock movies. Demme's skill takes the show to a higher level, with unforgettable images of David Byrne alternately funny and creepy. Byrne's spastic dancing and self-absorbed fashion-consciousness dominates the band. It doesn't bode well for the future health of the group, which would record their last album four years after the film's release in 1984 (officially, the breakup was announced in 1991).

On many levels, SMS is the equal of Scorsese's The Last Waltz. SMS only suffers in comparison in two ways - the songs aren't as good as those of The Band's, and the musicians aren't as talented. Pretty big ways, I admit, but Stop Making Sense is a terrific film whether you like the Talking Heads or don't, or, in my case, both.

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