“Listening to Talking Heads made me want to have sex with librarians.”
—Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while inducting Talking Heads into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Ten thoughts on seeing the Talking Heads’ classic concert film
- The opening, where lead singer and main songwriter David Byrne comes out and places a boom box on the stage, (Roger Ebert called it a “ghetto-blaster” in his contemporaneous review), and out comes Talking Heads’ most well-known song, “Psycho Killer” from the speakers. Byrne plays and sings to the pre-recorded music – and eventually, in succeeding songs, bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and keyboardist Jerry Harrison joins Byrne one at a time. Nice, clever opening – and mirroring the way “Psycho Killer” itself was slowly built up back in ’77: first throbbing baseline, bass drum, then slicing rhythm guitar, etc.
- It was interesting to compare Byrne’s stage antics with someone like Mick Jagger. (Is there anyone like Jagger?) The head Rolling Stone would successively take off layer after layer until he was down to his gym-buffed torso. (His father was a PE instructor, by the way.)
In contrast, David Byrne is putting more things on as the concert proceeds: jacket, glasses, hat – and eventually, a suit that seems to have been stolen from the Orson Welles section of the local Big and Tall Man’s store. This band was definitely not interested in dealing in or perpetuating any of the usual rock band clichés.
- I think Tina Weymouth began the trend of blond female bass players in modern music. Besides herself, there was Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Sean Yseult of White Zombie, and Smashing Pumpkins original member, D’arcy… an intriguing pop culture phenomenon.
- Their previous concert offering, THE NAME OF THIS BAND IS TALKING HEADS sums up their style in presenting themselves. Like the album title MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD and the tunes “Stay Up Late” and “Mommy Daddy You and I”: simple, direct, as quirky and unblinkingly charming as a gifted child’s finger painting.
- The British punk scene was pretty much defined by call-to-arms anthems like “Anarchy In The U.K.” and “London’s Burning” – brutal, aggressive, angry and dangerous music. One issue the English punks were upset about was a massive garbage strike at that time – with rotting trash bags piled up like so many green pillows on the sides of various London streets. There might have been a comparable amount of refuse in the Bowery in the 70s (where Talking Heads crawled out of), but instead of saying LET’S BURN DOWN COOPER SQUARE!, David Byrne’s response was “Don’t Worry About the Government” – a song off their brilliant debut album.
- At one point in STOP MAKING SENSE, with the music pumping and everyone moving and dancing as one, (including background vocalists Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt), wondrous shadow play appears behind them. Roger Ebert – again in his 1984 review – thought of images of Fritz Lang’s classic German Expressionist film METROPOLIS. But, it immediately came to my mind, that this was finally a visual definition of Andy Gibbs’ immortal disco masterwork “Shadow Dancing”. And that’s good news, because back in the day, people were wandering around in white suits and jersey wrap dresses saying, “What the hell is Shadow Dancing anyway?”
- When I first heard Byrne singing “Psycho Killer” on a college radio show called ‘Animal Crackers’, broadcast by Harvard, it sounded like a man trying to wriggle out of a straitjacket. Well, in STOP MAKING SENSE, he’s finally out and about – and at times, trying desperately to approximate a certain normality, while at other points a strange fevered rock/religiosity seems to overtake him – and the film and the music is all the better for it!
- In fact, Byrne’s dancing reminds me very much of Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Both men presented a certain elegance and dignity that seemed totally at odds with their onstage movements and at times, songwriting preoccupations. Eccentric, awkward, a little too intense, veering crazily from deadly serious to spooky comedy. “Psycho Killer” could easily inhabit the same neighborhood where Ferry’s suburban sybarite is out by his swimming pool, trying dementedly to breathe life into his new inflatable vinyl female playmate. (That plot line comes from Roxy’s gorgeously strange song, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”.)
- STOP MAKING SENSE is excellently paced, fascinatingly photographed and vividly directed by Jonathon Demme (MARRIED TO THE MOB, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE). It is easily the finest cinematic concert film since Scorcese’s THE LAST WALTZ.
- STOP MAKING SENSE: See it. Love it. And here’s some advice – stop making sense, and just start dancing!