Crosseyed and Painless
The Great Curve
Once in a Lifetime
When I play a Talking Heads record I inevitably think about how awesome it would have been to have been around during the CBGB heydays of the late 70’s. It was probably an intimidating scene, with a crowd made up mostly of social outcasts hoping to catch a glimpse of punk rock pioneers like the Ramones or Television or Patti Smith or Blondie (wow). With their business-casual attire and pretentious, artsy demeanor, the Heads must have been the oddballs of the bunch. They probably fit in much better with the white-collared Manhattanites surrounding them. Furthering the image, David Byrne’s nervous, edgy, even chaotic, vocal style makes him sound incredibly smart, but incredibly strange, as if his brain holds more information than one brain can capably handle. He sounds like what I imagine the late 70’s and early 80’s represented in general; it was the dawn of sensory overload. And while most of the CBGB crew were busy revolting against the changing times, the Heads and the music they created appeared to embrace the epoch of green-screened computers, fast-paced financial activity on Wall Street, and car-polluted freeways surrounding it. Perhaps though, the group was simply approaching the revolt in a different manner.
The first Heads song I heard was “Once in a Lifetime.” The video, one that got heavy MTV circulation even into the late 80’s, in a lot of ways introduces the audience to what the band is all about: the Heads’ frontman, a well-dressed David Byrne massaging his ego and exercising his creative control over the band, is the only member of the group to appear; it uses cutting edge analog and video effects for the time; the music is rhythmic and percussive but monotonous in melody; and Byrne’s vocals sound like an anxious stream of consciousness, a consciousness perplexed by the speed of which life can pass one by.
Ironically Remain in Light wasn’t recorded in the urban sprawls of America, but on the tropical shores of the Bahamas. Married and gaining success from their music, drummer, Chris Frantz, and bassist, Tina Weymouth, purchased an apartment in Nassau, where they quickly gained a fascination for Caribbean and African music. Byrne came down to visit the band soon after the purchase and they immediately began working on their next album, with the idea of heavily incorporating Afro beats, polyrhythmics, and reggae into the record. The finishing product remains true to the process. Every song here is uninflected in melodic structure, as the chord progressions never change throughout each song, but the rhythms are deep in multilayered percussion, and the songs build in strength as more instruments are gradually layered on top of one another. Phenom producer Brian Eno has a lot to do with this, as they essentially used a copy+paste method of recording loops and layers from the band's long studio jam sessions, but remember, this was before we had the convenience of digital music editors. A new method of recording music had been born and no one knew it yet. Always inspired by soul, the Talking Heads were now featuring the building blocks to rap and hip-hop in their music, and even though it took a trip to the Bahamas to inspire the group’s new approach, back in their hometown of New York City hip hop was already beginning to thrive. Perhaps some of this is pure coincidence, but Remain in Light nonetheless showcases how well their music epitomized the time.