Tag Archives: Stop Making Sense

Road to nowhere: David Byrne and the five stages of grief

29 Apr

This has been quite the week.

After more than twelve years of service – including the recent, relentless marathon of communications work in response to COVID-19 – I am out of a job. Following losses of tens of millions of dollars in just a few weeks, my health care organization cut a significant number of corporate positions to better ensure they will be able to get back to whatever “normal” will look like at some point in the future.

Now I and more than 26 million other Americans are attempting to forge a path into a future we can’t see and certainly don’t understand. For the type-A personalities and workaholics out there, it’s hell on earth.

In March, Harvard Business Review published an article that put a name to the disruption, uncertainty and fear we are collectively experiencing as we cope with life during the pandemic: it’s grief. And the musician who is helping me process this grief is, strangely, David Byrne.

David Byrne is not a warm guy. Especially in his younger days, he came across as Mr. Rogers on Adderal, with ball bearing eyes and a perpetual motion machine of a body. While his music is outright groovy, that’s in contrast to the intellectual detachment of the lyrics. In much of his work – from the Talking Heads to his collaboration with St. Vincent, his Imelda Marcos opera written with Fatboy Slim and his wide range of solo material – he describes an off-kilter world full of uneasy people. A 2018 interview in The Guardian put it well: “Even when he wasn’t singing in character – a psychopath, a televangelist, a domestic terrorist – he had a knack for making the familiar strange and unnerving. Animals, vehicles, buildings, TV, weather, haircuts… everything was seen with alien eyes.”

Who better to help us navigate strange and unnerving times than the guy who implored us to stop making sense?

So here are my five stages of David Byrne, which I hope will help you find your path forward.

DENIAL: “Once In a Lifetime” from Remain in Light
“And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!”

ANGER: “My Big Hands (Fall Through The Cracks)” from The Catherine Wheel
“Well it ain’t my fault, my fault things gone wrong”

BARGAINING: “(Nothing But) Flowers” from Naked
“I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens”

DEPRESSION: “Heaven” from Fear of Music
“Heaven is a place
A place where nothing
Nothing ever happens”

ACCEPTANCE: “Found a Job” from More Songs about Buildings and Food
“So think about this little scene, apply it to your life
If your work isn’t what you love, then something isn’t right.”

And, as a bonus – the sixth stage of grief:
MEANING: “Road to Nowhere” from Little Creatures
“I’m feeling okay this morning
And you know
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go”

See you on the flip side …

Stop Making It Make Sense

10 Feb

For years I have been schooling up my older girl in the finer points of rock-and-roll. I’ve done my job so well, she took great pains to learn how to pronounce the word “pedagogy.” (In case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “pet-uh-GO-gee” … and the fact that I am sharing that information here proves her point, I suppose.)

Since I’ve made so much progress on that front, I have decided to expand my efforts to include a new pupil: my nine-year old. It may be long while before I’ll take her to a concert, so I’m introducing her to the magic of live performance via great rock documentaries. We began with, what else? Woodstock.

My first viewing of the classic was a midnight showing in Richmond when I was in high school. My suburban mind was successfully blown about 2:00 a.m. when Joe Cocker came on and, due to the late hour as much as his volcanic performance, he and the falsetto-singing Grease Band became the most smoking hot bunch of longhairs ever.  My daughter had to settle for a small screen screening on our upstairs TV.

When the naked hippies went flitting by and she got age-appropriately grossed out, it occurred to me that parental guidance was going to really be needed if we watched any of the other interviews.  I skipped ahead to key performances, starting with Santana’s barn-burning “Soul Sacrifice”:

Given that most of the gossipy trivia I knew about Woodstock involved drugs, drugs and more drugs, I couldn’t say much about the performers (other than assure her that yes, the Grease Band singers were guys).

Of course, rock and roll movies aren’t all brown acid and Wavy Gravy. For our next Rock and Roll movie night, we watched Stop Making Sense.

Made sense at the time …

When I watched this in Cambridge when it came out in 1984, the Talking Heads and David Byrne’s shark-eyed stare were cool, no explanation necessary. Watching it nearly 30 years later with my youngest, though, I was barraged by questions:

“Why is he using a tape recorder?”

“Why is he jerking around?”

“Why is the stage all red?”

“Why are those words on the screens?”

(It was as if she had read the taglines for the marketing campaign.)

I tried to get her revved up by sharing tidbits about my favorite numbers. “Those back-up singers had to be in great shape,” I pointed out when “Life During Wartime” began. “They’ll be jogging through the entire song.”

“Spoiler alert,” my nine-year old muttered. I think I heard her eyes roll. Once again, I had to shut up. I had to allow her to absorb the musical experience on her own terms.

She fell asleep before David Byrne toddled in wearing the Big Suit. Clearly not her cup of chai tea, this movie. Oh well, at least she tried it once … like avocados.

Over time, we’ll find our musical groove – watching rockumentaries, sharing playlists, going to concerts. I’ll just have to get used to the fact that I won’t need to narrate the tour forever.

See you on the flip side …

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