This Ain’t No Party This Ain’t No Disco (Talking Heads)

The 2 London concerts by Talking Heads at the beginning of December 1980 were the hottest tickets in town. Since the group’s debut LP in 1977  they had released an album a year without a false step. Talking Heads were many peoples favourite band & these gigs were the only UK shows on a European tour. Friends were calling from all over the country about the possibility of tickets but I’d been beaten to the punch & no-one I knew was pushing any spares my way. Two weeks before the concerts I got a call from Liverpool. Mark had begged, stolen or borrowed 2 tickets & as it was my birthday that week I was his plus 1. They were for the Hammersmith Odeon, an Art Deco cinema, all-seated, rather than across the road at the Palais (de Danse) a lovely custom built dance hall but you would hear no complaint from me.

 

The new record “Remain In Light” was an impressive thing, an expansive, adventurous fermentation of Afro polyrhythms & funk-punk. The 4 piece group knew they would struggle to do these complex songs justice when playing live so they called for reinforcements. Guitarist Adrian Belew had played on “Once In A Lifetime”. Producer Brian Eno had seen Belew play with Frank Zappa then recruited him for David Bowie’s “Heroes” LP. Bassist Busta Cherry Jones had an Eno connection too. Bernie Worrell, keyboards, had been a key member of the Parliament/Funkadelic collective throughout the 70s. Percussionist Steve Scales & vocalist Dolette McDonald joined too. A bigger sound for growing audiences, they were going to need a bigger band. This should be good.

 

 

Talking Heads first toured the UK as support to the Ramones, a CBGB’s double whammy that we all wished we had seen. A new distribution deal for their label Sire led to copies of “Talking Heads 77” being sold in a local newsagent for just £1 ($1.50 ). Our friend Roger took all they had & played Johnny Appleseed, giving out the staccato, angular rhythms matched with yelping, deadpan vocals to anyone who cared to listen. The UK is a small market, critical acclaim in the music papers, an appearance in early 78 on the “Old Grey Whistle Test” & the distinctiveness of “Psycho Killer” established the group as more than ones to watch. Their association with Eno for “More Songs About Buildings & Food” filled out the sound, made the pacing more assured. It’s a great piece of intelligent danceable pop music. There was a lot of that about in the early 1980s, not so much in 1978.

 

The first 2 records made use of the songs David Byrne had written before they were recording. 1979’s “Fear of Music” is a dark, urban, claustrophobic even paranoid collection. A companion to its British contemporary  the Clash’s “London Calling”, showing where we were at & that we would need to get serious in the coming new decade. I saw Talking Heads in Manchester after a particularly bad day at a strange time. Heavily self-medicated, immersion in this provocative music, crepuscular but not sombre, was the very thing. Six days later I was at the Electric Ballroom, Camden, that London. In a better mood, with better friends it was a great night. Byrne’s initial preppy diffidence was now replaced by an individual frontman style. That week I was convinced of the talent of Tina Weymouth whose bass pulse underpinned the music & tied the whole room together.

 

 

It was one of those nights at the Hammersmith Odeon, the packed bar was buzzing with anticipation. It was great to be on the town with Mark. I had known him since he was at school & his animation studies at university suited the young man. We passed on the support, preferring to get loaded & to catch up. Anyway I’d seen them before & the plodding rock cliches of U2 didn’t appeal then & never have. We entered the auditorium, bagged 2 empty seats, front row balcony, not ours but no-one came to claim them & settled in. We got the early hits first, “Psycho Killer” & “Love > Building On Fire”, getting them out of the way I thought, this was a new band. The following 12 songs including 5 from “Fear…”, 5 from “Remain…” & of course their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”, were as good as anything I have ever seen played on a stage.

 

Talking Heads had doubled in size but there was no clutter. That driving beat from Tina Weymouth & Chris Frantz, the husband & wife rhythm section, was still the means of propulsion. Jerry Harrison now had assistance on guitar & keyboards. David Byrne was free to lead the congregation, both on & off-stage, free to…erm…”dance” too. Adrian Belew, as you can see in the clips, was given all the scope he needed to strangle & choke amazing sounds from his guitar. It was the whole that was so impressive. The 9-piece band was an irresistible sonic juggernaut while never relinquishing nuance & subtlety. They took some great recorded songs & added value to them in the live performance. During “Once in a Lifetime” my mouth was as wide open as my ears. Music for the head, the heart & the hips. Great modern pop music.

 

 

The band’s next moves included arena gigs, a big white suit, an in-concert movie, promos directed by Jim Jarmusch, Jonathan Demme & Wim Wenders. There was more show in the business & David Byrne became the quirky (dread word !) guy in those videos. For “Stop Making Sense”, the tour & the film, Belew & Jones had moved on, while it’s a fine document I prefer “The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads” a record of the band I saw. I didn’t go to their Wembley Arena gig in 1982, that’s too big a place. Despite a growing dispute between Byrne & the others concerning writing credits Talking Heads continued to create intelligent, interesting music on the 4 studio LPs released after “Remain…”. In 1981 David Byrne & Brian Eno collaborated for the “My Life In the Bush of Ghosts” record, a pioneering, provocative, delightful blend of oblique strategies & world rhythms which stands as a signpost for more musical genres than you can shake a stick at. For a time, as the 1970s became the 1980s, Talking Heads were simply the best band around.

 

 

Music and Movies (Love Songs)

I’ve been enjoying “Dancing On The Edge” Stephen Poliakoff’s new BBC drama. 3 episodes down & it is not, I am sure ,going to end well for Chiwetil Ejiofor. Another sure thing about this fine production is that like most films in which he appears (“Blues Brothers 2000” being an exception), it is improved by the involvement of John Goodman. He spent 10 years pretending to be married to Roseanne Barr so that we didn’t have to & for that, at least, we should be grateful.

In David Byrne’s “True Stories” (1986) Goodman is Louis Fyne, ” I’m 6’3″, and maintain a very consistent panda bear shape” & “a dancing fool”. In this skewed & affectionate study of small town America Louis is our lonely Everyman who is looking for & failing to find love. The film’s characters could have been on loan from David Lynch but Byrne , the outsider & narrator, finds no malice in their tics & obsessions. Wes Anderson, Jean-Pierre Jeunet & others are directing films like this. Everyone is making “fake” documentaries. David Byrne did it in the 1980s & wrote a soundtrack of outstanding songs.

Getting Pop Staples to sing “Papa Legba” is a masterstroke, “Wild Wild Life” is a blast but Goodman is gifted the key song of the film. Through “People Like Us” the socially awkward Louis is able to express himself perfectly. “We don’t want freedom, we don’t want justice. We just want someone to love”. The lady who never leaves her bed (Swoosie Kurtz) is watching the “celebration of specialness”,. Of course she marries our hero. What else could she do ?

Now…if a partiality for classics of the British New Wave of the late 1970s really did attract women such as the lovely Maggie Unpronouncable then I would not be sat here writing this & you, probably, would not have the time to read it. Come on, movies are fantasy, I get that, but stuff like this has never & will never happen. I have not seen “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006), maybe it is an “Eternal Sunshine”, an original romantic reverie. I have seen “The Other Guys” & know that Will Ferrell needs to get it on with the  “Anchorman” sequel or he will be another Steve Martin, remembered for his early, funny films.

The neutering of a balls-out rock classic like “Whole Wide World” by any acoustic strummer boy is a step too far in my book. When John Belushi deals with such an affront in “Animal House” by wrecking the offending instrument he , I’m sure, eloquently spoke for us all. The slightly ramshackle Wreckless Eric made a great debut LP & continued to make good, interesting music. His band here is Davey Payne of the Blockheads, Ian Dury on drums &  the striking Denise Roudette on bass, played by the equally striking Naomie Harris in the biopic “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”. Two women who would choose a power chord over leaden lassitude any day of the week. THIS is how “Whole Wide World” sounds…

This is more like it. “Man Bites Dog” (1992) & this, “Crazy Love” (1987) are two wonderfully odd films from Belgium. I’ve been to Belgium & it seems very nice but I must have missed the strange stuff. “Crazy Love” is a triptych of Charles Bukowski stories (with a little John Fante thrown in). Other Bukowski movies have portrayed the protagonist as an approximation of the author. It has been done well by Ben Gazzara. Mickey Rourke & Matt Dillon have done it too. This time we see 3 ages of our hero, Harry Voss.

At the high school prom Harry knows his cystic acne repels his dream girl but swathed, mummy-like, in toilet paper, as an Invisible Man, he has the confidence to approach her & to dance with her. For a couple of minutes he gets to do the things the big boys do & it’s a ridiculous but touching scene. The song “Love Hurts”, Felice & Boudleaux Bryant’s zenith, is perfect. “Some fools fool themselves I guess, but their not fooling me”. “Crazy Love” captures the spirit of Bukowski better than any other film. The bitterness, the pessimism, the thwarted passions & the poetry are all there. Don’t worry too much about Harry. He gets to have sex with a beautiful woman. It’s just that it’s a dead woman…great film !