Thursday, August 16, 2007

Considerable Sounds: Byrne-ing Down The House

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By DC Music Editor Benjamin New

On this day, August the 17th, in 1960 - The Beatles began their first engagement away from England, in 1964 - The Kinks You Really Got Me was released, in 1968 - Deep Purple's Hush was released, In 1969 - after three days, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in New York came to an end, in 1970 - Christine McVie joined Fleetwood Mac, in 1974 - Patrick Moraz replaced Rick Wakeman in Yes, in 1977 - The Police played their first gig at Rebecca's Club in Birmingham, England. In 1980 2 men walked casually down Bleecker Street in the borough of Manhattan, New York. Their names were Paul and Arthur though they could have just as easily been Franny and Zoey or Narcissus and Goldmund.

Paul suddenly cried out to Arthur, “look there’s Joe’s foot!” as he picked up a severed foot still wearing a white P.F. Flyer canvas low-top out of the gutter.

“Yes that looks like Joe’s foot Paul,” said Arthur. They walked a little further and Paul saw something else , it was a bit difficult to make out at first , there were rats and dark green garbage bags obscuring the view.

“Tomorrow must be trash pickup day” Arthur thought just before Paul exclaimed “Look Art, it’s Joes other foot!”

Joe's foot

Yes, there, next to the discarded refuse was another sneaker with a foot still in it. “Hmmm” said Arthur as he altered his gait slightly to cut through the assemblage of polyethylene bundles. They paused briefly on the corner beside a sign that said post no bills, but it was difficult to discern as dozens of hand bills had obscured most of it. Arthur had just lit a Winston cigarette using a matchbook advertising auto parts. Three smiling cartoon characters were printed on the front. The words “Manny, Moe, & Jack” were emblazoned across the bottom and just above that, 3 matches dangled from slits someone had added below their waistlines where their cartoon crotches would be. It was elusively clever and laughably obscene at the same time.

The smell of sulfur hung gingerly in the air when again Paul shouted “Look Arthur, It’s Joe’s Leg!”

There, barely a yard in front of a steam vent lay Joe’s right leg. Now both Paul and Arthur did a double take before moving on down the street.

Paul pulled out a Sony Walkman, carefully put the headphones on and pressed play. Devo’s “Whip it” was cued up and as Mark Mothersbough sang “break your mother’s back” Paul’s head bobbed up and down rhythmically. Paul was enjoying the next song on his tape, “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s when there beside some old Lombardi’s Pizza boxes, perpendicular to a stoop with a lovely young Puerto Rican girl on top combing her hair with wild abandon, was Joe’s left leg.

“Did you see that”? Arthur shouted to Paul so he could be heard above the Walkman.

Paul rolled his eyes as if he had quite enough of Joe’s feet and legs being strewn around Manhattan for one evening. Chrissie Hynde’s voice declared on the final chorus of The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket

"I’m special, so special..." as they approached the Orpheum Movie Theatre which was showing Leslie Nielson in Airplane.

They had both seen it twice. But if you went to the rear doors while the previous audience exited, they found you could walk in, stay in the lavatory for 5 minutes and see the next showing for free. Yes it was agreed, they could handle the Lloyd Bridges line, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue,” one more time. They walked around toward the exit when there, lying in the gutter they saw Joe’s Torso.

“That looks like Joe’s torso” said Paul.

“Surely you can’t be serious,” Arthur responded "...and don’t call me Shirley,” Paul shot back.

After the movie the two of them headed back to the West Village where they stopped off at the White Horse Tavern as they were apt to do on any given Saturday evening to quaff an ocean of ale with the ghost of Dylan Thomas. (Thomas frequented the bar when stateside and collapsed outside it’s doors after “one last shot” for the final time in his short life.)

Dylan Thomas At The White Horse Tavern

The place was full of “ghost” writers. Kerouak was thrown out of this legendary joint on many an occasion while writing On The Road . He paid homage to the White Horse in his book Desolation Angels discovering "Go Home Kerouac" scrawled on the bathroom wall. And if the timing was right and the ale was plentiful enough, you might just catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye of the spectres of Ruthven Todd, Michael Harrington, and Anais Nin arguing with the non specters of Norman Mailer or James Baldwin. You might just close your eyes and hear the dim echoes of the Clancy Brothers or Mary Travers belting out Irish rebellion and Spanish Civil War songs. The place was filthy with apparitions, wraiths & spooks. Paul and Arthur had to get out of there.

But as our heroes stumbled off towards the exit, Arthur tripped and lost his balance which made something come up… the floor. Bang! Wood planks as epiphanies.

Yar Thaed, a Norwegian woodsman who recently began a stint as a barman at the White Horse yelled, “your 86’d,” as Paul facilitated Arthur’s return to a prone position.

Now Arthur, not wishing to repeat his recent capitulation to gravity; looked carefully for what might have precipitated his fall.

“Look Paul!” he said “it’s Joe’s head. Joe! Joe! Are you all right Joe?” Arthur picked up the severed head and tossed it over to Paul.

Paul held Joe’s head up by both ears and repeated the query. “Hey Joe! Are you all right Joe?” Just then A friendly bouncer assisted them through the door.

Joe's Head

When they came to, Arthur shook the fog out of his head and Paul found himself utilizing Joe’s head for a pillow which he noticed had now become bloated with pustules and filled with maggots. Just then something else came up … Paul’s lunch. Now, not only was Joe’s head severed and infested with grubs, but it was decaying and retched on as well.

Arthur asked again, “Joe! Are you all right?" But there was no reply.

Apparently Paul and Art forgot that the TALKING heads were back on Bleecker Street at CBGB’s.

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Once In A Lifetime
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack…
You may find yourself in another part of the world…
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house…
this is not my beautiful wife.

But you may tell David Byrne and the Talking Heads, thank you.

Thank you for making music that matters. Where were you the first time you heard these words? A song describing a disclosure, an epiphany, a crossroad, a reckoning or a revelation. Perhaps it was your college graduation, or you were traveling to some suspect destination with a questionable future, you may have been in an undeniable mid life crisis or on your first date.

But My God ! What have I done? The Awakening! The song originally appeared on the watershed 1980 Talking Heads album, Remain in Light. A few posts back, one of our readers wrote in saying there wasn’t much in the way of good music in the 1980’s. I anticipate a casual perusal of this article will modify that outlook a bit.

What the talking Heads did musically was merge Punk energy with African rhythms while adding generous portions of New Wave ethos and spacious James Brown approvable Funk. Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and David Byrne peppered the 80’s music scene with astute observations, great music and big suits.

With albums produced by the panoptic musical mystic Brian Eno and augmented by the likes of King Crimson’s Adrian Belew, Parliament/Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell, percussion wizard Steven Scales, along with the Brothers Johnson rhythm guitarist Alex Weir.

Bassist Tina Weymouth says that the band had formed in 1974 at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Originally consisting of three members: David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums, percussion), and Tina Weymouth (bass guitar, vocals). They called themselves The Artistics and mockingly were referred to by some in the local music scene as The Autistics. Despite being unappreciated they trudged on.

Talking Heads is a term used by TV studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as 'all content, no action.' The Band felt it described them well and took on the name. Moving to New York and adding former Modern Lovers keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison in 1976, they landed a gig opening for The Ramones at the legendary CBGBs night club. The Band was immediately embraced by the more experimental faction of the blooming New York punk scene. They released albums from 1977 to 1988. Their first album (The Talking Heads 77) suffered disappointing sales. But they were one of, if not the first band to be labeled “New Wave”.

The front cover of the album
was created by David Byrne.
It is a photomosaic of the band
made of 529 close-up Polaroid photographs.

With their second album More Songs About Buildings and Food, the band began its long-term collaboration with art rock pioneer Brian Eno, who had previously worked with Roxy Music, David Bowie ,Robert Fripp as well as having a critically acclaimed solo career . As a producer, Eno became a virtual fifth member of the band. Eno's unusual style meshed well with the group's artistic sensibilities, and they gained the confidence to spelunk a wide variety of musical caves. The first album's "Psycho Killer" got some attention, but it was More Songs cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River" that transported Talking Heads into public awareness.

Experimentation ensued with their 3rd album in 1979. Fear Of Music was darker and less punk-like. This ain’t no party, This ain’t no disco, This ain’t no fooling around… Their 4th release in 1980, the most influential and definitive of their recordings Remain In Light features prominently South African rhythms and certainly is one of the authoritative works of that decade. Foreshadowing one of my all time favorites My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
a collaboration between Brian Eno and David Byrne.

Eno & Byrne's "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts"
One of the most remarkable forward thinking
albums ever recorded remains ahead of it's
time even after 25 years it's World fusion
and Electronica , and it has just
been remastered and re released!

For the next three years there were no new studio efforts but they toured the U.S. and Europe as an eight-piece group and released a live recording - The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. 1983’s Speaking in Tongues along with it’s single, Burning Down the House, made the Talking Heads a household word.

Three more albums followed, 1985's Little Creatures ("And She Was" and "Road to Nowhere") 1986's True Stories (Soundtrack to the odd David Byrne movie of the same name) and 1988's Naked. The sound of Little Creatures and True Stories were much more American pop rock, while Naked took heavy Latin influence with polyrhythmic styles like those seen on Remain in Light. Eno was off producing U2 . Steve Lillywhite was brought in to produce their final unorthodox album. They decided to record in Paris with a large group of international musicians including:

  • Johnny Marr – guitars (The Smiths, The The, The Healers, now with Modest Mouse)
  • Brice Wassy – percussion
  • Abdou M'Boup – percussion, talking drum, congas, cowbell
  • Yves N'Djock – guitar
  • Eric Weinberg – pedal steel guitar and dobro
  • Mory Kanté – kora (African harp player Kanté is best known internationally for his 1987 hit song "Yéké Yéké", which was one of Africa's best-ever selling songs it became a European Number One in 1988 making it the first ever African single to sell over one million copies!)
  • Wally Badarou – keyboard
  • Manolo Badrena – percussion, congas
  • Sydney Thiam – congas, percussion
  • Lenny Pickett – saxophones
  • Steve Elson – saxophones
  • Robyn Eubanks – trombone
  • Laurie Frink and Earl Gardner – trumpets
  • Stan Harrison – alto saxophone (Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Little Steven, Serge Gainsbourg, David Bowie, Radiohead, Duran Duran, Stevie Ray Vaughan, They Might Be Giants)
  • Al Acosta – tenor saxophone
  • Steve Gluzband – trumpet
  • Jose Jerez – trumpet
  • Bobby Porcelli – alto saxophone
  • Steve Sachs – baritone saxophone
  • Charlie Sepulveda – trumpet
  • Dale Turk – bass trombone
  • Moussa Cissokao – percussion
  • Nino Gioia – percussion
  • Philippe Servain – accordion
  • James Fearnley – accordion
  • Phil Bodner – cor anglais
  • Don Brooks – harmonica
  • Kirsty MacColl – backing vocals
  • Alex Haas – whistling

Before leaving for France, the band recorded about 40 improvised tracks that would be used for the sessions in Paris. Once in Paris, the band, along with producer Steve Lillywhite were joined by a number of other musicians in the recording studio where they would rehearse and play for the entire day. At the end of each day, one take was selected as being the ideal version of a particular tune. The lyrics and melodies would be left until later. The lyrics were not overdubbed until the band returned to New York. Many of David Byrne's lyrics were improvisations sung along with the prerecorded tracks until he found something that he felt worked. Paul Simon’s Graceland had been recorded in a similar way.

Director Jonathan Demme captured the revue at its funky finest in his 1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense. Today it serves as a document of the power and glory of a band at its paragon. What you don’t see or hear onscreen is a band in the throes of breaking up. Stop Making Sense captured the end of an era—the Talking Heads on their last tour ever.

Like others before them, differences in creative and artistic control undid the Talking Heads.

The Burgeoning Talking Heads

Letting the days go by / water flowing underground
same as it ever was ……

Postscript- As the 3 Stooges once said “Time Wounds All Heels” We did not even discuss the side projects of the band members or the dozens of others making “Considerable Sounds” in the 80s as was the original intent of the article. We’ll leave it for another day.



Special Thanks to Debbie Weis for inspiring the "JOE" story
And D.R. for the directional push.

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Duly Consider and Considerable Sounds are TM of this publication and are subject to liabilities thereof

1 comment:

Jebb said...

"Where were you the first time you heard these words?"

I was in the back seat of my dad's Honda Prelude on a "visit weekend". I was young as I was born in 1980. My epiphany? "I don't know what any of this means, but I have to have this, Dad." I asked for it for my birthday. I got the Quiet Riot - Cum on Feel The Noise single, and a CCR tape instead. Bummer...I managed to get a couple of Talking Heads albums on my own though. What a truly fantastic band.

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