100 Greatest Artists
When I was a kid, I was really into hardcore punk. Hardcore was very rigid. Talking Heads was the first band I remember telling my punk friends about, saying, "Yo, check this out! This four-chord thing we're doing? We're missing out on something!"
The first song I really liked was "Once in a Lifetime." MTV had just started to sink its claws into people, and that song was like an anthem for coked-up adults trying to make sense of their world. Remain in Light was this combination of ambient music and strong lyrics and incredibly inventive percussion and bass parts. I was a kid, but I still thought, "I should have been involved in that record!" It's amazing.
They had so many things going on. If you listen to a Talking Heads bass line, you think the song's going one way, and then you listen to the drums and you think it's going a different way, and then you listen to David Byrne's lyrics and you're like, "This is a completely different song from what I thought it was going to be." And then the guitars come in, and then the ambience comes in — it's like several songs all blending into one. If Talking Heads were around a cool idea, they would make it their own. I feel like they saw Brian Eno, their producer, as another instrument.
The town that I grew up in was called Columbia, in Maryland. It was a planned community with man-made lakes. David Byrne's parents lived there for a while. It presented this facade that everything around us is solid and real and going to be here forever, even though we know we created it. Byrne's lyrics spoke to the artifice of the American landscape. The American Dream has a lot of back alleys, and he was showing those things, and I felt like, here's a guy trying to talk to me about something I had seen firsthand.
I think the artist's primary responsibility is to reflect what life was like in their time. Talking Heads did that. I'm all over the map emotionally and spiritually, like most people are, so different Talking Heads records speak to me at different times, but with Remain in Light and Fear of Music, the grit of modern living is there. What they're addressing still applies.
They weren't always complex, either — there's some stuff where it's just bare-bones essentials. "This Must Be the Place" is probably one of the most important songs in my entire life. I find the lyrics really calming. The song is simple, but when you look at all the elements and how they're put together and where the downbeat is, it's kind of ... clever is not even really the word. Genius, maybe?
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