Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TALKING HEADS (a.k.a. recent obsession #1)

I approach 'discovering' a new band from an analytical perspective. When I hear some songs I like from a band, I seek out their other material, read up about their history, discover which recordings are essential, etc. It's almost like I'm doing a research project rather than actually just being a fan. It especially helps when a band is defunct, so you can approach their music as an artifact, rather than an evolving being.

This is a pretty long-winded way of introducing the fact that for the last couple of weeks, I've really been into Talking Heads. I heard their cover of 'Take Me To The River' on the radio a while back and since then I tracked down a version of the song on YouTube, which led to watching all of their cuts from the Stop Making Sense concert film. Then I found music videos of songs that weren't in SMS, and now I'm just weighing the options of either going on an album-buying spree, getting just a greatest-hits disc (and the band has a 33-track GH disc out, so it's pretty comprehensive) or settling for the songs on YouTube since I'm stone poor. Of course, I didn't 'discover' them by any means, since I've been perfectly aware of the group for years. I even considered buying a greatest hits disc years ago after seeing a particularly impressive live performance of "Once in a Lifetime" in my first-year MIT class. I forget why exactly the professor showed us this clip, but it was for a reason so obscure that I'm pretty sure the prof just liked the band and tried to shoehorn it into his lecture. Don't you hate it when people get stuck on something and then constantly refer to it in everything they write or say?


I think I actually prefer 'discovering' an older band rather than discovering a new band. With a new band, there's the sports-fan of following their careers, going to their concerts, and awaiting new releases, but there's also the potential that the band will suddenly start to suck. Unlike in sports, where I've watched the Blue Jays reek for the last 14 years and will watch them reek for 14 more and I'll still be a fan, I'm more fickle about my musical tastes. Unless an act has a long history of productivity that has earned them the "oh, they just had an off-album" slack, I'll drop them like a bad habit. For example, I was a big Collective Soul fan back in the late 90's. I know, I know, but dammit, they were a good band back in their prime. I even saw them live at old Centennial Hall in London with my buddy Trev. That should've been a red flag right there -- any band in their prime that came to London in the pre-John Labatt Centre days is probably not a Rock and Roll HOF candidate. But their first few discs were good stuff, before the doors fell off with the Blender album. After that I more or less left the Soul behind.

With an established or defunct band, however, you don't have to worry about things like this. Talking Heads released eight albums between 1977 and 1988, and that was that. It's like becoming a John Wayne fan rather than being a fan of, say, Alec Baldwin. You know what you're getting with the Duke. You don't have to worry about some embarrassment like diminishing box office returns or a phone message berating a daughter. You just have to worry about Wayne supporting the Hollywood blacklist and referring to black people as "irresponsible people."

Anyway, that analogy fell apart. The bottom line is I like Talking Heads. That's the actual band name, by the way, not 'The Talking Heads.' It's like Smashing Pumpkins, in that most people, media and even band members from time to time refer to the name with a 'the' in front of it. That's just downright confusing. If you pick a band name that's a natural plural, you should accept the pluralization of the name. You don't see a solo artist take the opposite tack and call themselves, for example, The John Mayer. Pretentious band names bother me. Screw treble charger and their lowercase font. Just who the hell are you?

Aside from the music, one of the things I enjoy about the band is their distinctive look. Talking Heads weren't one of these bands of four long-haired dudes, no way. They are high in the running for the prize of least rock-band looking rock band of all time. David Byrne looks like a comic book character come to life -- an unholy amalgamation of Clark Kent, Reed Richards and Plastic Man. His antics during the live performances (especially in Stop Making Sense) are worth the price of admission alone. Keyboard player Jerry Harrison looks literally elfin. Drummer Chris Frantz looks like a normal dude who should be selling you drywall at Home long as that Home Depot salesman was played by Geoffrey Rush. Bassist Tina Weymouth is one of those people who looks completely different any time you see them. I was originally going to say she was like a combination of Jane Curtin and Amy Poehler, but she takes on more different looks over that 11-year-period than a chameleon.

Here's a clip of what's become one of my favourite Talking Heads songs. I've been singing it for the last few days, which is an irritating habit of mine. I got into a habit last summer of singing 'All These Things That I've Done,' but just the "you're gonna let yourself down" part over and over. It annoyed my boss to no end. Perhaps now you can prevent your own advancement in the workplace by singing along to this classic!

1 comment:

Chad Nevett said...

I approach bands in much the same way. I often start with a "best of" and if that impresses me enough, I become obsessive and begin buying up whatever I can along with whatever biographical material I see. That's how I went to kowing of Led Zeppelin songs as songs on the radio by some band(s) to owning their entire catalogue in, like, a month. That, and sweet 2 for whatever deals at various stores.